Prior to her winning an Academy Award for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and garnering critical acclaim for her work on The Bear, Jamie Lee Curtis had an auspicious encounter with a four-year-old neighbor. It was Christmas Eve 2020, she recalls. “We were all masked up, 20 feet away from each other, and I said to her, ‘Santa is on his way!’ She was very cross, and pointed her finger at me and said, ‘No, Jamie, one more sleep, then Santa.’ ” The idea of how children “compartmentalize time” intrigued her, and with productions on pandemic hiatus, Curtis had time to build on the idea of kids using the “sleeps” to manage delayed gratification for a year’s worth of celebrations—from birthdays to New Year’s Eve. “The truth is this book dropped into my life at just the right time,” Curtis said, and the result is Just One More Sleep, her 13th collaboration with illustrator Laura Cornell. PW’s conversation with her touched on 30+ years of picture book making, her longstanding partnership with Cornell, and the virtues of having patience in a career that began when she was 19.

Your new book also represents a partnership with a new publisher, Penguin’s Philomel imprint, and a new editor, Jill Santopolo. What’s the story behind this?

I started out working with HarperCollins; originally it was Harper & Row—that’s how old I am. We published many books together, and then the children’s book market changed a little, and I had older kids, so I wasn’t “hearing” books for very young children. I ended up publishing a book with Workman, a beautiful book about immigration [This Is Me, 2016] for slightly older children. Then I bounced around a bit, looking for a publishing home. Philomel came along—this is a book for very young children—and they were into it.

Jill, who runs Philomel, stepped in as my editor, and she was terrific. She totally saw the way to go. But I’ve only made books with Joanna Cotler [her longtime editor at HarperCollins] and I had to bring Joanna in on my own, to have that cohesion of creativity, and, I think, more of a comfort blanket. I wouldn’t be an author without Joanna Cotler.

This was a very specific book about celebrations—it’s really joyful. Jill’s team really pulled together the vibrancy of the images, challenging Laura to shake the snow globe of creativity, and bring all of her visual energy into the text. It was a fantastic partnership with Jill, and Joanna on the side being a cheerleader.

My books have to make me laugh, but they really have to make me cry, because at the center of it all life is hard for everybody. Life is hard for adults, and life is hard for children.

I’d never thought I’d make a penny in publishing. I didn’t even understand that you could make money. I remember I was in my car when that giant cell phone went off [in 1993]and [my publicist] Heidi Schaeffer told me that When I Was Little had sold 50,000 copies.

I had little kids and we’d go to the library and pick up 30 picture books at a time and there was one with my name! It was mind-bending for me. I don’t do it for the money. I’m lucky I have a day job. This is pure creative expression for me.

And the truth is, I don’t think I have that many more books in me. Unless I get grandchildren and start “hearing” books from the voices of those children.

Your three decades of collaboration with Laura Cornell may be one for the record books. What keeps your partnership going?

I know we’ve been working together for 34 years because my daughter Annie is 37. And we couldn’t be more different. We truly don’t really know each other intimately. We know each other from an emotional standpoint. I love her and her family. She loves me and my family. But I’m a West Coast kind of actress, I may be a slight vulgarian, and she’s this incredibly creative single mom in New York City. I’m a good girl; I like a deadline. Laura’s an artist; deadlines sort of aren’t her thing. We’re this funny pair.

I’ll tell you the reason Laura Cornell is the illustrator of all these books. I wrote my first book and sent it to Phyllis Wender on a fax machine [Wender, a legendary agent, was best friends with Curtis’s mother-in-law]. My daughter’s name is Annie and my favorite book was called Annie Bananie by Leah Komaiko—right now I can recite the entire book—and it was drawn by Laura Cornell. Those kids looked like the way I felt kids look, which is all mismatched, hair out of place—not Instagram friendly or Pinterest friendly. They have Band-Aids and macaroni necklaces. And the reason Phyllis sent my book to Joanna Cotler was because Harper & Row had published Annie Bananie and I knew they published Laura Cornell’s work. Laura looked at the world the way I looked at the world and that connection gave birth to all these books.

Ninety-nine percent of every book is visually Laura. On every manuscript, before she starts drawing at all, I print out the manuscript and go stanza by stanza and most of the time I write, “S/E”—meaning self-explanatory. There’s usually one image in that book that when I see the first line drawing, I’ll comment, and it often has to do with emotion.

Laura is really snarky and funny and subversive and a little dark. In Is There Really a Human Race? a child is walking through the hall of success, where there are statues wearing medals, and one of the medals says “Famous for Having No Chin at All.” These books are meant to be read to children by adults, and from my experience there has to be something for them both. So what’s beautiful about my books is that there’s a line of music, the melody, which is for children, and then there’s a line of music for the adults.

The subtitle of your book is “All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait... and Wait... and Wait.” You wrote the book before your recent professional successes, but does it have resonance in terms of where your long career in acting has led you?

The original subtitle, which I was forced to change, was Just One More Sleep: Delayed Gratification.

I wrote this book during Covid, when I had already shot Everything Everywhere All at Once, which was this little independent, $12 million, 37-day shoot in Simi Valley. The last thing anyone thought was that this movie would become something big.

So yes, there is now a delightfully wry smile for me in the sense that all good things come to those who wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. I just turned 65. You do this work, you don’t always know what it is, and it comes out and... “Oh!”

Now I have opportunities I haven’t had before, and I’m taking advantage of them. But, yes—patience, patience, patience. There is a very special place in my heart for the combination of publishing a book about patience and having patience pay off in a very big way.

Your book offers a strategy for kids to navigate waiting. But adults can have difficulty waiting, too. What’s your advice to them?

I’m a sober person and I do a daily morning check-in with the world and make my intention for the day and the work I’m supposed to do. And just that focus on the daily task of being a human being in a relationship, being in a family, being in friend group, a work group, being in a society—that daily connection will actually yield some calm.

Just One More Sleep: All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait... and Wait... and Wait by Jamie Lee Curtis, illus. by Laura Cornell. Philomel, $18.99 Jan. 16 ISBN 978-0-593-52704-7