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The Story Behind
My Own Big Bed
by Anna Grossnickle Hines
Illustrated by Mary Watson

Most of my ideas seem to come looking for  me, especially if I'm busy working on another story. It’s as if, when I’m working, there’s a light on and the welcome mat is out inviting the ideas keep coming through the door.  I welcome them, but ask them to please wait patiently until I finish the current task.  Sometimes they do sitting patiently in the back of my mind and sometimes they disappear.  Occasionally, and an idea will refuse to wait, rudely demanding immediate attention until I give in and set the other story aside to work on the new one.

That wasn’t the way it was with this idea though.  This one I went looking for.  I asked myself, what are some of the most important events in a young child’s life and one of the things I came up with was the move from the crib to that first big bed.  It’s a right of passage, a big step toward independence.  So how does it feel?  Is it all wonderful, or a little bit scary?  What are the new possibilities which the child might welcome eagerly?  What might make it hard? What might be scary?  What familiar things might he miss and what could he do about it?  It’s such an emotionally packed event that once I got the idea, the story came fairly quickly.

In our house, Bethany moved out of the crib shortly before she was twenty months old, mostly because I felt ready to have another baby to put in the crib.  My parents had bought new beds for my brothers and had passed on their beds to me, beds that had once been mine and my sister’s. They were army surplus bunks and had been repainted several times as they passed down through my various brothers and sisters. I painted them antique red and decorated them with a few little flowers and eventually made colorful quilts for them which the girls used until they were young teens.

As I recall, it was the two older girls who initiated Lassen's shift from the crib to the big bed.  Since she was my last baby, I suppose I wasn't so eager to see her grow up.  She had passed her third birthday, but hadn’t objected to the crib so I hadn't done anything about getting her a bed.  Perhaps it was because the older girls had grown tired of helping lift such a big baby in and out of her crib.  At any rate, Lassen came running upstairs one day to announce that she had a big bed!  I went to her room and found the older girls looking a bit sheepish since they weren't sure how I would react.  Behind them on the floor was Lassen's crib mattress, all made up with her little blankets.  There was no turning back, so the crib was removed and Lassen slept on the mattress until her papa and I built the bed and loft that you can see in the pictures in Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti.

My Own Big Bed is the first picture book that I have written but not illustrated.  It's an experiment to see if people will like my stories better with a different kind of pictures than the ones I usually do, more realistic pictures.  It wasn't my idea, but I did agree to try it.

It has been a little bit hard to let go of the way I would have done the pictures and to feel so out of touch with the process as the illustrator did her part of the job.  I didn't get to see any sketches, or any proofs.  I did see the original art, just by chance, when I stopped in at Greenwillow Books on one of my visits to New York.  Mary Watson has done a beautiful job of capturing the child's emotions, and her imaginative use of the shadows in the "What if I get scared?" sequence is something I hadn't thought of at all.  I was picturing an open closet door that the child would close taking his or her "great big bear" and "ferocious dragon" along for courage. But I think Mary's interpretation is wonderful.

If I had illustrated this book, my model most certainly would have been my young grandson, Jacob, though he would have been just a bit young.  Here at 21/2, he was at the right age for his own big bed.

A note from Mary Watson about illustrating My Own Big Bed:

When I illustrate a story I always go to the library and look up other stories the author has written.  It helps me to understand the author a little.  I almost always think of a particular child when I read a story and it very difficult for me to switch gears and paint a different child in his or her place.  Such was the case with this story.  I immediately thought a of a little girl, Sarah Jane, who could do nothing but talk about her new grown up bed.  However time had passed, as it does for grown-ups, and much to my surprise she was suddenly 4 years old.  She was still such a tiny little thing that I thought perhaps I could still use her After I shot a roll of film, I realized she was indeed too old, but I didn't know how to tell her I'd have to find someone else.  Her mother guessed what was happening and told her.  She simply said she had a fun day being a model and perhaps could model for another book some time.

I found another very sweet little girl who was 2 plus, the perfect age, right on our block.  She gave new meaning to the words Fast Speed Film so I ended up using the pictures I took with Sarah Jane for the poses.  I dedicated the book to both of the girls, Grace, the girl on the jacket, and Sarah Jane, the invisible girl inside.

 About the Illustrator:

Mary Watson is the mother of four sons 23, 20, 9, and 2, and spends a lot of time being a mom as well as an illustrator.  She says keeps her in touch with what kids like to read. Like Gary and I she and her husband worked together on her first book, which he wrote and she illustrated. They make their home in New Jersey.

A final note:

Although I do not mind that Mary made the child in the story a girl, I do wish she had used less pink in the book. The story is equally appropriate for boys or girls, but since the decor is so feminine, many people saw it as a "girl book" and were reluctant to share it with little boys.

Published by Greenwillow Books, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15599-5  TR;  0-688-15600-2  LE
ISBN 0-688-14276-1


Selected as an outstanding book by the Parent Council, Ltd.

This little girl is very excited about having her "own big bed." Carefully considered -- and she is approaching it carefully as she prepares for sleep -- every one of its virtues, however, has a drawback. If she can get in and out, she could fall out, couldn't she? If it's so big she can't touch the sides, will she be lonely? Each time, she responds bravely, "I can fix that," and the pictures show her solutions. Her protectors are popular ones: stuffed animals, special blankets and a host of fluffy pillows. Interestingly, her parents' loving tuck-ins are shown only after she has resolved on her own that she isn't going back to that "little bed with the bars." She's small enough to enjoy nuzzling noses with her folks, (but just barely and with breathless grace) old enough to see that her own big bed is a choice she is ready to make.
Mary Harris Russell, Chicago Tribune, November 1998

A little girl in pink-and-purple floral pajamas gets ready to go to sleep in her brand-new big bed for the first time. She coyly smiles and boasts, "I can get in, and I can get out--in and out all by myself." Any fears of falling out, getting lonely, or getting lost under the covers are quickly dismissed. She can grab her little blanket, gather her stuffed animals, and jump back into bed. Best of all, Mommy and Daddy can sit down right next to her, read her a story, and kiss her good-night. Watson's opaque watercolor illustrations pay exceptional attention to the child's expressive face. Blue-bordered pictures set against pale yellow backgrounds and double-spread illustrations combine to add a changing sense of perspective that matches the rhythm of the words and the action of the story. Ideal for bedtime and lapsits; even the youngest prereader will point along and chime in  to the soothing, reassuring story.Ages 2^-5.
Booklist , October 15, 1998, Karen Simonetti  Copyright© 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved

Hines faultlessly portrays the ambivalence of a toddler when she moves from her crib to a big bed. A new big bed of her own is both exciting and scary for this girl narrator, but in confronting her fears, she also discovers inner reserves of self-reliance: "I can get in, and I can out - in and out all by myself. What if I fall out?  I can fix that."  Watson shows the girl's resourceful solution: her teddy bear and stuffed alligator lounge comfortably atop a raft of pillows surrounding the bed and demonstrate that any accidental fall will be amply cushioned. As the protagonist tries out her newfound space - "I can stretch and stretch and not touch anything" - she wonders, "What if I get lonely?" So she assembles a collection of appealing dolls and plush animals to keep herself company.  And in the final spreads, Daddy and Mommy come, not to assuage her fears, all of which she's handily put to rest, but to read a bedtime story and deliver goodnight kisses. This rite of passage is astutely and economically observed, without lapsing into preachiness or preciousness. Watson's combination of neatly framed vignettes and full-bleed spreads makes skillful use of painterly realism. The brown-eyed, blonde-haired heroine is engaging and playful, and will likely inspire other toddlers to follow her example.
Publishers Weekly, October 1998

Recommended in Baker and Taylor's Books for Growing Minds, September/October 1998

A little girl explores the problems and joys of her first big-girl bed. For each fear, "What if I fall out?" "What if I get lonely?" she has a solution: pillows around the bed and a pile of toys next to her. On the plus side, she can stretch her arms out as wide as they go and make tunnels under the covers and room for her father to sit as he reads to her. After the story and a kiss from her mother, she is cozy and safe. The simple text is from a young child’s point of view and the realistic watercolors are saved from being too sweet by the shifting expression on the chubby blond preschooler’s face and by her squirming, twisting poses as she investigates the possibilities of her new big bed.  Warm and reassuring, this book will strike a chord with any young child adjusting to the first steps out of babyhood.
Karen James, School Library Journal, March 1999

I have a brand new bed - a brand new BIG bed just for me!" How many of us remember how it felt to leave the security of our crib and move into uncharted territory?  First comes the positive: "I can get in, and I can out all by myself." Then the doubt: "What if I fall out?" Then back to m ore positive: "I can fix that." And we see pillows stacked close around the bed.
"I can stretch and stretch and not touch anything, not anything at all."
"What if I got lonely?" Or lost? Or scared? Can these be "fixed" so easily?
How many of us remember our transition from crib to big bed? That door must still be open for Anna Hines. Using a minimum of words she gets right to the heart of a little ones concerns. In soft pastels. Watson's illustrations, too, capture the emotions of this rite of passage. Alternating between full bleeds and framed art, the book's design adds to the immensity of the unknown versus the security of that which is known. A lovely book for sharing at bedtime...or anytime.
Tricia Gardella, The Union Democrat, Sonora, CA

Do you know a child who is about to move from a crib to a "real" bed? It may seem unlikely that this rite of passage could be adapted into a full-length picture book, but Anna Grossnickle Hines has done so engagingly and Mary Watson has illustrated it delightfully. In My Own Big Bed a little girl confronts her fears - that she'll fall out, be lonely, get lost in the covers and be frightened - and comes up with ways to cope. This child is particularly adorable, and Watson has captured the many moods characteristic of a two-year old.
Laura O'Brien, Times, Trenton Metropolitan Area, November 15, 1998