Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My new picture book: Candy Cane Lane

       Candy Cane Lane, from Simon and Schuster is my fifth picture book.  So far as I know, it's the only book ever written about Christmas lawn ornaments.  It's the story of a little plastic choirboy who one fateful night suddenly finds himself heading off on a adventure far beyond the confines of his little neighborhood.

      You can buy it at Amazon and in all Books-a-Million stores.  For some reason Barnes and Noble is not stocking it in their stores, which is quite disappointing.  It has been getting good reviews, such as this review from Publisher's Weekly.

     I was also pleased to get this nice review from Kiss the Book by Cindy Mitchell
  
      But first a bit of backstory: this little tale was inspired by a true event in my childhood.

      In those days of yore there was something called trading stamps. They were a premium given out at grocery stores and gas stations.  With every purchase a  certain amount of trading stamps were given out with which were redeemable for various products, but first they had to be pasted into redemption books. Once you had the requisite number of books for any given item in the catalogue, you went to the redemption center (usually near a retail center), to collect your prize.  It felt like you were getting something for nothing. Of course you weren't, but no one seemed to work that out at the time. Notice the boastful remark by the successful looking father below and the operative word, 'free.'

      Popular items at redemption centers were waffle irons, picnic baskets, and other things most people never knew they needed.  Every family we knew who had a badminton set or croquet set had always purchased them with trading stamps.
      There were often long waits at the redemption centers. Unlike simply handing over cash or a credit card, the clerks had to check each redemption book carefully to make sure every page was filled. 
     You'd get the books at any supermarket or gas station that gave out that specific trading stamp.  Sunoco and Kroger's gave out Top Value, so that's where my family faithfully went.  This certainly helped the stores with brand loyalty, even if there were no kickbacks directly from the trading stamp companies.

It took fifty single trading stamps to fill a page. That's a lot of pasting. After a while, they started issuing stamps that were worth ten or fifty stamps, like larger sized bills. 
      After redeeming the requisite badminton and croquet sets, my mother set her sights on a little
choirboy, a plastic 'blowmold' about two and a half feet high, illuminated by one large-sized Christmas bulb. The choirboy was our first and only lawn ornament and I was quite excited when my father placed it on the front porch.  Naturally, we had to walk to the edge of the lawn to see how he looked from the street.  I vividly remember my mother gushing how adorable he was as we shivered there in the night air. 
            A page from a Top Value Catalogue. From these items, my mother chose the aluminum tumblers and the yellow plastic canister set.

      But the euphoria was short-lived.  Just a few nights later, we were sitting in our living room, probably watching a variety show on television, when a windstorm blew up.  Suddenly, something flew by the windows.  "What was that!" shouted my mother.  We all rushed to the front door.  The choirboy was gone.  My father pointed to the shrubbery ten to fifteen feet away. The choirboy was lying there face down, his light gone out and his neck broken. My mother rushed over to him, cradled him in her arms and cried, "My poor choirboy!"
      My mother seemed to think my father could repair anything and to be fair, he always assumed he could, too.  But competent as he was with tools, when it came to fixing plastic lawn ornaments, he had few resources at his disposal.  This was before the days of most specialty glues; all we had were things like Elmer's and plastic model glue. Therefore my father did what always did in situations like this: he turned to his favorite method of repair -- tape. As opposed to glue, my father had many different types of tape -- masking tape, electrical tape, duct tape, cloth tape, cellophane tape, and his very favorite, a large, prized roll of nylon tape. "Go get that nylon tape," was a oft-repeated phrase in our house.
        You can just make out our ill-fated choirboy in these blurry old snapshots.

      He wound the nylon tape and masking tape round and round the poor little choirboy's neck with less than perfect results.  His head was no longer exactly perpendicular to his body. But after all that saving and pasting stamps in books, my mother wasn't about to give up on our choirboy just yet. After his fateful flight, he found himself back on the front porch, imperfect but not noticeably so from the street --  at least most of the time.
       For a while, he seemed to bear up fairly well, but this was Kentucky, where the winters can be quite cold, and soon the tape became brittle and flaked away. Sometimes I would arrive home from school and I'd notice the choirboy's head was looking up, down, tilted to the side, and in more than one instance, it had fallen off completely.  Once his head had rolled off the porch into the middle of the driveway. I found it funny. My mother didn't.
       Over the next several years, the choirboy's neck gradually become more and more fragile until one Christmas there was simply nothing more to be done.  We pulled the plug and the poor little choirboy was tossed into the trash. 
     The choirboy in Candy Cane Lane meets this same sad fate, but from there the story takes a very different and much more fantastical turn.

In his unexpected journey, the little choirboy meets other lawn decorations,

and leads them on a journey into the unknown.

    
 I always start my books with a dummy with rough drawings like these and work out the story visually, usually even before I write one word.  It's the same way I do storyboards for animated features.  In fact, I sometimes prefer my roughs to the final artwork.  Someday I hope to do a book with more spontaneous drawings.