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My latest picture book IT CAME IN THE MAIL went through many drafts, revisions, and changes (over 5 years worth!). So much so that the first manuscript I wrote with the title "IT CAME IN THE MAIL" is almost an entirely different story. I thought it would be fun to share that first draft, so without further ado I give to you . . .
IT CAME IN THE MAIL
by Ben Clanton
James loved to get mail.
So it is too bad he never got any.
When he asked his parents . . . “WHY do I NEVER get any MAIL! It’s not fair.”
His dad said . . .
“It’s all junk anyways.”
But James liked junk (he had a big pile of it in his room), so he asked again . . . “BUT WHY do I NEVER get any of IT!?”
His mom explained.
“Jimmy Bear (James can’t stand it when she calls him that . . . except for when he does), in order to get mail you usually have to send it.”
James didn’t know who he should send mail to, so he just sent a note to the mailbox. It went something like this:
I would like to get something in the mail. SOMETHING BIG.
As soon as James put the letter in, the mailbox began to shake. It began making all sorts of strange sounds.
James could tell something big must have come in the mail and he was sure it was for him. When James looked inside, he was met by a blast of fire. A dragon! A dragon had come in the mail! And it was for James.
When James showed his dad the dragon, his dad said . . .
“You had better take good care of it. A pet dragon is a BIG responsibility.”
James wasn’t entirely sure how to take care of a dragon (none of his friends had one), so he went to the library and got THE FLAME PROOF GUIDE TO DRAGON CARE.
This is what it said to do:
- Dragons eat a lot . . . feed regularly.
- Give it a nice princess and a castle to keep it in.
- Be sure to fly your dragon at least twice a day.
- Make sure your dragon has lots of gold.
- Try not to get eaten, burned alive, or crushed by your dragon.
James wasn’t too sure where to get dragon food, a princess, a castle, and gold, so he sent the mailbox another note.
That magical mailbox gave James all he needed.
“Ugh!” (James trying to carry a huge plate of meat)
“Unhand me!” (James carrying a princess)
“Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” (James taking his dragon for a flight)
But James was finding out that taking care of a dragon is a lot of work. So, he put a note on the dragon (RETURN TO SENDER), and shoved it into the mailbox, but the mailbox popped the dragon right back out with a new note (ADDRESS UNKNOWN).
James was stuck with the dragon . . . and the princess, and the castle, and all the rest.
What could he do?!
James sent the mailbox another note:
I know you won’t take back the dragon, but can you please send me an idea about what to do with it?
An idea soon zoomed out of the mailbox and struck James.
The idea was this:
Where do dragons come from?
Yes, really more of a question, but that is just the sort of thing one should expect from a magical mailbox.
James’s dragon had come from the mailbox, but was that where dragons come from? James thought about where he had first heard about dragons . . . in stories!
James ran to the library and checked out a magic book.
He then shoved the dragon, the princess, the castle, and most of the gold back where it belonged . . . in a book.
And so ends this book with James learning a very important lesson . . . or, then again, maybe not! (James is getting something else in the mail now . . . something big)
WARNING! In this post I wax nostalgic and get a wee bit (MEGA) reflective. My apologies in advance!
I had the realization the other day that the start of April is a sort of anniversary for me. It was April 1, 2012 that my very first children's book VOTE FOR ME! made its debut. It is strange to think that I have now been a published author/illustrator for four years. Somehow that seems like not very much time and a lot at the same time. In these past four years I have written and illustrated 8 books (3 of which have yet to come out) and illustrated another 6. But of all my books I think VOTE FOR ME! will always be of particular importance to me.
A big part of its importance to me naturally has to do with it being my first book. So much hope, excitement, and anticipation surrounded both the making and release of this book for me and I still can feel the echoes of those emotions. Interestingly, I think it remains my best read aloud to this point (I do have a couple of books in the works that will give it a run for its money, though). And yet it is also the book I have the hardest time looking at because I have learned so much since making VOTE FOR ME! and feel I could do a much better job making it now. In fact, I do hope to someday re-illustrate and redesign the book. I take some courage from the fact that Eric Carle re-illustrated THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR several times (um, not to compare myself to Eric Carle). I'll need to have quite a bit more success I think before a publisher would be willing to do a new version of VOTE FOR ME!, but maybe someday.
What would I do differently if I was to illustrate the book today? The book is already quite design-y but I'd push that even further. I would go with a thicker and more dynamic line and use different textures. I'd also design the characters differently and I'd hand letter the text. Story-wise there isn't a whole lot I'd change, but perhaps that independent mouse might be replaced by a bird? ;)
I actually remember struggling with what creature would represent the 'independent' in the book. I decided upon the mouse because I could make the joke about the 'big cheese' and because a mouse seemed like a good choice to represent the little guy. Little did I know that four years later an independent would be making a serious run for president.
There are, of course, many things that could be said about this current election. I don't intend to say much here on my site. But I am amazed (or perhaps not really all that amazed) how much more aptly VOTE FOR ME! reflects the current political discourse than it did four years ago.
I feel so very fortunate to be able to write and illustrate children's books. It is a dream job. I often have moments where I go 'I'm doing this for a living! People read my books? People buy them?!' Thank you to all those who have and continue to support, encourage, and inspire me. You rock! Thanks for making my first term amazing. The second term is going to be even better! 4 MORE YEARS! ;)
VOTE and VOTE OFTEN! (Please!)
I've been working on a companion book to REX WRECKS IT! called BOO WHO? recently and came across an old file today with these endpaper concepts in it. I'd entirely forgotten about these!
The blue check pattern is what we ended up going with. Decided to keep it simple. :)
I'm way excited for 2016! This year is to be full of new adventures for me and for my family. The biggest thing being that I'm going to be a dad! Still can't quite believe it. Also, I'm likely moving yet again, but sticking in the PNW. Why must Seattle be so expensive?!
I have two books coming out this year IT CAME IN THE MAIL and NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA (A NARWHAL AND JELLY BOOK). Fingers crossed that they find some (many?) friends. 2016 also marks my fourth year as a published author/illustrator. VOTE FOR ME came out in April of 2012! 4 MORE YEARS! That is my writing slogan. Thank goodness I'm not limited to two terms.
Lots of fun projects in the works this year with dinosaurs, ghosts, robots, sea creatures, and mutant potatoes starring in my latest endeavors. And then for some strange reason I've been drawing oodles of mermicorns to kick the year off. I'll take it as a sign that it is going to be a magical year. Hope yours is!!
2015 was a great year for books! Recently I posted some of my favorite picture books. These are some brilliant books by critique group pals of mine . . .
This book is a star! I'm in awe of Jen Mann.
A fun debut by Josh Funk! GO LADY PANCAKE!!
BUNNIES!!! is a seriously great read aloud or I should say reread aloud because it is definitely one that kids will want to come back to.
I'm afraid I couldn't find a high-res image for Digger and Daisy. Dana Sullivan is a critique group pal of mine and he had a couple in this series come out this year.
BOATS FOR PAPA has gotten a lot of praise and attention and for good reason. This is an impactful and well told debut by Jessixa Bagley.
If I missed anyone let me know and I'll be sure to edit the post!
2015 has been quite the year for picture books! It is tricky to pick favorites but these are some of mine . . .
ACE DRAGON LTD. by RUSSELL HOBAN & SIR QUENTIN BLAKE
I think this one might very well make my all-time top ten list. For starters it has a dragon who wears wellingtons. Brilliant! This book is hugely humorous (SPOILER gold being spun into straw to save the day!), adventure packed (a couple of battles, a moon landing, and some fire-filled stunts), and has a real classic charm to it. This is the sort of book I aspire to make.
THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME by DREW DAYWALT & OLIVER JEFFERS
This book is hilarious! Clever, fun, and a perfect follow-up to the first book. Pea Green crayon or, er, I mean Esteban has got to be my favorite. He's pretty much my hero.
GOODNIGHT ALREADY! by JORY JOHN & BENJI DAVIES
This is a fantastic read-aloud sort of picture book. Lots of fun, great pacing, and the illustrations . . . I'm officially a big fan of Benji Davies. The Storm Whale is also a new favorite of mine.
IMAGINARY FRED by EOIN COLFER & OLIVER JEFFERS
I like that while 32 pages is still the standard picture book length there is an increasing amount of picture books that step outside it. The text and illustrations in this 48 page picture book work perfectly together and I wouldn't have minded in the least if it had been still longer. The simple palette added a classic element and worked brilliantly for making the imaginary and magical stand out. Also was a fan of the half-tone dots.
LOUIS I KING OF THE SHEEP by OLIVIER TALLEC
I've been a fan of Olivier Tallec ever since I first came across the Rita & Whatsit books. His sketchy lines say so much and his distinctive style I find hugely appealing. This book manages to tackle some big concepts in clever ways and is one I find myself returning to frequently.
LEO: A GHOST STORY by MAC BARNETT & CHRISTIAN ROBINSON
Christian Robinson . . . I'm thoroughly charmed by his work. His color palette for this book with the blues, blacks, and grays fits fantastically with the tone of the story and despite such a limited palette the illustrations are playful and have an energy to them that is both nostalgic and new. As ever Mac Barnett's text sets the illustrations up so well. I'm completely taken with this book.
UNDER A PIG TREE: A HISTORY OF THE NOBLE FRUIT by MARGIE PALATINI and CHUCK GROENINK
This one caught me by surprise. It isn't often that a non-fiction-ish book grabs my attention, but the running joke in this book works so well and sets up some fantastic illustrations.
RUDE CAKES by ROWBOAT WATKINS
This book has it happening on so many levels. Great concept, full of fun randomness, and so funny that the helpful message of the book avoids being didactic.
SPECIAL DELIVERY by PHILIP C. STEAD & MATTHEW CORDELL
I already had a soft spot for special parcels and sending mail and then this book came out just as I was finishing my book IT CAME IN THE MAIL . . . and now I might be a bit obsessive. Great read-aloud, genius-level interplay between text and illos with perfect page-turns, and the RANDOMNESS of it all puts it into a special category for me. This is one I can't to read with my kids some day. This is the sort of book that lives on for years. A classic in my mind and I bet for many others.
THE LITTLE GARDENER by EMILY HUGHES
I've gotten lost in these illustrations on a number of occasions already. Add a story line that speaks to the power of small acts to make a big impact . . . this book is a winner. Inspiring and captivating!
Still need to get some presents for kids (or adults) for the holidays? Or for yourself? I don't think you could go wrong with any of these titles. There are also a number of brilliant books that critique group pals of mine have come out with this year. My next post will focus on those! Book love!
Presenting the cover for my next picture book IT CAME IN THE MAIL! This one has long been in the works. Five years? Full of pickles, pigs, and friendship . . . I think this is my best one so far. Here is a peek at a couple interior pieces . . .
I've always been obsessed with getting mail. As a kid checking the mail was the one chore I'd volunteer to do. Even now (despite the fact that I usually only get bills and junk) checking the mail is one of the high points of the day for me. Sundays are always a bit of a disappointment.
Might have gotten in trouble with Kelsey for burning papers at two in the morning but I think the result is pretty neat. Can't say I've every received a dragon in the mail. I'd like to! Please send one to me!
Since I'm so great at regularly posting on my own blog . . . I've gone and started another with my kidlit pals The Whatsits. ;) Check it out HERE! I can guarantee there will be regular posts about picture books and all things good there. As for this blogsite, I'm thinking it is about time I got Sketchbook Saturdays going again . . .
Feels great to be back in Seattle and the PNW!
Already have a couple events lined up . . .
Something Extraordinary STORY TIME at GREEN BEAN BOOKSJULY 28 @ 11 AMhttp://www.greenbeanbookspdx.com
Hard to believe but this will be my very first signing in Portland, OR!STORY TIME at the Bellevue UNIVERSITY BOOK STORE
SEPT. 17 @ 11 AMhttp://www.bookstore.washington.edu/home/home.taf?
Would love to see you there!!
The trip across the country was awesome! It was my sixth time across and this was the best trek so far. In large part this had to do with a lovely stop in Reno, NV to visit my sister and her husband. They own Sierra Water Gardens and The Wedge Ceramics Studio. Such a great spot!
While in Reno I had a signing at Sundance Books and Music. Awesome bookstore! One of the best I've ever been to!
Also went to the Redwoods for the first time. Completely blew my mind. I thought I had seen old growth forests before. This is one of the smaller trees . . .
And of course any road trip involving some dinosaurs is a good thing.
Working on a book featuring a bunch of dinos! More on that soon!
If you happen to be in the Andover, MA area or in Reno, NV, I have two upcoming signings!
Andover Bookstore (America's second oldest operating bookstore)
Saturday, June 20 @ 1:00 PM
I'll be giving away an original piece of art with each book sold! This event is a bit of a farewell to the region. I've lived in North Andover for two years, but am now moving back to Seattle.
Sundance Bookstore in Reno, NV
Sunday, June 28 @11:00 AM
This will be my first trip to Reno! I'll be visiting my sister and her husband who own Sierra Water Gardens
and the WEDGE Ceramics Studio. Forgive me if I look a bit tired at this event. I'll have driven six days in a row to get there. ;)
A bit about the book (this is the blurb Simon & Schuster came up with) . . .
Amazing things are happening all around you. You just need to know where to look—and this whimsical picture book is the perfect place to start.
Have you ever wished for something extraordinary? Like the ability to fly? Or to breathe underwater? What if you could talk to animals?
It’s fun to wish for amazing things. But take a look around, and you just might find that the most “ordinary” things…can be extraordinary.
The idea for the book came to me a few years ago on a rainy day in Seattle. A picture of a boy taking in colorful and tasty rain came in to my mind and I wanted an excuse to draw it. Soon all sorts of things I wish for were bubbling to the surface in a series of images. With the help of some extraordinary events in my life those images came together to make this book. Hope you like it!!
Finally some warm weather in NE MA! I think today might be a good day for a coast trip.
Was my last post seriously at the beginning of January?! And I started the year off planning on posting weekly . . . but I have a good excuse. I've been illustrating my butt off. Well, not off . . . it is still attached but it has been glued to a chair. The book I was working on took much more time than I had expected, but I've now completed interior art! I dropped it off just this Monday at Simon & Schuster. Here is a sneaky peek . . .
Can you guess what it is about?
Rex is excited! In fact, he is so excited he is doing the Koo Koo Kanga Roo Dinosaur Stomp!
This DINOVEMBER Rex and I have two books to celebrate. Of course, REX WRECKS IT! (Candlewick) and because it is also MOVEMBER, Mo's Mustache! (Tundra Books). Mo, Rex, and I have two upcoming events.
First we'll be at BUTTONWOOD BOOKS AND TOYS at 10:30 AM on SATURDAY, NOV. 8th in Cohasset, MA. Buttonwood will be celebrating Neighborhood Toy Store Day. http://buttonwoodbooksandtoys.com
Next we'll be visiting the Burlington Barnes & Noble at 6:30 PM on NOV. 22.
Then we'll be headed to Montana for school visits the entire first week of December!
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I've got dragons on my mind . . .