A top children’s editor at Simon & Schuster gave me a challenge.
“I like your work, Anne,” she said. “But I need something else. Go home and write me some books for 2-year-olds. When you’ve finished, come back and see me. There’s a hole in that part of the market!
WHAT? I left her office, thrilled but dismayed by my assignment. Two-year-olds don’t read! They barely sit still. What could I say to hold their interest?
When all else fails, do research! I like to immerse myself in my subject so deeply that ideas flood in, and words and pictures practically jump onto the page.
But it was a long time since my children were preschoolers. Even longer since I was two. I needed a crash course in toddlerhood. I had to BECOME two again, to get my creative juices flowing.
I enlisted the help of a friendly school in Los Angeles that was celebrated for its pre-school program. I went to the head of the school and asked a favor.
“Would you let me join your two-year-old program for a few weeks? I’m a writer. I’m writing some books for toddlers.”
“Do you want to observe a class or be a volunteer teacher’s helper?” said the Headmaster.
“Neither” I said. “I want to BE two. I want to join their daily activities. Do whatever they do. I need to remember how it feels to be their age.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, OK. Good luck to you. Don’t forget to bring a blankie for nap time. Snack is provided. Play nice.”
So, I became two again. One of the great things about two-year-olds is that they don’t sweat the small stuff. They’re too busy exploring the world to pay much attention to newcomers, or even to each other.
It was like being part of a family of puppies! Once a day, we were herded into Circle to sing songs or hear stories. At snack time, we gobbled Graham crackers and apple juice. At nap time, we stretched out on our blankies and tried not to wriggle. We did art, dipping our hands or feet into paint, and slapping them onto newsprint.
But our favorite times were when we just charged around the playground, exploring the bushes, trees and grassy slopes that surrounded it. Or lay on our tummies looking for worms. Conversation? Nope. Every toddler for him or herself. Was activity all there was? What were they thinking?
One tiny girl attracted my attention. A short tree stump stood in a corner beside a grassy slope. She climbed onto the stump, spread her arms wide, and jumped off, an expression of sheer bliss on her face. She tumbled to the grass, rolled round and around, then raced back to the stump to leap again. She did this over and over. She never tired of it. I decided to join her and see what it was all about.
I stepped onto the stump, spread my arms wide, and jumped. I plopped to the ground and rolled round and around. She looked at me, startled, then laughed. She jumped again. I jumped. We both jumped. Over and over, giggling with delight. A teacher finally noticed us and came over.
“What are you two doing?”
My playmate answered for us.
Oh. I thought we were jumping. She was flying. Who knows where? To some distant spot in her imagination? Maybe the moon?
The light went on for me. For a two-year-old, nothing is small or insignificant. Actions speak louder than words. But there is mystery and purpose behind their activity They’re high on life! Everything is fresh, new, and exciting. They want to experience it all. Today.
They also deal with all the big-ticket items in life, only on a smaller scale.
I was overwhelmed with love and admiration for them.
I went home and called my editor.
“I’m ready. See you soon.”
And that’s how I started writing and illustrating for the very young.