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Early Childhood Education

Why Jamie Lee Curtis Is Passionate About Children’s Literacy

Photo: Courtesy of Shawn Miller at the Library of Congress

It all started with an innocent conversation with her daughter: “My four-year-old said something funny to me one day,” explains Jamie Lee Curtis. “She walked into my office, all petulant and sweet, and announced that ‘when I was little I used to wear diapers, but now I use the potty.’

“The idea that she had thought about her life in the past,” Curtis continues, “when she was really just four, made me smile. I wrote on a piece of paper: ‘When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth.’ I then wrote a list of things that she used to not be able to do and now could. By the end, I realized I had written a book.”

Only the beginning

When I was Littlelaunched an impressive writing career for Curtis, who’s penned almost a dozen children’s books over the course of 20 years. Her secret to coming up with unique and engaging stories is really quite simple.

“I hear things,” she says. “My antenna is very acute. It’s probably my strongest asset — the ability to be aware of what is going on around me. I use it as an actor, photographer and very much so as a writer.”

Working with illustrator Laura Cornell, Curtis has entertained youngsters with books that include “My Mommy Hung the Moon: A Love Story,” “Where Do Balloons Go?,” “Big Words for Little People” and “Today I Feel Silly, and Other Moods That Make My Day,” which was listed on The New York Times best-seller list for 10 weeks.

A longtime passion

Books have been a part of Curtis’ life for as long as she can remember. “’Go, Dog. Go!’ by P.D. Eastman is my favorite,” says Curtis. “It’s a children’s book about opposites, but in the middle of it is this very funny non sequitur where one dog asks another, ‘Do you like my hat?’

“The oddness of the non sequitur really made me laugh then, and makes me laugh today. I think humor is key in my books,” she adds. “The triumvirate of mother-child-book is really something profound — and is being lost. I hope to encourage more and more families to engage with children using a book as the catalyst.”

Family ties

Curtis’ two children with actor-filmmaker Christopher Guest have provided her with plenty of material. The adoption of their older child, Annie, prompted Curtis’ second book, Tell Me Again About The Night I was Born.” Their adopted son, Thomas, was the inspiration for “Is There Really a Human Race?

TRADING PLACES: Whether writing about her daughter before the age of 4, her other daughter’s adoption or her son and the human race, Curtis focuses on life lessons.

Many of Curtis’ books address serious issues, such as immigration and self-esteem. As an author, she finds it extremely rewarding to empower readers with her words. “Someone once said that my books were ‘self-help books for children.’ That was certainly not my intent, but I think if you’ve lived life at all, you pick up life lessons along the way. And if you’re an artist, you utilize those life lessons in the work you do.

Books vs. technology

Curtis, best known for her performances in “Halloween,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” “True Lies” and “Freaky Friday,” considers reading to be sacred time. She wants to make certain her kids make books a part of their lives for decades to come, and encourages young parents to set the same goal for their youngsters.

“Obviously, reading is crucial, and I agree it’s being challenged by this digital age. I do not believe that a digital world will replace reading.” Curtis adds, “I think people still really like to read. I think reading, literature and the magic of a writer’s words will prevail.”

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