A project I had been working on this summer has finally come to fruition, and just in time for Christmas! The Adventures of Big Blue and the Capt’n, with Hari the Tiger, is a picture book I cowrote with Ben Young, a worldwide adventurer who has a deep desire to help educate people about the preservation of endangered species. He had an idea for two characters, both endangered animals: Big Blue, a blue whale, and the Capt’n, a green sea turtle. Their goal is to teach children about the endangered animals they meet as they travel the world. Ben asked for my help creating a story around Big Blue and the Capt’n, using some of his personal experiences. He’s been to Indonesia, where this story takes place. He’s also seen the animals and places mentioned in this book. In the end, I hope what we created helps make people more aware of the threats to some of the world’s most amazing and endangered animals.
And YES, there will also be plush toys of Big Blue and the Capt’n for sale.
Available at http://store.discovery.com
With kids underfoot, jokes are aplenty in our household, whether we’re making up songs or sneaking up on each other or retelling a funny one we heard earlier in the day. We share a lot of laughter.
Admittedly, I tell a few stinkers—not fart jokes, but jokes that bomb. I get my share of eye rolls and “seriously!”s and patronizing smirks. But I’ve learned that without failure, there can be no success. This is very true of telling jokes and writing funny stories. So I keep trying.
My most recent attempts have been in my Jokes and Jingles series, children’s books that retell knock-knock jokes in song (AND graphic novel format). Here’s a sketch from Orange You Glad. It is the story of how Susie Loo goes looking for a snack and gets harassed by an annoying banana. It might be my favorite of the bunch—at least I think it’s the funniest.
I have been exercising my funny bone this fall with graphic novel adaptations of knock-knock jokes for my Jokes and Jingles series. The fun part about writing these children’s books?—the kids and I tell these jokes (and some weird variations of them) around the house.
Here’s is a sketch from Boo Hoo? I turned it into a story about a girl named Betty who is playing hide-and-seek with her friends.
I knew the publisher, Cantata Learning, was interested in creating easy-to-read graphic novels in a picture book trim size. So I suggested joke books, and I feels the knock-knock jokes turned out to be a perfect for this format. It’s easy to see and read the back and forth that sets up the punch lines.
Another month of riding public transportation: most days I ride the city bus with the boy to his school and then hop on the light rail to my studio. And another month during which I was able to tackle a number of books that have been collecting dust on my to-read pile.
- Randoms by David Liss (Oct. Guy’s Read Book Club book)
- Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff (a local St Paul author)
- The Marvels by Brian Selsznick (since I read Wonder Struck last month)
- The Night Gardener by Johnathan Auxier (this one was actually a Christmas gift two years ago)
Here is a little bit of silliness, a sketch from my song Chocolate Chimpanzees. It is part of a series of tunes based on letter blends, and this one is chock full of chuckles. Two chimps join a chicken on a quest for a treasure chest. They meet a chili eating chinchilla, a checkers-playing chihuahua, and a charango-playing cheetah while chasing after Charlie the chipmunk.
Of the handful of songs I’ve written so far, this is my fave. The melody popped into my head one day, and the words just flowed. Not often is something as easy to write as this song was. Or as fun. Now I just need to wait for it to be put to music.
Ever since I wrote my first graphic novel, Matthew Henson, Arctic Explorer, I have been fascinated with the format. Sure, some of that has to do with me reading Spider-Man and Batman comics as a youngster. And part of it is that I wish I was better a better artist because I’ve always wanted to draw my own comics. But it’s also because of the added element, the pictures, in telling a story. Sometimes, illustrations can present things is a simpler, more straightforward way than just words, especially when targeting young readers.
So recently, I was given the challenge to create graphic novel joke books within a picture book trim and page book. Oh, and they were also to be paired with music. I thought knock-knock jokes would be a perfect fit, and then to the great annoyance of my kids, I began telling and retelling some of the classic knock knock jokes to them.
The above sample is a sketch from Knock, Knock, Moo!, a play off of the interrupting cow joke. Though the farmer in this book has more than just an annoying cow.
This year, the boy is in middle school, and not just any middle school. He was accepted to this cool charter school where all the learning is project based. Students take on more responsibility and feel more invested in their education because they develop projects based on their interests in order to meet necessary curriculum goals. I would have loved a school like that.
However, the new school means no school bus. So it’s public transportation for us. The boy was hesitant at first, but is loving it now that’s he’s comfortable taking a city bus. He’s realized that it allows him a little extra gaming time (on his 3Ds) before school, and I like it because it provides with some time to catch up on my reading.
And it’s been great. Here are the books I’ve tackled in the first month of riding the bus.
- Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff (a local, St Paul author)
- Wonder Struck by Brian Selsznick
- The Golden Specific by SE Grove (read the book 1 for our Guy’s Read Book Club, so wanted to read book 2 in the series)
- The Last Wild by Piers Torday (Septs pick for our Guy’s Read Book Club)
Only once before, for the book War in Afghanistan, have I co-written with someone. That project was easy, as I worked with a long-time friend and we were able to divide up the writing by chapters. All went smoothly.
I was a little more worried, though, about a recent batch of songs I had pitched. They were to be illustrated in picture books and paired with music, and they were based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachings. See, I had the bright idea that my wife could help me with them. She is a STEM specialist, and I know this publisher was looking for science songs. So I hoped that pairing our skills would get them to bite.
And they did! The pitch was accepted, and thankfully, we devised a system for getting the books written. My wife provided me with the ideas (her expertise as a STEM specialist) while I wordsmithed the text (my expertise). Sure, there was a little back and forth, and a few disagreements. We both have our musical talents (she sings while I play guitar) and preferences (she likes more classical music while I’m into American and blues). But in the end, I think we may have some hits on our hands.
The above sample is from Math Saves the Day!, a song about how we use math every day, even when we aren’t thinking about it.
Okay, now in the process of wrapping up my Everything Predators book. It’s been grueling, as for every hour of writing I need to put in a few hours of research to back me up. At home, the family is getting annoyed that I’m continually watching documentaries on animals. Secret Lives of Predators, by National Geographic Channel, has been one of my faves. And there is a wall of research books preventing anyone but a mountain climber from getting to my desk.
At least things are to the point where I’m wrapping up and putting the final touches on the last chapter, chapter four, which includes fun stuff related to pop culture. And since I’m a big monster movie fan and reader of mythology, I’ve got a lot to work with.
Some movies/books/shows with larger than life predators (based on real life predators) that I mention
- Jaws—there are more deaths in one Jaws movie than there are shark-related deaths in a year.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest—the Kraken has been a popular monster in Greek and Scandinavian myths, most likely the results of people seeing giant squids, which are too shy to attack people.
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi—As a child, I loved the cartoon adaptation of this Rudyard Kipling story about mongoose who saves a family from a cobra.
- Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner—another favorite from my childhood, but know that in real life, a road runner is never going to outrun a hungry coyote.
So while working on my Everything Predators book, I’ve come across some bizarre creatures that I wanted to share.
Goblin Sharks—these beasts live in the dark, depths of the ocean, so are rarely seen. They have jaws full of needle-like teeth that shoot forward (reminding me of the monsters in the Alien movies) to snatch prey.
Amazonian Giant Centipede—okay, anything with more than four legs can be kind of creepy. But when it has almost 100 legs and can be the size of your forearm, that is scary-creepy. And these centipedes can catch bats!
Mantis Shrimp—these little guys (most are only a few inches long) pack a punch powerful enough punch to crack the shells of snails and crabs.
Archerfish—an apt name, as they shoot water at bugs, hoping to knock them into the water, where they become fish food.
And those are just a few of the cool predators that I’m including in this book.