One of the big questions authors get is, “Where do you get your ideas?” We tend to give a joke answer like, “Saskatchewan.” But, really, ideas are a dime a dozen. I have ideas all the time for stories, but it’s what you do with them that matters.
My first picture book, The Yawns Are Coming!, happened after I was sitting, getting my hair cut the morning after working late and I was yawning like crazy. I just, matter-of-factly, said, “The Yawns are Coming.” And immediately pictured these little creatures grabbing my mouth and forcing me to yawn. A little horrific, if you think about it. I turned that idea into a children’s picture book, but it could have been a horror story.
I bring up Yawns because it relates directly to my upcoming picture book, A Little Emotional.
Back in 2020, we had just got into lockdown from the Covid pandemic. It was isolating, it was scary, and it was new. We were only a week or two into it, and I was thinking that there seems to be this low-level constant emotional haze over everyone. We were all a little scared, a little sad, a little confused, and…a little angry. I remember just always feeling a little angry all the time. It was this background noise like static on an old TV set.
Then it came time for Yawns to come out. The publishing industry wasn’t sure what to do. Bookshops were shut down, people weren’t going out, and buying children’s books was low on everyone’s priorities. Some book releases got pushed back a few months in hopes that things would clear up and get back to normal. Talking with my publisher, we decided that we’d still release the book on time and I’d do virtual visits. People were just figuring out how to do Zoom calls and these public events.
So, my book about 2 friends having a sleepover coming out at a time when no one was having sleepovers or able to go to a bookstore to buy one, died on the vine. Months later when things opened up, the book actually did take off and do pretty well, but at that time, it made me really angry. My little anger grew into a full-blown anger and it was ugly…and that’s where this book idea started.
I pictured this little kid being a little angry and that anger manifesting with this little ugly creature standing beside him. But, as his anger grew, so did the monster until it was huge, taking up the entire room, and nothing else. Just like I was feeling. I was consumed by my anger. I quickly wrote up and drew a manuscript called A Little Angry and sent it to my agent, Jodi.
She nicely told me she understood I was upset, but the manuscript was mean. “Try again.”, was what she told me. So, I put it away. In the meantime, I did the follow-up to Yawns with The Giggles are Coming! Then one day in 2022, my wife and I were talking and she said she liked Angry and said I should revisit it. I went back and reread it. Now that I was no longer angry, I could see with fresh eyes how dark the book was, but I actually kinda liked the concept.
So, I went back to it. I rewrote a bit, redrew pages and felt good enough about it to resend it to my agent. She really liked it. She had no notes and passed it along to my publisher, Lauri. Lauri immediately made an offer and we were off and running. Lauri came back with some notes. The big one was that she thought I was wasting an opportunity just concentrating on anger. I thought about it and realized she was right. I needed to show all different kinds of emotions. So I decided to make them all and incorporate them into the story.
I showed the lead character, Tommy, happy, sad, jealous, etc. Each emotion had a little monster that appeared next to him. The story was less mean and, I felt, would give children a way to express their emotions. I thought of those charts in a hospital that count from 1-10 and have little emoticons to help the patient describe their pain, and how hard it is for little ones to describe what they’re feeling. So, we now have a little chart with the monsters and their emotions.
The book was just about done when Lauri asked me to reconsider the name, A Little Angry. She felt it no longer expressed what the book was. I forget the name she suggested, but I said I would only change the name to “A Little Emotional” and, thankfully, she loved that idea.
The book comes out on May 9th and I hope parents use it to discuss emotions with their children in an open and positive way. I hope out of all those negative emotions we were all feeling during the pandemic that I buried in the dirt will grow into beautiful flowers.
So, tell me…what makes you angry?
What makes you sad?
What makes you happy?