Anyone who has witnessed a two-year-old throwing a tantrum can perhaps take some solace in the words of parent and author Rhona Silverbush: “Toddlerhood—where humans are emerging from babyhood and just starting to venture away from their parents to explore—is a phase of human development that is not well understood.” Silverbush and her collaborator and co-author, education expert Carol Zeavin, have made it their mission to demystify the social-emotional terrain of toddlerhood for parents and appeal directly to young readers in that age group with the Terrific Toddler series of developmentally appropriate picture books published by Magination Press. The three newest titles in the lineup—New Baby!, Potty!, and Time to Go!—were released in November 2020, and Potty! has been selected as a resource for a joint project of the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail campaign and the National Diaper Bank Network. It’s just one of several recent nonprofit partnerships that bring the Terrific Toddler books to a larger audience of children and families.

The series launched in 2018 with Boo-Boo!, Bye-Bye!, and All Mine!, addressing such typical situations as dealing with a minor injury or separation anxiety, and grew out of the personal experience of both authors. “My son—now 17!—was a toddler in Early Intervention, and Carol was the in-home educator on his team of therapists,” Silverbush explained. “She and I realized that there was a dearth of developmentally appropriate books for toddlers.” They set out to make books “to help toddlers understand these confusing and challenging moments and to model for adults how to help their toddlers navigate them,” Silverbush said. The authors grounded the series in developmental psychology research and crafted stories with toddler appeal, featuring a core cast of friends while also including explanatory endnotes for adults about aspects of child development.

The Nonprofit Connection

It was at one of Silverbush’s presentations promoting the Terrific Toddlers series that she was first introduced to a new avenue for partnership. Following her talk at an early morning gathering for parents at Beginnings, a Manhattan preschool, Silverbush recalled, “the school’s director told us about an organization she works with, LaundryCares, and their Free Laundry Days where families do laundry for free while their children are read to and given books to bring home with them. She thought our books would be of interest to that organization and its partner, the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative,” which focuses on the importance of early brain and language development and improving the health and well-being of children from birth to age five. The preschool’s director put Silverbush and Zeavin in touch with TSTF director Jane Park Woo, kicking off what became a series of conversations. “Jane’s mind started whirring about different ways that various books in our series could be used in several of their joint projects,” Silverbush said.

In recent months a number of these efforts fell into place. “We created video-books for LaundryCares to use for their families during the pandemic,” Silverbush said, noting that she looks forward to working with them in other ways as well. A joint project between TSTF and the National Black Child Development Institute to try to prevent the preschool expulsions that disproportionately happen to children of color became another opportunity for utilizing the Terrific Toddler series. NCBDI has long been focused on this issue, which is spotlighted in the organization’s “Delivering on the Promise of Effective Early Childhood Education for Black Children: Eliminating Exclusionary Discipline and Concentrating on Inclusion” national campaign launched in 2017. The initiative’s goal is to “dismantle the foundation of America’s preschool to prison pipeline: the rising rates of suspensions and expulsions in early childhood education,” as stated in the description of the effort. With funding from a grant awarded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, TSTF and NBDCI, along with clothing company BELLA+CANVAS and Magination Press teamed up last December to distribute books and face masks to Black children and families served by NBCDI, with a goal of keeping children healthy and learning during the holiday season. The giveaway included nearly 13,000 Terrific Toddler books as well as other children’s books by diverse authors, and 200,000 children’s face masks donated by BELLA + CANVAS.

Beyond the holiday season, Silverbush said that TSTF and NCBDI believed that the Terrific Toddler books provided to “at-risk toddlers and their parents could help smooth out and preempt the development of behaviors that might lead to expulsion [from preschool].” Silverbush and Zeavin have also teamed up with two American Psychological Association psychologists to co-lead a webinar for the professionals at NBCDI, and Silverbush said that they may present “two additional webinars for the organization, one directly for parents and another for preschool educators.”

And TSTF and the National Diaper Bank Network believed that Potty! would be the right tool for a joint project intended to help parents with children who are toilet training. “Heartbreakingly, in homes where there is child abuse, one moment in time when the child abuse tends to spike is around potty-training, since the adults get very angry when the child is taking too long to get it or has accidents along the way,” Silverbush said. “Our book Potty! is different from other potty books on the market for toddlers,” she added, noting that research led her and Zeavin to “de-emphasize the end-goal, for example, ‘Look what’s in the potty at the end of the book! Yay!!!’ and, instead, recognize that each stage of potty-readiness along the way is a developmental step forward for the toddler and should be recognized as such.” She pointed to one example in the book where a father is very relaxed and reassuring when his toddler daughter has an accident in her underwear as “great modeling for the very parents the National Diaper Bank Network and TSTF are trying to help.”

Silverbush said that NDBN has already ordered “a large number of books,” and the organization has additionally asked the authors to create a short film about potty-readiness. “We are in the midst of creating an animated short to send to more than 300 chapters of the National Diaper Bank Network,” Silverbush said. “It’s very meaningful to us to think that one of our books is expressly being used to make life safer and better for a whole subset of toddlers nationwide.”

In addition to these targeted projects, TSTF has included the Terrific Toddler series in what Silverbush described as “a catalog of offerings for a project called StoryTrails, which will put books on large [shelving] panels in playgrounds and play spaces.” Silverbush and Woo have been discussing other TSTF projects that might be a good fit for the series; one potential campaign would require bilingual editions of the books, which Silverbush says she and Zeavin are contemplating.

Moving forward, teaming up with nonprofits will remain a goal for Silverbush and Zeavin. “We are passionate about pursuing the partnerships with early childhood initiatives to their fullest, so that our books can do the most good for children whose parents would most likely not have come across the books otherwise,” Silverbush said. As an example, she mentioned that Reach Out and Read is exploring ways to potentially use the Terrific Toddler books in its work with kids and families.

The series will continue to grow as well. “We’ve already submitted books seven, eight, and nine to our publisher—School!, Haircut!, and Grocery Store!—in which our toddlers venture out into the world,” Silverbush said, though she does not yet know the production schedule for those titles. And in the meantime, she and Zeavin are “working hard to get the books into as many small hands as possible,” Silverbush said, “writing about this little-understood moment in human development that is toddlerhood and doing presentations for parents of preschoolers, much like the one that fateful morning at Beginnings that led to our connecting with Jane Park Woo at TSTF.”