by Nancy Novick
When acting coach Rhona Silverbush reached out to educator and musician Carol Zeavin to address some developmental issues her young son was experiencing, neither woman anticipated their meeting would result in a friendship and creative collaboration.
With Zeavin’s background in early childhood education and music (she earned two graduate degrees at Bank Street College and is a violinist with American Ballet Theater), and Silverbush’s experience as an attorney for asylum seekers with a degree in developmental psychology, the two Upper West Siders quickly found they shared the same views, specifically about the needs of toddlers, including those with learning differences, and how adults can best help them.
“When it came to my son, Carol saw that it was all about respecting and understanding his thoughts and feelings and going from there,” Silverbush recalls.
As part of her work with toddlers, Zeavin was already writing stories to help them deal with whatever issues they were “chewing on”. “The stories weren’t intended for publication,” she notes. Silverbush, who had co-authored a book for actors on Shakespeare’s monologues (Speak the Speech!) was the first to raise the idea of working together on the Terrific Toddler series, books about issues that loom large for toddlers, presented from a toddler’s perspective.
West Side Rag recently sat down with Silverbush and Zeavin to learn more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
WSR: Your first six books in the series were published by Magination Press, the imprint of the American Psychological Association (APA). How did that come about?
Rhona Silverbush: I was aware of Magination Press and knew they would ensure we got it right. Our manuscripts were carefully reviewed and approved by experts in the field to make sure they were developmentally appropriate for toddlers. Kids this age are often misunderstood, so when people think they’re writing for toddlers, they’re really writing for three or four year olds.
Carol Zeavin: These books look simple to write because they don’t contain many words, but we use ‘surgical tweezers’ to get every word right. Our books are about typical toddler issues that families face all the time. Our next three deal with first experiences of going to school, getting a haircut, and going food shopping. I think anyone who walks into a grocery store with a toddler knows that can be a real issue.
RS: Our four main protagonists are distinct people. In Grocery Store! two kids have successful experiences and two don’t. One has trouble in the cereal aisle because she wants all the colorful boxes, and the other has a meltdown caused by sensory sensitivities. We’re showing that those two experiences may look the same from the outside, but they’re actually very different. I’m excited for toddlers to see themselves in either of these moments — and also for parents to have more awareness, so they can offer the right help.
CZ: The thing about toddlerhood is that it’s a microcosm for future development. The right response from a grown-up can have long-range effects. That’s another reason we feel so strongly about our books—they’re for toddlers, but they can also show adults who deal with toddlers some best practices according to the APA. Toddlers have a range of emotions just like older children and adults. Everything is in its incipient, primitive form, and it’s hard to deal with because they’re hair-trigger with their emotions.
WSR: How have the books been received?
RS: Parents tell us their kids are obsessed with the books! We’re also hearing about other issues families are dealing with and what they need. There’s one mother who can’t wait for our book on getting a haircut. That’s actually the first one I wanted to do and it’s finally getting published!
CZ: Toddlers recognize themselves in the series. We’re not trying to make them into something else; we’re not trying to manage their behavior. We’re saying “Here you are. We see you.” They drink them up. And adults also have some interesting reactions. One who was a middle child and felt she never had anything of her own, read All Mine!, which is about not having to share until you’re developmentally ready. It blew her mind!
Find out more about the Terrific Toddlers series here: https://www.terrific-toddlers-book-series.com/
The series is available on Amazon.com
Oh, kid on the right, I feel that way in the grocery store too sometimes. Especially when, against my better judgment, I go to Whole Foods.