About Me
Author Robie H. Harris Shares Her Inspiration for Growing Up Stories

Kids’ Librarians’ News
August 5, 2004

Author Robie H. Harris was delighted to share her thoughts about what prompted her to write SWEET JASMINE, NICE JACKSON, What It’s Like To Be 2-And To Be Twins!, the third book in her series GROWING UP STORIES, illustrated by Michael Emberley. This is the seventh children’s book Robie and Michael have created together. She writes:

When I was growing up, I loved to babysit. Ever since, I have always thought that babies, toddlers, and young children are fascinating, complicated, and amazing. When my own children were young-three, four, five, and six years old-they loved hearing the stories of when they were babies, toddlers, and two-year-olds. They found the stories of their travels through these years fascinating. And they loved looking back on those years and hearing about all the amazing things they had done and had learned to do.

During those years, I noticed how much my children loved to look at, talk to, and play with babies, toddlers, and two-year-olds. Whenever they did this, a ton of questions would flow. Why can’t babies walk? When did I learn to walk? Why can’t babies talk? When did I learn to talk? Can babies laugh? Why do one-year-olds still pee and poop in a diaper? When did I learn to pee and poop in a potty or toilet? Why is that little boy having a tantrum? Why did that little girl pinch her sister? What are twins? Are all twins exactly like each other? Why do two-year-olds say “Why?” all the time? Why do babies put everything in their mouths? Did I do that? What’s a toddler? Why do 2 year olds say “NO!” a lot? Did I say “NO!” a lot? The questions were endless, but always interesting.

Then they would beg to hear stories about themselves when they were those ages. “Tell me a story about when I was little-when I was a baby-when I was one-when I was two! Tell me a story about ME! Tell me a story about my growing up!” Years later, when I became a grandmother, I remembered all this and thought, wouldn’t it be interesting and fun for children to hear growing up stories and to learn how amazing they were from the moment they were born and all through their earliest years. And that’s where the title for our series GROWING UP STORIES came from. Each book has a different character and family. The illustrations are of all different kinds of children and families, our way of making sure these books look like what America really looks like-a diverse nation. This is a value both Michael and I hold.

The first book, HELLO BENNY! What It’s Like To Be A Baby gave me the chance to tell the story of how amazing babies are from the moment they are born and as they “grow up” to be one. When I wrote the story about Benny, I realized that many scientific facts about infants that I found fascinating would also fascinate children. Children wonder and sometimes worry about why babies cry. One fact I included was, “When most new babies cry, they don’t cry tears. They don’t cry tears until they are a few weeks old.” Another fact was, “Babies put everything they can into their mouths-even their fingers and toes and other people’s fingers or noses. This helps them to learn whether something feels rough or smooth, soft or hard, comfy or not-or tastes good or yucky, or hot or cold.” That’s when I decided for sure that combining a story with fascinating facts would engage children. We all know how much children love to gather facts and spout them out to each other and to the adults around them.

When thinking about GO! GO! MARIA! What It’s Like To Be 1, I knew from the get-go that the story of Maria would be about how she learned to talk and walk. That’s why the opening line in this story is, “Maria was one. When Maria wasn’t trying to walk, she was trying to talk. Sometimes she tried to walk and talk at the same time.” Older children are often surprised to hear that like Maria, when they were one and tried to do something new, they would practice something over and over again, until they finally learned to do it. Older children also delight in the fact that one-year-olds take a few steps and then fall down on their butts, laugh or cry, and get up again and try to walk again. They often follow a one-year-old around as they toddle around the room, looking like ducks imprinting. Hence, Michael Emberley’s marvelous and humorous drawing of a one-year-old toddling and being followed by a duck waddling with the following words, “Toddle toddle, waddle, waddle.” is accompanied by the art. Maria is bilingual and that gave me the opportunity to include this fact: “One-year-olds who grow up in families who speak more than one language often learn to speak two languages at the same time.”

I have twin nephews and I loved watching these two boys grow up. I have another nephew who is the father of a set of twins. One is a girl, the other is a boy, and I love being with them as well. That’s probably why I thought it would be fun and interesting when writing about two-year-olds to also write about twins. One day on the subway, I sat next to a set of two-year-old twins whose names were Jasmine and Jackson and that’s how I came up with the title SWEET JASMINE, NICE JACKSON, What It’s Like To Be 2-and To Be Twins! I had always known that this book would be about becoming independent, having a mind of one’s own. That’s a lot of what “being 2″ is about. Otherwise, why would a two-year-old say “NO!” so much of the time? That’s why in this story, I wrote, “The next morning when their mommy asked, ‘Time for a new diaper?’ Jasmine shouted, ‘NO! No dipe! NO-NO-NO-NO-OOOO!’ and ran out of the room . . . That night when their daddy said, ‘Time to go night-night!’ Jackson whispered, ‘NO night-night’ and ran out of the room.” This led me to include this fact: “Two-year-olds hear the word ‘NO!’ a lot. And they say ‘NO!’ a lot. They even say ‘NO!’ to their toys and pets. Saying ‘No!’ is their way of telling someone, I want to do what I want to do!” Later on, they do learn that they can’t always do what they want to do-or have what they want to have.” And of course, in the story, it’s clear that even twins are not exactly alike. Jackson puts marshmallow in his hot chocolate. Jasmine puts marshmallow in Jackson’s hair. This led me to include this fact. “Twins-even those who look almost exactly alike-are never exactly like each other. They may have different friends or like different foods. One might like to scribble with crayons. The other might like to finger paint. One might be noisy. The other might be quiet.”

Writing each new book in this series continues to be so gratifying. I love the challenge of creating stories about infants, toddlers, twins, and very young children and making each child and family unique. Working with Michael Emberley is always a privilege. His magnificent depictions of each child and family are warm, honest, humorous, touching, accurate, and informative. His art makes our books ones that children love to have read to them, love to look at and browse through, and when old enough, love to read to themselves or a younger sibling.

Many a parent has told me that after reading one of our GROWING UP STORIES to children, the children ask to see pictures of themselves when they were babies and when they were little. And that more often than not, children ask a parent to tell them stories about when their parent was little or about when they were little. My grandchildren love having my husband and I tell them stories about when we were babies or little. Teachers have told me how much children love to listen to GROWING UP STORIES and many have told me how well these books complement their curriculums on the family-a popular curriculum used in preschool, kindergarten, and first and second grade. It’s hard to believe that we were all babies and were all little once. But isn’t it fascinating to hear what we were like when we were little? A teacher of five-year-olds told me that after reading SWEET JASMINE, NICE JACKSON to her class, one of the children exclaimed, “Wow! I’ve already done a lot of growing up!”