Books help navigate ‘terrific toddler’ years

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It all starts with a box of crayons, a dress-up hat, a tumble, a scrape, or the sight of Mama in her work clothes headed for the door. Then comes the dreaded shriek. Every parent, grandparent, preschool teacher, and babysitter has been there.

Carol Zeavin, M.S.Ed., M.Ed., and Rhona Silverbush, J.D., have written three charming board books taking these fraught scenarios and leading their characters to harmonious outcomes.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily, say the writers, whose books include not only happy endings, but also practical, well-researched tips for grownups about how to get through those toddler traumas with mindfulness, diplomacy, and love.

These “Notes to Parents and Caregivers” provide guidelines for navigating the challenges and helping cherished toddlers understand their world.

Besides writing for children, the authors are involved professionally in other creative pursuits. Zeavin is a world-class violinist and teacher. Silverbush has practiced law and acted (including at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse), and written about Shakespeare, and she coaches actors.

Both also have experience and training in education and child development. Both have been up-close and personal with toddlers. Silverbush raised a son, and now consults for families of children with learning differences and special needs. Zeavin worked with infants and toddlers for nearly a decade as head teacher at two facilities.

The pair met serendipitously when Zeavin was assigned to work with Silverbush’s toddler son Jack, now 15, in an early intervention program.

Friendship blossomed and endured. In time they decided to try their creative hands at writing books for and about toddlers, focusing on the tiny but traumatic dramas that arise as they negotiate life in this big, busy, confusing world.

They envisioned a series, and were delighted with an enthusiastic response to the first three titles: “All Mine!” “Boo-Boo!” and “Bye-Bye!” “These wonderful books can help you ‘speak’ toddler!” wrote one happy Amazon customer.

Publisher Magination Press, children’s book imprint of the American Psychological Association, terms the series “the first to handle the topics in carefully researched, developmentally appropriate ways for toddlers.”

Silverbush said a cofounder of the prestigious nationwide literacy initiative Reach Out and Read (ROR) was impressed by the series, and arranged purchase of several hundred books for the organization’s programs.

The short titles alone will increase the heart rate of anyone who knows, loves, and cares for a toddler. We assume “All Mine!” will lead to an angry toddler standoff, with toys held hostage. “Boo-Boo!” signals torrents of tears and fears. “Bye-Bye!” suggests grim images of wailing, flailing, and a harried mom’s late arrival at work (if she gets to go at all).

Toddlers love the books, and joyfully recognize themselves in these familiar scenes, while adult readers welcome the subtly instructive storylines that end up with smiles all around. The sturdy volumes are just right for little hands, the simple words familiar to smallest listeners. Plots are tailored for toddlers, whose understanding of the world is less sophisticated than even that of preschoolers.

Readers meet four cute, idiosyncratic, strong-willed, and imaginative little people, busily trying to weather the sudden storms of newfound emotions. The children and their adults bravely address those rollercoaster ups and downs that mark every toddler’s day.

Though JoJo, Kai, Jack, and Ava are individuals with their own qualities and quirks, they are also “universal toddlers.” They scream, they grab, they snuggle, they sob, they bumble, they love their toys, their mamas, and the word “No!”

Praise goes to Jon Davis for his economical yet sweetly gentle illustrations. He depicts perfectly those unmistakable little frowns, quizzical gazes, crinkled noses, happy heartfelt hugs, and angry tussles. He gets the physical details and body language just right too, showing those pudgy, huggable toddlers trying out their tentative but determined, not-quite-balanced moves.

The little protagonists do not represent specific children in the co-authors’ lives, according to Silverbush, but each is an amalgamation of children they have known.

“We also wanted our toddlers to be representative of the larger population,” Silverbush added. “Two are people of color, one has sensory sensitivities, one has a single mother, another has two dads.”

Buoyed by this successful start, the authors are finalizing their next three offerings, “Baby!” “Potty!” and “Time to Go!” about transitions that are so hard for toddlers. Next, look for several volumes addressing the little person’s early ventures out into the big world: “Haircut!” “School!” and “Grocery Store!”

If the current books are any indication, these upcoming titles promise captivating storytimes for toddlers, and a wealth of useful and timely guidance for the adults in their lives.

Silverbush will hold a reading at Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Thursday, July 11, at 11 am, and the books will be for sale there and online.