Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Today we’re sharing another post in our interview series where we talk to the creators and writers behind some of our favorite products and books. For this interview, we were lucky enough to chat with Mariana Bissonnette, the author behind the Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, Babies Build Toddlers! Babies Build Toddlers is a unique parenting book with an innovative illustrative approach that makes child development information both accessible and actionable for everyday readers. Author, Mariana Bissonnette tells the powerful story of the child during their most essential stage of development: infancy. Babies Build Toddlers offers readers a window into the intersection of development, education, and parenting through clear developmental timelines (including movement, language, eating, sleeping, hygiene, and bonding), practical suggestions for how to support that development, and illustrations from a team of illustrators who celebrate the fullness of each parent’s journey. Keep reading to find out more about Mariana and her MCA award-winning book, Babies Build Toddlers!
MCA: Hi Mariana, thank you so much for joining us today, and congratulations on your Mom’s Choice Award! Babies Build Toddlers is an amazing tool for any parent or caretaker interested in embracing the Montessori lifestyle from birth. As the author of such an insightful book, we’d like to start the interview by getting to know a little bit about you!
Mariana: My name is Mariana Bissonnette and I am an early childhood parent-educator! I found my lifelong passion in early childhood education through Montessori when I observed a class of very independent two-year-olds – I was shocked at how capable young children could be! I spent almost a decade onsite at a school teaching toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners, and ultimately became a school administrator working more broadly with teachers and parents in support of children at school and at home. Along the way, I had my own kids and realized first-hand how incredibly difficult parenthood can be. While I knew as an educator that the first years of life were critical to development, I felt woefully underprepared to support those years as a parent. With the intention of giving parents and caregivers access to both supportive spaces and child development information, I started The PEACE Program.
During my time working with families and parents, particularly prenatally through toddlerhood, I started writing Babies Build Toddlers and self-published this book at the end of 2020. I adore my family and am grateful to have my two beautiful children, a Montessori husband, and a lot of cousins and family close to where I live in Oakland, CA, the land of the Lisjan Ohlone People.
MCA: Tell us more about your journey from your career in early childhood education to becoming a writer, and what inspired you along the way!
Mariana: Oh, I’ve always loved writing. I actually have all my old journals and diaries from my childhood in a stack in my closet! I love taking notes of travels and use writing as a tool for reflection, learning and self-growth. I hadn’t really thought of myself as a professional writer and didn’t even know I was writing a book until I had my first draft of Babies Build Toddlers in hand! This book really came out of the notes I had compiled from my work with over 1200 families. Admittedly, I got a bit tired of writing the same explanations down about the same stages of predictable human development and I thought, perhaps I’ll start pre-writing my visit notes for families based on the age of the child. These notes were not only very popular because they included charts about development and practical suggestions of what to do at home, but they were readily available. I started having families ask me for the visit notes for the next stage in development until they want to see the whole packet! I realized that this “whole packet” was really the first draft of a book! Now, I’m so excited that the door to professional writing is opened for me and I can’t wait to get writing again.
MCA: I know there are many people who are very excited the door to professional writing has opened for you as well! You talked a little bit about how Babies Build Toddlers came to be, but what would you say was your inspiration behind writing it?
Mariana: The children. I am constantly inspired by children. We really underestimate the potential of the first six years of life. I wanted to add a book into the parenting space that was truly made for parents, but was ultimately for children. Babies Build Toddlers has the look of a children’s book and it ultimately is for children because the information is so accessible that parents can actually use it to support their children’s development. So many parenting books out there talk at parents instead of to parents. I was the creative director of this project and self-published for this reason as I knew I wouldn’t have as much creative control if I went through traditional publishing. This allowed me to create very intentional aspects of the book to make the information digestible, inclusive and most importantly actionable!
MCA: Since you were the creative director and self-publisher of Babies Build Toddlers, you were allowed to make it very unique and exactly how you wanted it. Can you tell us the three main ways this book is very unique?
Mariana: Sure! I think I’d highlight the illustration, the balance of information and the inclusivity:
- The Illustrations: I think the first thing that stands out in the book are the illustrations. Most parenting books are not visual and those that are tend to include photographs or decorative illustrations. Babies Build Toddlers intentionally uses illustrations that aid the understanding of the text so that sleep-deprived readers can get the most out of the information! Moreover, I put together a team of six incredible illustrators to work on this project, each one taking on a specific chapter in the book. This approach is truly unique in and out of parenting books and has the intention of authentically diverse representations of families and children.
- The Balance of Information: Another way Babies Build Toddlers is unique is in the balance of child development information (which is fully cited at the back of the book!) and practical advice. Most parenting books offer one or the other and if they do offer both, they typically are only about one topic in development (like “sleep” or “starting solids”). Babies Build toddlers not only offers clear child development information alongside practical recommendations on how to use that information, but it covers a wide range of developmental topics: sleep, eating, toileting, bonding, movement, toys, screen-time, language, etc. It’s really a compilation of the parenting book I wish I had when I was first a parent!
- Non-Judgmental / Inclusive: If there’s one thing readers keep raving about is how non-judgemental and inclusive Babies Build Toddlers feels. I’m so glad it is being received in this way as this was very intentional! The last thing we as parent-educators need to be doing is creating feelings of being dismissed, judged, or excluded in this very sensitive time of parenthood! The information is never going to get to its destination (the child) if the parents and caregivers do not feel supported in the process. The illustrations are not only done by a team who all have a unique perspective, illustrative approach, and professional and personal backgrounds, but they also represent a wide variety of family constellations (same-sex, grandparent, single parent, two parent etc). Moreover, because I work with families almost every day, I had the opportunity to share my drafts with small parent groups to give me feedback on language, articulation and inclusivity. They helped me identify my blind spots and make the book the best version of itself.
MCA: That is wonderful! The illustrations especially help to make the child development information present within Babies Build Toddlers accessible to someone with little previous knowledge. Tell us a little bit about your journey with self-publishing!
Mariana: It was a windy one for sure! I didn’t intend specifically to self-publish – I was just starting to turn my first draft into an official book draft and started putting my feelers out into the writing space to get a better sense of the community and resources I could access. As I started learning more about the publishing world, I realized that I wanted 100% creative control of this project to bring my vision to life… and a traditional publisher probably wasn’t going to give me that freedom. For example, I was told many times that I probably wouldn’t be able to compile my own team of illustrators – publishing houses typically have their own illustrators. Another example was the title – I knew that leaving the word “Montessori” out of the main title would likely be a marketing challenge and a traditional publisher may have pushed for that to be in the main title. However, I truly believed (and still believe) that this book is for any parent whether they are interested in Montessori or not. Once I decided on self-publishing, I went to search for my illustrative team while I finished the text copy. As a self-published author, I had to find my own editor, proofreader, cover designer, printer, etc. so it turned out to be a lot of work. It really paid off, though, as I am incredibly happy with the finished product and feel it really represents the vision I had hoped to bring into the world of parenting books.
MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in Babies Build Toddlers?
Mariana: Good question – there are many! I’d say the first is that Montessori education is all about understanding the child’s development, preparing ourselves and our spaces to support that development and taking a step back to watch that development unfold. That is what Montessori education is all about and it’s a practice anyone can do today, with everything exactly how you have it in your home. The second key lesson is that we can use the predictable path of human development to not only better understand the child and prepare the space for them to reach their full potential, but we can actually use it to curate support for ourselves. The times the child goes through intense developmental changes are typically the times that are the hardest for the adult. Given that the developmental changes are predictable, we can free ourselves up by adding in layers of support when we anticipate we need them. This is a real gem that can stabilize the adult during challenging periods (and the more stable the adult, the easier they can support the development of the child).
MCA: I’ve read some of the reviews for Babies Build Toddlers and they are all extremely positive! Tell us about what the response from readers has been like for you!
Mariana: It’s been really incredible and humbling to have the response I have had about this project. Parents and caregivers have been so excited to find a book that is heavily researched and that gives practical, non-judgmental information! It’s also been a great way for families to get to know Montessori education from a perspective that may be different than one they may have heard before. I know quite a few families who had never heard of Montessori until they read my book and now they are really taken by the philosophy. So many times Montessori is misarticulated as a complicated, expensive endeavor – and it isn’t! I’ve also heard from educators who have purchased the book as a reference to have in their classrooms or for those just starting out as Montessori teachers. And now with the Mom’s Choice Award, it’s been really wonderful to see the enthusiasm people have for this book!
MCA: Thank you for such an insightful interview, Mariana! We can’t wait to see what’s in store for you, please be sure to keep us posted!
You can learn more about Mariana Bissonnette and her award-winning book, Babies Build Toddlers by visiting her MCA Shop pages.