How To Turn a Pig Into a Chipmunk, Or: The Magic of Picture Books

Before I got into the children’s book publishing world, I thought, much like people who approach me these days, that writing a picture book would be pretty easy. Fewer words, right? I should have known better. In my previous career, as a comic book letterer, people would constantly inquire how to get to be a letterer since they have neat handwriting.

Neither career is as easy as people thing. In fact, there are times that creating a picture book is harder, more time-consuming, and frustrating as any other creative pursuit.

I have a book coming out in July called The Imaginoodles. It’s about a nervous hedgehog, an outgoing chipmunk and a lizard that thinks she’s a dragon. But it all started with a pig. A wizarding pig and it started in 2018.

Randomly one day, back in the day, I did a quick watercolor of a wizard pig. I posted it online and my agent saw it and sent me a note saying I should do a book about the pig. Also, my wife saw it and said she wanted to see more of “Edward.” (The name she gave the pig)

So, I went ahead and wrote and penciled an entire manuscript about Edward. I sent it off to my agent, Jodi, and she…did not like it. The great thing about my agent is she’s honest. If something sucks, she’ll tell you, but if she likes something, you know you’ve got something. I can’t stress how good it is to have someone like that in your corner. And she thought Edward sucked.

So, I turned my attention to other book ideas. A few got published. But my wife kept asking me for a book about Edward. I thought about it…for a while. I tried to come up with a story for this pig. I finally landed on an idea. Wrote and drew a manuscript and sent it to my agent. She liked it and sent it to our publisher, Lauri, who also liked it.

So, I went to work. Every book is different. The process is different, the amount of rewrites is different, the creation of the art is different. In this case, my publisher worked with me a bit to tighten the story and made me realize that the main character wasn’t Edward, but Henry the hedgehog. My designer, Jason, worked with me on layout and design stuff (including helping me redesign the cover), and I also went back in and tweaked and re-tweaked the story and art.

Everything seemed to be working except Edward’s look. Jodi and Lauri both felt like Edward just wasn’t cute enough. So, I worked like crazy to redesign him. But, no matter what I did, he didn’t seem to work.

Begrudgingly, I tried out new characters—new animals. I thought which animals seemed most hyperactive and I thought of the chipmunks that I always see running around my property. I named him Chester now. He was perfect. Also, chipmunks are smaller than pigs, so now all the characters were more similar in height. That one little/big change brought the book together.

So, six years in the making, based on a pig that is now a chipmunk, the book is finally coming out. And, recently, the Junior Library Guild has endorsed the book, so it was worth all the years and rewrites and all the other stuff in the process. But, I will say, making children’s books is not as easy as I thought.


I was able to get back into doing a few comic strips–my first love. This time, I’ve done a couple weeks worth of strips for Dork Tower, a gaming comic strip. Be sure to get over there and check it out:

A Little Angry

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?

A Little Emotional

This May, I have a new picture book coming out, called A Little Emotional.

Here’s the tag:

Emotions can be unruly, as kids will discover in this funny, conversation-starting book by the bestselling illustrator of Ordinary People Change the World.

Tommy’s favorite toy is missing, and so is his Happiness. In fact, he has gotten a little Worried. And then Angry. And as he searches for the toy, that emotion grows into Full-Blown Anger that eventually . . . explodes! And that’s when he sees his little sister playing with her toys. And he can’t help but get Jealous. And Sad.
His emotions keep lurking and looming like colorful monsters. What will it take to get them under control?

The Yawns are Coming!

The Yawns are Coming! Most books are meant to entertain your child, this one puts them to sleep! The story is about two best friends who have big plans for their sleepover. They aren’t going to go to bed at all – they’ll stay up playing all night long. But then it happens: The YAWNS show up! And as much as they try to outrun and hide from them, it’s no use: The Yawns catch them. Maybe they could keep going anyway, but then a DOZE …followed by the dreaded SNORES. Will our heroes escape the SLEEPIES?

Out this Spring!

Preorder at:


I’ve been hard at work on the Ordinary People Change the World series but also on something new. My graphic novel COSMIC COMMANDOS comes out in July, but I think everyone was happy with it because I’m now working on the sequel which will be called Monster Mayhem. It’ll be out in 2018. Seems like a long way off, but I’m deep into the first draft. So, I hope you remember to pre-order COSMIC COMMANDOS!