Jasper and the story without words

In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon…

One of my happiest memories is reading to my kids. I remember reading their favorites just as vividly as if it were yesterday.

If you’re fortunate enough to have “grands” and they are anything like ours, they, too, love books and being read to. I love buying children’s books for Christmas and birthdays, but let’s face it—it’s hard to keep up with which books they have, which they don’t like, which they get tired of, which they read last week after a trip to the library. Times and tastes change, and parents have preferences, too. I always try to respect those preferences, as I would have wanted my parents and in-laws to respect mine. Luckily, we are pretty much in tune; but even if we weren’t, I would be a good mom-in-law and keep my opinion to myself. Besides, the proof is in the pudding, and our grands are delightful, interesting, active kids who are being taught kindness and consideration for others. Just last week, our little guy was making individual thank-you notes for every pal who came to his seventh birthday party! How can that not make you smile?

But back to the point. For the last year, the idea of creating one or more books especially for them has been swirling in my head. I have tried to write original children’s books for years and failed miserably every single time. Have you noticed that I tend to digress? That sometimes, even after editing multiple times, I overwrite? That my writing is full of parentheticals? That I like $10 words? All of these tendencies spell abject failure if you are trying to write a children’s story. The idea has to be very, very narrow and the language more sparse than the leanest paragraph Hemingway ever produced.

Finally, a few months ago, I had a brainstorm. My husband has had a stuffed moose for many years. His name is Jasper, and he has entertained most of our Brady Bunch over the years, even into adulthood. I have occasionally taken Jasper with us to Maine, to the delight of my late beloved cousin Kristy, for whom I made a hardbound iPhoto picture book of our visit together. Just before we went north last fall, I decided to take Jasper with us and repeat the photo shoot with the intent of making a book for the grands. You can’t imagine how much fun it is to set up photos with a stuffed moose in public places! Flat Stanley meets Where’s Waldo meets… I don’t know, Bullwinkle? Now that I am #retired, I have time for these adventurous intellectual pursuits.

After Christmas, I got started in earnest, but I kept stalling on the narrative. The captions just sounded stupid to me—not the sort of thing to keep a five- and seven-year-old engaged. Then, one night, lying awake at 2 AM, inspiration struck. I remembered that one of my kids’ childhood favorites was a wordless book called Shrew Bettina’s Birthday** by John Goodall. The illustrations were beyond charming, and the kids had a great time making up the story as we went along—a story that was just a little different every time. It was such fun for both of us.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing with the order of the photos, to give it the shape of an unfolding story, and also to make the flow visually interesting. The years I spent as a creative director definitely help with this sort of project. I resurrected a few photos from our previous trip with Jasper, including the one shown here, taken outside the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta. The charming woman in the photo was delighted to oblige my “Would you mind…”. I did include an intro to let the kids know the book is just for them and to invite them to make up their own stories.

Today, I’m sending the new Jasper book to print. It’s been a great project—way more fun than cleaning closets, for example—and I’m pretty sure the kids will love it. Why don’t you try something like this, too?

Book/info  links follow…

 

https://www.amazon.com/Margaret-Wise-Brown/e/B000AQ1NIM

https://www.amazon.com/Shrewbettinas-Birthday-John-S-Goodall/dp/0689822065