Jamie Lee Curtis Reveals How Her Young Neighbor Inspired Her Latest Children's Book, “Just One Sleep” (Exclusive)

The iconic actress and children's book authors revels in another opportunity to share big messages with little readeres

<p>Oliver Bukowsky</p> Jamie Lee Curtis and her latest children

Oliver Bukowsky

Jamie Lee Curtis and her latest children's book, "Just One More Sleep"

Jamie Lee Curtis knows that waiting isn't easy.

The beloved Oscar-winning actress and children's book author, 64, tells PEOPLE that when it came to her latest children's book — Just One More Sleep: All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait... and Wait... and Wait — she was inspired by her young neighbor.

"This book was born during COVID, the first Christmas, when I saw my neighbor Betty on the street. It was Christmas Eve. It was about four o'clock, and I was going to get the mail and Betty was there. I went, 'Hey, Betty! Santa's on his way!' And she looked panicked, and she went, 'No, Jamie, no. One more sleep, then, Santa."

Curtis was impressed by Betty's measured way of looking at the much-awaited holiday.

"I went, 'Well yes, you're right Betty. I'm so sorry, you're totally right.' Because she's too young to understand time. And then I went inside and wrote the book."

Of her children's book writing process, Curtis says, "These books arrive to me almost fully formed."

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<p>Courtesy of Jamie Lee Curtis</p> Jamie Lee Curtis and neighbor Betty

Courtesy of Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis and neighbor Betty

Related: Jamie Lee Curtis Wishes Daughter Annie a Happy Birthday: 'I Love Her with Everything I've Got'

"All of these books come to me through the voice of children, one sentence, usually that they're saying," she shares. "I don't focus on anything. Books arrive to me almost fully formed. I hear them."

With Just One More Sleep, Curtis says, "I realized in a modern world — not in my generation when I raised my first children, but in a modern world — they've come up with this wonderful way of compartmentalizing time into something that a child can understand, which is going to sleep. And so the idea of the countdown gives them some control over time. I thought that was extraordinary, and that's why I wrote the book."

The multi-hyphenate says that she's always loved this method of finding the stories she wants to share with young readers.

"I wrote a book called Is There Really a Human Race? which was born when my youngest daughter came home from school one day, very agitated. She was about 5 and she looked at me when she got out of the carpool. She said, 'Is there really a human race?'"

"And what she was saying is, 'And you didn't tell me that I'm in a race? That I have a number on my back?!' I mean, it was so shocking and I felt so terrible that somehow that had gotten into her," Curtis says. "And that day, I wrote a book, because I realized little children are taught that life is nothing but a big competition. We're so obsessed with being number one, and very few people get to be number one. So I wrote a book about it."

<p>Andrew Eccles</p> Jamie Lee Curtis

Andrew Eccles

Jamie Lee Curtis

Curtis is mom to two kids —  Ruby, 27, and Annie, 37 — and recalls running into the fact that "time is tricky" with them over and over as little ones.

"We always say as moms, 'Be there in a minute.' What does that mean, though? We use time in a way that they can understand. Obviously, my children are grown and I'm far away from when they were little, and yet, I have those memories of time being tricky."

Managing time with one of her kids involved a lot of reminders and the use of egg timers.

"One of my children is a gamer, loves to play video games and is a screen learner. That's how she succeeded, but I had to figure out how to control time with her. And I used egg timers — I know I'm not the first, but it gave me a chance," she says, explaining how she'd use a series of timers to wind down screen time.

"Even though it was frustrating for them, they were able to understand because of the connection between what they were doing and the timer counting down ... It gives them an endpoint, sort of a soft landing."

<p>Penguin Young Readers, Penguin Random House</p> Cover of Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell's "Just One More Sleep"

Penguin Young Readers, Penguin Random House

Cover of Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell's "Just One More Sleep"

The book finds Curtis teaming up with illustrator Laura Cornell for another fun read, with Curtis laughing that, "Our backgrounds are very different, although we're both California girls."

"It brings a great partnership. There's always an emotional component that I bring and there's always a humor component that she brings," she says. "That's my secret sauce. Laura brings the humor, I bring the pathos and together, we make books that parents really like reading and children like being read.

"If you can make the parent laugh and make the parent cry, it's a book they want to pick up again and again to read with their children," she adds.

At 65, Curtis says she is "delighted, surprised and proud" that "I can still hear a book for young children that they can relate to because that's the whole point."

"I think being human is hard and the more we grow up and the more we learn about the real world, the harder it is to reconcile joy and happiness because there's so much hard truth out there. Being an adult means you balance both of those and I believe that writing books for children is a privilege," she says.

"That's the joy to me. The joy is that being able to metabolize the reality of the difficulty of the world. I truly believe that we have to ensure and are required to have hope. Because without hope, then it's just awful. And I don't think the world is awful — I think the world is complicated."

"They're big ideas and really important ones and I just love that I'm a bit of a conduit into, I hope, some real feelings for young children as they mature and start to take in the reality of the world. It's a privilege."

<p>Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty</p> Jamie Lee Curtis

Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty

Jamie Lee Curtis

Curtis also acknowledges getting back to acting and directing after many months of striking as a privilege.

"A lot of the creative work in all of our lives was put on hold and all of that work is hopefully going to be restarting now. So I'm hoping that I have a great creative output year. I've had a a year of receiving and promoting — a big, couple of years of promoting. Now I get to create again. I get to inhabit characters and participate in the creation of things. I'm hoping this year is a very creative year."

Just One More Sleep: All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait... and Wait... and Wait is available online and bookstores on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

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