A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to get look at a manuscript written by my friend Ann Ingalls. Right away, I knew it was something special. It was just one of those stories that grabbed you on the first page and had you giggling throughout. So you can imagine how great it feels to be able to share with you in book form, now hilariously illustrated by Dean Griffiths, PENCIL, A Story with a Point. Yippee!
Look at that cover! Irresistible, yes? Here’s the description from publisher Pajama Press:
“Pencil and his boy Jackson are a great pair: they draw, they sketch, they scribble. But then Jackson gets Tablet and Pencil finds himself dumped in the dreaded junk drawer; he just can’t compete with Tablet’s videos, games, and movies. How will Pencil ever reclaim Jackson’s attention? With the help of some new pun-loving junk-drawer friends (and a drooling, pencil-chomping dog), Pencil sketches out a plan to draw Jackson back into their friendship.”
I’m a sucker for a good pun, and Ann just keeps ’em rolling. Griffiths’s colorful illustrations add to the fun immeasurably. (You may never again look at your office supplies in quite the same way. Or your junk drawer.)
Kids will enjoy picking up on the puns subtly woven through this entire book. Okay, not so subtly, which is why kids will have fun discovering them. Like, for example, when pencil is unceremoniously dumped into the junk drawer…
Pencil couldn’t see any point in going on.
“Move over!” snipped Scissors.
“You don’t measure up,” said Ruler.
Pencil nearly lost his grip.
I don’t like to give away an ending, so please go out and find this one to share with your kiddos! But right now, both author and illustrator are waiting to give us the inside scoop.
Jill: Ann, do you remember what sparked this zany idea?
Ann: Actually, I was cleaning my kitchen cabinets and drawers and got caught up in all that I saw in my junk drawer. I pulled out a bunch of items and began to imagine what if any personality each of them might show. Of course no book is written without a bit of research. I googled images of junk drawers. Each one looked like a sort of neighborhood for school supplies, hardware, makeup and personal items, etc. I imagined a handful of “characters” who had been crowded and cooped up in the dark drawer. If one or more got out, what might that larger life be like?
Jill: Now that sounds like fun research! Did you sit down and make a list of all the puns you might use, or did most of them come about while revising?
Ann: After I selected my characters, I searched for and wrote some of my own puns. In a way, the puns decided the direction the story would take. My sister, Maryann Macdonald, and I have written a picture book story that takes place on a farm. Lots of puns in that work as well. Not sold yet, but we’re hopeful.
Jill: I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Between your initial start and that “YES, we love it!”….how long? Any rejections/suggestions along the way that were helpful?
Ann: I did not have an agent at the time that I was submitting PENCIL. I only sent it to three publishers. My dear friend and critique partner, Jody Jensen Shaffer, suggested Pajama Press. They held it for about a year and a half before committing but were encouraging all through that wait. My editor, Ann Featherstone, has been an absolute delight. and Dean’s fabulous artwork takes the story to a whole new level. The very biggest boost I got while revising that work was from Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. I attended a Picture Book Boot Camp with them. They loved the story from the beginning and made several suggestions both of which I accepted. They are the BEST, BEST, BEST! I could pinch their darling cheeks, I love them so.
Jill: Wow, lucky you! Okay, Dean. You’re up! Could you tell us about your illustrating process?
Dean: As an illustrator, the wonderful thing about working with a writer as brilliant and funny as Ann, is that the writing makes it so easy to visualize the characters, so the first thing I did after receiving her manuscript was to sketch them on paper.
You can see that Jackson and Pencil looked a bit different than how they ended up.
After the characters are figured out, I layout the pages roughly in Photoshop, with the text in place.
In Photoshop I’ll start adding the colour and do more refining of the drawing. Sometimes, if I’m having trouble with a character, I’ll go back to paper, redraw it, scan it at a high resolution (usually 600 dpi) and fit it in Photoshop.
Jill: Did you run into any particular challenges in depicting anthropomorphic office supplies?
Dean: The only tricky part of anthropomorphising the supplies was where to place their eyes, mouth and arms. At one point I had pencil with his face at the eraser end, but that was not a really great idea.
Jill: Ha! I can see the problem. Okay, one last question, this one from Ann, who loves your choice of including a Bernese Mountain Dog. What tipped the balance in favor of that breed?
Dean: Thank you Ann! It had to be a big, slobbery dog (like My Newphie, Samantha, that I grew up with) and a darker colour so he would stand out nicely from the stark white background, and they are a beautiful breed with the lovely mix of warm brown and white markings.
Thanks so much, both of you! Readers, if you’d like to WIN a copy of PENCIL, A Story with a Point, just leave a comment for Ann and Dean below. We’ll draw a name at random on Feb. 22nd and let you know if YOU are the lucky one! Meanwhile, you can see more of Dean’s art on his website, here. Learn more about Ann here.
Speaking of lucky…we have a WINNER to announce! Ashley Congdon is the winner Lori Degman’s new book, JUST READ, from the Jan. 29th post. Ashley, please email Lori through her website (http://www.loridegman.com/) and provide your mailing address. Congrats!