The iconic Jamie Lee Curtis discusses her latest picture book for kids, Just One More Sleep: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait … and Wait … and Wait.
From the countdown to birthdays to the excitement of other holidays throughout the year, Curtis explores the universal theme of waiting through the lens of childhood. The conversation unveils the collaborative process between Curtis and her illustrator, Laura Cornell, offering insights into the unique partnership that brings her stories to life.
Discover the dual nature of Curtis’s books, crafted to captivate both children and adults, as she shares the joy of reading together. The interview delves into the emotional depth of Curtis’s work, addressing themes of loss, self-identity, and the complexities of growing up. With warmth and authenticity, Jamie Lee Curtis invites listeners into the world of her creations, leaving an enduring impact on readers of all ages.
Jamie Lee Curtis Talks About:
- The origin story: How Betty, Jamie’s neighbor, inspired Just One More Sleep
- Collaboration with illustrator Laura Cornell
- Anticipation, joy, and family traditions in the book
- Exploring loss, self-identity, and childhood challenges
- Creating a space for children’s voices to be heard
- The joy of reading together: Shared experiences between adults and children
Listen to the Interview
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Well, Hello, Jamie Lee Curtis. Thank you so much for coming on The Growing Readers Podcast.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Thank you.
Bianca Schulze: I’ve been counting down the sleeps; although I was so excited last night, I think it took me a little while to fall asleep.
Jamie Lee Curtis: For children, you know it’s a book about waiting, and, yes, as you said, it’s like the countdown to Christmas. But how many of us have had difficulty falling asleep before a big event? Christmas. A birthday! You know, it’s a beautiful way of metabolizing time for young children.
And I’m lucky that my little neighbor Betty said it to me three years ago, or I wouldn’t have a book today.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, my gosh! So, we have Betty to thank for this wonderful title.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Yes. Well, just for your listeners. Here’s the story. It’s brief. It was Covid. We were in lockdown. It was the first year—2020. It was the first Christmas during Covid. We were all at our homes. And I went out on the street to get my mail. And I was wearing a mask. Betty and her mom, Whitney, were down the street about 10 feet away, and I waved. Hey, Betty!
Hi, Jamie! And I said, hey, Betty—it was Christmas Eve, and I said—Hey, Betty. Santa’s on his way. And she said to me. No, Jamie, no—one more sleep—then Santa. And I realized in that instant that children, of course, compartmentalize time through how many sleeps they have.
And, of course, I felt like I had made a mistake because a young child doesn’t understand that Santa is in the air, and you know what I mean the time that it’s already daytime in another country like the idea of time is, is so amorphous for a child. And sleep makes it concrete. And so that’s how the book was born.
Bianca Schulze: I love that well, and for me, too, I think one of the most crucial elements of just existing is actually sleeping. If we don’t get enough sleep, I just think then, like, even if you’ve waited for these fabulous moments to come—your birthday, your Christmas. If you’re tired, then you don’t get to enjoy it, too. So anyway, I just love the whole concept of sleep and counting down the sleep.
I also just need to take a quick segway because I can’t go on without congratulating you on your Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Your acceptance speech—I felt that in my entire body, the whole idea of I might look like I’m standing here alone. But really, you’re standing on the shoulders of others.
Jamie Lee Curtis: I mean people, you know, it’s the idea that it’s a collaborative art form being an actor as a collaborative art for movies are collaborative. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. And just watch any movie and look at the credits. There are hundreds of people involved. Not just the, you know, nucleus of the creativity. Usually, the writer, director, producer, actors, camera crew, sound crew, and costuming like the— it’s just an enormous group of people. And in that instance, the idea that I was being somehow celebrated was incorrect because I don’t exist without the writers. I don’t exist without the directors, the customer, and the makeup like I don’t exist without my seeing partners. That creation of that woman doesn’t exist.
And so, I appreciate that you saw that. I will tell you it was certainly a big surprise for me that it all happened, and I’m glad that that moment resonated for you because it resonated for me.
Bianca Schulze: That’s amazing. Well, let’s carry on with that message of collaboration. Because yes, you’re this amazing, celebrated actor-actress. But you’re also a bestselling author. All of your children’s books have been bestsellers. So, let’s talk about that collaborative process. And what does that look like for you when you’re creating your children’s books?
Jamie Lee Curtis: There’s a John Steinbeck quote from East of Eden about creation and creativity. And what he posits is that nothing is created by two people. Creation comes from what he refers to as the individual mind of the man—or woman, or human. That creation comes from one person’s idea and immediately can get built on by other people. And expanded and stretched, but nothing is created in that instant by two.
And so, from that idea, the idea of creation is thrilling to me. So, the books that I write come from children; mostly, they come from phrases. Like the first book I wrote was called When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth, and it was born when my then 4-year-old daughter, Annie, marched into my office. I remember where I was sitting. And she marched in and kind of put her hands on her hips in that very cute way that children do, and she was like when I was little, I wore diapers, but now I use the potty. And then she started up and then ran out of the room.
And there was a pad I keep up —like a journaly kind of pad thing on my desk, but there was a pad on my desk. And I wrote down on a pad I wrote when I was a little, a 4-year-old memoir of her youth. Because it just made me laugh, and then I wrote like when I was little I did this, but now I do this, and I wrote it all, and at the end of it. I wrote three things that made me cry.
I wrote when I was little. I didn’t know what a family was.
When I was little, I didn’t know what dreams were.
When I was little, I didn’t know who I was. But now I do.
And the minute I wrote, now I do. I realized that she had her own life. She had a history. She was talking about the good old days when she was little. The way I talk about like wearing bell bottoms and corkeys and having a shag like the good old days, you know, and it made me understand that she had an identity.
But she was 4, and as far as I was concerned, she was just this little kid. But it was so clear that she understood she had an identity. And that it was hers. And I in that moment went, oh, this is a book for children, and I sent it to an agent. I didn’t have an agent. I sent it to my mother-in-law’s best friend through fax. She then sent it to Joanna Cotler, who was the head of children’s books at Harper and Row. That’s how old I am. And they bought it that day. And that’s how I began writing books for children. I had never thought of it.
The reason that we sent it to Harper in Row was because they had published a book by a wonderful author named Leah Komaiko. And it was a book called Annie Bananie. And my daughter Annie was given that book. I recited that book to Annie every day until she was 4, and I realized that I loved the illustrations. I loved the way she, Laura Cornell, looked at the world and she had drawn that book.
And I sent it to my agent—my mother-in-law’s best friend, Phyllis Wender—and I said, can you send it to—I don’t think I even knew the word publisher. I think I said can you send it to the place that made the book Annie Bananie, which at that time was Harper and Row. So, you see, it all began with Laura Cornell.
She sees the world the way I see the world. I do not see the world through an Instagram filter. I do not see the world through a Pinterest page. I see the world in reality. Kids have scraped knees. Their pony or their pigtails are often askew. There’s always a hair out of place. There’s a tooth missing. That’s who we are. We are imperfect humans. And she draws imperfect humans in the joy of life.
And so, I see that’s how we became partners. They bought the book. They partnered me with her, and we’ve made a bunch of books since then.
Bianca Schulze: I love that kind of magic collaboration that you obviously have with her. So, people that listen to this podcast know that a lot of times. Authors don’t actually meet their illustrators. But some do. So, I’m curious: have you and Laura hung out in the real world?
Jamie Lee Curtis: So, Laura and I’ve made, I think we made like 14 books together. We’ve met probably five times. She lives in New York and is a single mother. She’s an artist, a little Zany. I am an A-type, a mother of two, married, good girl from Los Angeles. Who happens to be an actor. Very organized, like hyper-organized, and we are just a good, weird pair. She brings the humor. I bring the pathos
My secret sauce of my books is that they—They’re two things, and it’s crucial for your listeners. How many of us, as parents, have read books for children and we just are bored? We are bored by the book. We’re just bored. The kid may be delighted by the book, which is the point, but you see, they are supposed to be read to children by adults. Very important to remember that. So, from the beginning, when I was little, a 4-year-old memoir of her youth—it’s funny for a parent for an adult thinking that a 4-year-old is writing a memoir. It’s just funny. And so, all of my books have this duality. There’s a book for children, and there’s a book for an adult.
So, all of the subtitles— Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day: Make My Day is Clint Eastwood’s, like, Dirty Harry catchphrase.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, go ahead, make my day.
Jamie Lee Curtis: So you see the duality of that it’s a book for children about moods and feelings, and I’ve thrown in a little subversive darkness, which is for adults. So, what happens is adults really like reading my books because there’s stuff in it for them.
The best example is in the book. Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery. Which was born at a children’s birthday party; when all of the party favors, which were the helium balloons, got let loose, they were tied to a pole, and a kid pulled the string. They all flow up in the sky. We all went—We looked up in the sky, and a little girl named Rachel Evans, standing next to me at this park, pulled on her mommy’s sweater and said, Mommy, where do balloons go?
And in that second, I went, oh what? And wrote a book. But in that book, it’s a book about what happens when—we’ve all done it—let go of the balloon. It goes up to the sky, and we wonder.
And this little child asks his parents like where the balloons go, and it’s done in rhyme. And at one point, it says:
Where do they go when they float far away?
Do they ever catch cold, need somewhere to stay?
That’s a beautiful idea of a child being worried that that balloon is going to be cold and maybe sick and not have a place warm place to go. But where the balloon goes in the dream in the illustration is the Bates motel.
Now—anybody listening to this understands that the reference to the Bates Motel is from the movie Psycho, that my mother, Janet Leigh, met her grizzly end in. Now again, this is a book for children, so the line of music for the child is very warm and loving and concerned. Does it ever catch cold, need somewhere to stay?
And then, of course, for the adult, there’s this joyful little stretch of this balloon kind of floating near the Bates Motel. It just makes you laugh a little, and in that, you then engage the parent in a way that is thrilling for them cause then they’re looking for this sort of parent messages. They’re like secret messages embedded in a book for children. So that’s my secret sauce that, I think, has made my book so successful.
Bianca Schulze: I know that you’re a bit of an activist. You’re you’re outspoken. I love seeing, you know, some of the things you talk about online. So, we know that the world is a little bit topsy-turvy at times, and I’m just curious about where we are with things going on in the world. Is there something specific that motivates you, or you know, keeps you driven towards creating books for children? I know a lot of times. People get the ideas when their kids are younger, and you’re inspired by these things that your kids say. And that may be all it is. But I think sometimes, like if we think about it on a deeper level, is there something else that motivates and drives us to write for kids?
Jamie Lee Curtis: So, here’s what I would say: I think the world is hard. I think being human is hard and contradictory, and I think being a child is hard. I wrote a book called. It’s Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel. I didn’t write a book saying it’s easy to be 5. I wrote a book called It’s Hard to be Five because I recognize that by 5, you’re starting to pick up some bigger queues around the world. We are starting to ask kids to sit still and listen and learn. And it’s it’s a tough time.
So, to that point, I think life is hard. You know, it’s the line from The Princess Bride, which I love, which is when Princess Buttercup finds out that Wesley, her love, has been killed. And the man in black at the top of the cliff says something about Wesley, and she says, you mock my pain. And Wesley looks at her and says, life is pain, Highness, and anyone who says differently is selling something.
Life is pain. Life is hard and joyful.
The metabolizing of both ideas is what maturity is. The more we mature, the more we can live with the disparity of life. That there are atrocities happening everywhere, not just in the Middle East, not just in North Korea, but in our backyards and in our homes. And so the metabolizing of reality is, to me, what the definition of maturity is, and I think we do a disservice to children if we don’t bring them along. You know, a little dose of reality as we make books.
So, for instance, I made a book years ago. My blockbuster. I had a blockbuster book called Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day. But in that book, we talk about feeling sad, angry, and scared. Those are ideas that kids have, and we don’t give them a voice in books very often, except in very dark fairy tales, which is the idea that we have generations who are indoctrinated on fairy tales that are gruesome and awful.
And yet, I’m simply trying to introduce reality to young people. And so, in that sense, I do think it’s a responsibility. But I don’t write books to do that. I ended up, it turns out, writing what they called self-help books for children because I talked about real things: Self-identity, a book about adoption, how families are built through adoption, feelings, Self-esteem, loss, and letting go. The balloon book is about letting go of a balloon, but it’s also about loss, and little children deal with loss all the time. Either a grandparent or a pet or, God forbid, a friend. Or, if you know what I mean, the loss is real.
And so, these books are written not as like I’m gonna write a book about loss. I didn’t think about it for a second until I was writing it. And when I wrote the line, you know, because it’s about a balloon going farther and farther away, and there’s a line in the book where it’s all questions from a child. There’s a line in the book where it says about it going to that place up above. You know, when we lose someone, we look up; we somehow—we want their presence to be here, and there’s a line in the book that says:
Does it float there forever, remembering me and know that I’m happy, that it’s floating free?
That’s helpful for a child. It’s helpful for me saying that I’ve lost a lot.
That’s a big idea. And it’s couched in a book of wonder and adventure. But the truth is, it’s a book about loss. And I didn’t know that when I wrote it—when I started writing it, it was an adventure book.
Where balloons go when you let them go free. It can happen by accident. It’s happened to me. Where do they go when they float far away? Do they ever catch cold need somewhere to stay?
Do they keep going up? Do they ever just stop? I’m sure that they’re always concerned that they’ll pop.
You know, and then it goes on to tell the story about the balloon. But at the end of it, I’m writing this, and all of a sudden, I start to cry. You see, for me, starting to cry is an indicator that I’m in the book. I’m in a Jamie book, like I’m now in the right zone. When I wrote When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth, I thought it was just funny things that my little girl couldn’t do and now she could do until I got to the end, and I wrote when I was little. I didn’t know what a family was when I was little. I didn’t know what dreams were when I was little. I didn’t know who I was, and now I do, and I started to cry.
And it was at that moment that I went. Oh, this is a book!
So, for me, emotion is real. And that’s crucial.
To me, in the contract of being an author for children, is that you give them something real.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. You need to be able to have a feeling when you end a book, whether it’s joy, whether it’s, you know, contemplation. You need to be left with a feeling. All right. Well, I want to know—this book, Just One More Sleep, is so joyful. It’s about all the holidays in the world.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Not all the holidays in the world.
Bianca Schulze: Correction.
Jamie Lee Curtis: There will be some people whose holidays I did not mention who are going to feel slighted. Please understand it was impossible to include every holiday. We got a lot of them in—it’s a big, diverse family with all sorts of family traditions.But yes, we were not able to get them all in, but we were able to get a lot of them.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I know. I mean, I don’t want to give a spoiler away here, but there’s no National Hot Dog Day included for anybody who is curious about that. Well, I loved the whole celebration. We’ve got Passover, Christmas, Kwanza, Father’s Day, birthdays. It is very, very joyful. So, on that note. What impact do you hope that Just One More Sleep has on readers?
Jamie Lee Curtis: I hope kids like it. I hope kids like it. I hope they feel like, Oh, wow! Yeah. Oh, that’s funny, you know. It’s funny in the book. Publishers Weekly—like in October—did a review of the book calling it “A joyous celebration of celebration,” and you know —as a child in a reality life, you look forward to those celebrations, your birthday, the first day of school, whatever religious holiday you have Fourth of July, the first day of camp—if you get to go to camp—like these are joyful sometimes a little scary a moment. But you’re still thinking about it. It’s active in your imagination, in your mind; you’re beginning as a young child to go Oh, I wonder who my teacher is going to be.
And so, I hope they feel like I see them and that they have a voice because that’s what these books are created to do: to show children that they have a voice that we are seeing, listening to, and hearing them. And identifying and trying to help them identify with feelings and excitement and trepidation about their life, not ours. This isn’t about me. This is about Betty and her year of waiting for things to happen.
And it’s a privilege for me to be able to be a writer for books for children that has nothing to do with my public life, has nothing to do with my, you know, my—it’s just my ideas and my way I look at the world and look at people. And so, it’s a privilege for me to be able to be here with you talking about this book Just One More Sleep: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait … and Wait … and Wait. And I love it.
Bianca Schulze: My gosh, well, I love it too. And Jamie, Just One More Sleep does such a beautiful job of addressing the importance of savoring moments and finding joy in anticipation. And even in a world that often encourages immediate satisfaction. So, the concept of measuring time in sleeps is completely charming. It’s very relatable. I don’t think just for the children; I think for the adults, too. I measure time in sleep. So, thank you so much for writing this book. Thank you to Laura for the beautiful illustrations and thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Thank you very much. God bless you all! Stay safe out there. Enjoy, enjoy each day.
About the Book
Written by Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrated by Laura Cornell
Ages 3+ | 32 Pages
Publisher: Philomel Books | ISBN-13: 9780593527047
Publisher’s Book Summary: In a celebration of delayed gratification, New York Times bestselling duo Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell give readers a new self-help book for kids that explains why waiting can be wonderful—and can give you a reason to cheer all year round, from New Year’s Day to Kwanzaa and all the holidays in between.
Just one more sleep…
Waiting is not easy—especially for children. Often they measure the concept of time in how many more sleeps until the exciting day comes, when there is so much to do, so many exciting things to explore, and so many holidays to celebrate! In a buoyant book that channels childhood exuberance, Jamie Lee Curtis makes it clear why waiting is worth it. And with Laura Cornell’s bold and humorous artwork helping readers celebrate and appreciate milestones throughout the year, this is a story worth waiting for—and one kids will want to read over and over again.
Buy the Book
Jamie Lee Curtis is an author, actor, activist, sister, friend, wife, and mother. She is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous picture books, including Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, Today I Feel Silly, I’m Gonna Like Me, and My Brave Year of Firsts. You can follow her on Instagram @JamieLeeCurtis, Twitter @JamieLeeCurtis, and Facebook at facebook.com/JamieLeeCurtis.