Start the New Year will a little magic from Magic E. He’s a wizard who knows some word trickery. With an E, he can change a cap into a cape, a tub into a tube, a cod into a code, and send Tim the porcupine back in time.
Chuck the Duck Was a Cool Dude: Chuck was a bit of a dud until Magic E turned him into a cool dude.
Rob the Mole and the Sneaky Gnome: Rob wanted to be a secret agent, so Magic E gave him a cod that could read any secret code. With some fishy help, Rob solved the case of the sneaky gnome.
Sam the Ape with a Cape: Sam wished to be a superhero. So Magic E turned a can into a magical cane and a cap into a magical cape, and off Sam flew.
Time the Time-Traveling Porcupine: Tim wanted to travel back and visit the dinosaurs, so Magic E sent him back in time. Pip want to play an instrument so Magic E taught him to play a pipe.
When my sister’s boys were just little guys, we’d go on summer camping trips. With three nephews and three uncles, it was a great bonding time. And one of the things we bonded over was telling and making up jokes. On of my faves:
Q: What do you do if you get swallowed by an elephant?
A: Jump up and down until you are all pooped out!
On one long car ride home, I remember doing the good ol’ interrupting cow joke. Only, we expanded it for every animal we saw: interrupting horses, interrupting roosters, and even threw in some interrupting uncles and interrupting nephews. After a week of camping with each other, we all had fodder for some friendly teasing.
That experience inspired me to write one of my latest series: Jokes and Jingles. I take classic knock-knock jokes and expand them into full stories, which were then put to music.
Boo Hoo?: A twist on the “Boo Who?” knock-knock joke in which a group of kids play hide-and-seek.
Hoo, Who’s there?: Peter the Squirrel goes scampering through the woods looking for Ollie the Owl. He’s listening for his friend’s familiar “Hoo Hoo.”
Knock, Knock Moo!: While doing his chores, the farmer’s animals play jokes on him.
Orange You Glad?: Susie wants a snack, but all she can find is an annoying banana that follows her around the house.
In my writing career, I’ve been lucky. I have had the opportunity to write a lot of fun, exciting books, from graphic novels about space aliens to chapter books about monsters. I especially enjoy writing silly stories, and nothing I’ve published yet quite tops the four books in my Sound It Out! series for pure goofiness. Each of these outlandish stories focuses on one letter blend, which helps set up a lot of silly word play.
Blake Has the Blues: What do you get when you combine the letters b and l? You have the bl sound. It lets you sing the blues, curl up in a blanket, and blow a harp with a blue jay.
Chocolate Chimpanzees: What do you get when you combine the letters c and h? You have the ch sound. It lets you swing through the trees with chocolate chimpanzees, chuckle at a funny joke, and join a chicken on a quest for cheese.
Sheila the Shy Sheep: What do you get when you combine the letters s and h? You have the sh sound. It lets you meet a shy sheep, sip a milkshake, and hush a toothy shark who is hungry for some relish.
The Story of Stanley and Steven: What do you get when you combine the letters s and t? You have the st sound. It lets you tell a story, stomp around, and sing about some monsters.
My wife is a STEAM specialist. That’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) with an Art component. And one of my publishers, Cantata Learning, was looking for some science type songs. I thought that would be a great opportunity for me to collaborate with Katie as she also has a music degree and is a lovely singer. So she was the brains behind our STEM series of songs while I was the wordsmith.
Engineers Solve Problems!: Budding engineers will learn the steps engineers use to solve problems. As they sing along, students will solve a problem just like an engineer would.
Let’s Use the Scientific Method!: Budding scientists will learn how scientists use the scientific method to understand the world around. And as they sign along, students will work their way through an experiment.
Math Saves the Day!: Math is important because we use it every day. As they sing along, students will learn that we use math when we bake cookies, go the grocery store, and play with our friends.
Technology Is All Around You!: Technology is more than computer tablets and smart phones. As they sing along, students will learn that technology is anything that solves a problem.
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
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.
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.
Starting to see artwork for my Tangled Tunes—adaptations I wrote of classic songs. Here is an interior spread for The Muffin Man, which follows the Muffin Man as he opens up his shop on Drury Lane and bakes some tasty treats. Luke Flowers is the illustrator, and his take on my story in amazingly fun. I love the color palette and playful style. And by the way, the the dog’s name is Cupcake!
To match the lively illustrations, the producer for this song, Mark Oblinger, pulled in a very talented singer, Brittany Mahoney, who gave the song a jazzy feel. Here’s a sample clip of the song, just as a teaser: MuffinManClip