“Because you never get a second chance at making a first impression.” That antagonizing line from a deodorant commercial was invented by someone who has forgotten their childhood.
Thankfully, actress and author Jamie Lee Curtis is around to remind us of the carrot-and-the-stick challenge of achieving the first evers that encourage forward momentum in life.
And, of course, it took a child, a couple of them really, to remind her of the glorious and exhaustive process of not only trying something for the first time, but the reward of the mounting failed attempts that accumulate into accomplishment.
“My Brave Year of Firsts, Tries, Sighs and High Fives” is the chronicle of real-life events in the most recent years of family friend Frankie Rippo, 9, and Curtis’ goddaughter, 9-year-old Zoe Timberlake Walker.
Curtis will be at Iconoclast Books in Ketchum on Sunday, Dec. 23, to read from the book and reunite with her inspirations. This is her 10th book, illustrated by Laura Cornell, each one a testament to the unfolding chapters of a child’s growth, but also a voice that parents can learn from and use to understand the world from a child’s perspective.
“We adults tell our children to ‘try it’ all the time and yet we do nothing new,” Curtis said. “I thought this book was a great way to open the dialogue and celebrate the bravery of children.”
Curtis is mother to two grown children, Annie, 26, and Tom, 16. She started writing books with titles like “When I Was Little,” a 4-year-old’s reflection on life as she knew it when her daughter said something “funny and moving,” and it became a book. “I had no expectations about writing, movies, really, my life. I am wide open and available for the muse. I am astonished by the grace I have had with my writing.”
Each book that followed gained an enormous following, covering consciousness-raising topics that parents and kids loved equally.
“The secret sauce to my ‘Books To Grow By’ is that they are written for both the children and their parents,” she explained. “There is nothing more boring as a parent than to read and reread the same book for children that doesn’t resonate at all. My books (with the insanely talented Laura Cornell) offer humor and whimsy and insights for both the reader and the child. It’s a magical combination and one that is very much mine and Laura’s.”
The most recent hat trick evolved from an encounter two summers back at Java, the coffee house where Frankie’s mom and dad make their living.
“Jamie Lee asked my Dad about my summer,” Frankie said. “My dad said, ‘It was a summer of firsts.’ Jamie Lee looked at my dad and said ‘What did you just say?’ He said, ‘A summer of Frankie’s firsts.’ And she said, ‘I thought I was done writing but maybe not.’”
Proud papa Todd began ticking off the list: biking around Alturas Lake loop, galloping on a horse, riding a dirt bike. Curtis started taking mental notes. And, she cross-checked with Zoe to round out the story.
“A few summers ago, I was doing so many things for the first time and Jamie came over to visit me and I wanted to show her everything,” Zoe explained. “I guess it ended up inspiring a book.”
Zoe and Frankie were friends from ice skating. And although Zoe has since moved from Hailey to San Francisco, she will be back for the book signing.
“It feels pretty special to have a book dedicated to me,” she said. “It’s pretty fun to see parts of my life and some of my ‘firsts’ in a book.”
“The secret sauce to my books is that they are written for both the children and their parents.”
Jamie Lee Curtis
Frankie said the writer took a few liberties with the content, but she clarifies fact from fiction.
“I jumped off a huge rock at Redfish. In the book it has me jumping with my Dad, but I really jumped with my friend Ari. Now, I jump with my mom because, actually, my dad is too chicken.”
That first jump required a major leap over anxiety “because it was so high up and a catfish might bite off my toes. I felt so brave!” But that’s life, Frankie reasoned: seeing an obstacle as an opportunity and going for it.
She credits working in her parents’ shop for reinforcing her try-it-and-stick-with-it attitude.
“I remember the first time I got a tip at Java for helping. I thought I was too young to get paid. I wanted to go to the toy store across from Java, but I couldn’t really buy what I wanted with $3, so I wanted to keep working to save money to buy something bigger.”
Her advice to younger kids struggling with bravery?
“I used to not be brave, but once you do something you’re scared of, it’ll help your life a lot because once you do it, you’re not afraid anymore,” she said. “And you should trust the people trying to get you to do something.”
“Just keep on trying and you’ll get to the top,” she said. “Have fun with it, you’ll get there.”
Curtis said she’s “not a guru or a self-help expert.”
“I’m a human being who has now raised two of my own. The trials and tribulations are celebrations of those relationships and are the center of all I do. I’m truthful and relate.”
Giving a voice to children, even before the real world has given them audience, is part of the formula.
“Being heard is vital in any human being’s life,” she said. “Dr. Seuss said, ‘A person’s a person no matter how small.’ I concur.”
Meet the muses
When: Sunday, Dec. 23, 4-6 p.m.
Where: Iconoclast Books on Sun Valley Road, Ketchum.