Recently, I’ve been working on a series of books involving Magic E, an owlish wizard who knows a little word trickery. With a wave of his wand and a flick of his wrist, he changes the vowels sounds of words like pin, tub, can, and cap by adding an E to the end of them.
The book in this series are going to be outlandish stories with some fun word play. In one story, Magic E sends Tim the porcupine back in time—get it, add an e to Tim and you get time! In another, he teaches a cod to read secret codes. Chuck the Duck goes from being a dud to a cool dude, and Sam has his cap turned into a magical cape.
These stories really allowed me to let some of my goofiness out into the world. And to top it off, I once again get to work with the amazing Luke Flowers. He’s illustrated my retelling of The Muffin Man, and also worked on a few titles that will be coming out this summer. His work is incredibly fun, and from the initial sketch of Magic E, I can tell he’s going to capture the playfulness of this series.
Stay tuned for more.
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.
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.
In grad school, at Minnesota State University, Mankato, friends and I would hit Mavericks’ hockey games whenever we got the chance. As students, we got in free, which was about all we could afford at that time in our careers. While I can’t claim to be a huge hockey fan, the games were a blast, sitting behind the opponents’ goal and harassing the visiting team.
But I must admit a guilty pleasure in seeing the Zamboni roll out between periods. Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with how this odd-looking, slow-moving machine worked. Not to mention, I’d be shouting along as the Gear Daddies classic “I Wanna Drive a Zamboni” blare over the arena’s speakers. When younger, I was envious of the person getting to drive it around—probably still am a little jealous.
So when given the assignment to write a graphic novel The Science of Hockey, I knew I had to dedicate a spread to the Zamboni.
My book is be part of the Max Axiom, super scientist series. And one futuristic device Max possesses is X-ray glasses. I thought he could use them to take a close look at how a Zamboni works. And since someone would be driving it around the rink at the time, I asked the illustrator to show the skeleton of the driver, something I thought was a humorous touch.
The Science of Hockey will be released this summer.
I was recently sent proofs of my fractured fairy tale, choose your path adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk. Now I’ve been a fan of this tale since way back before I wrote a graphic novel about Jack’s adventures. It was a childhood favorite of mine growing up. So it’s a story I know and love.
My first retelling stuck pretty close to Joseph Jacobs’ version, but being a “fractured” tale, I twisted things around quite a bit in my new take on this classic. It includes three main paths, and each takes a different character’s POV. One story is told from the giant’s perspective, another from Jack’s (or Jacks, plural, as Jack teams up with some famous Jack from children’s literature), and lastly the mother’s.
It was immensely fun re-envisioning a favorite story from you youth. And in doing so, this project also allowed me to exercise my humor writing a bit, as you probably can tell from this illustration.