We are Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr a writer/illustrator, husband/wife duo who live in a barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with our three small kids and a goofy blue dog. We make books together, all day, every day. When our friend Drew Bunting is around, he writes songs and sings them. Learn more about us HERE.
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You may not know it if you’re not a member of the Bobbledy Club, but each time we send out a book, we also send some sort of game or puzzle or activity, something we think up and Robbi draws. Something for kids to DO.
Because reading books is all well and good, but what we want most of all is to inspire kids to go out and make their own stuff, whether it’s stories or drawings or . . . robots.
Last week we sent out Peacock and Duck Save Friendship. Those of you who have read it know that the book contains an evil (but misunderstood) robot overlord. I hope I am not spoiling things to say that, after a passage of misdeeds and an entirely justifiable jail term handed down by none other than the Supreme Court, the evil robot in question is offered a new friend robot (the company of which will, ideally, result in better mood and thus behavior for the evil robot in question).
The book concludes before the new friend Robot is constructed, and so we invited readers to help us figure out what this new friend robot would look like.
Here’s the activity sheet we sent:
And here is Bobbledy club member Suki in the process of making her own robot.
While I am admittedly no expert in robotics, I find myself uncommonly impressed with this one. Look what Suki created with only a few bits and pieces to work with!
If such words as “WOW,” and “OH MAN” and “DIGGITY!” are currently escaping your lips, then you, my friend, are not alone.
Let’s take a closer look at this fine piece of engineering.
The only thing that could possibly make me happier is if Suki were to tell us a bit about this robot and its adventures. If such a thing were to happen, we would almost certainly post it here.
If you’d like to construct your own robot friend, you can download the activity page HERE. And if you were to then send us a photo or scan of your robot, we would almost certainly post it here. Go to it!
Once a year, we send Bobbledy Club members a book with a few prompts and invite them to bring their full creative powers to the task of writing and illustrating their own books.
This year’s prompt book looked like this:
This time around, we added a twist by including a sheet of Robbi-drawn stickers for kids to use as inspiration for their own stories and drawings.
We sent out both of the above. We waited and waited while kids made their books. Then, suddenly, packages started arriving in the mail, padded envelopes, Priority Mail dispatches, even the carefully wrapped parcel or two.
The fun part was reading them and seeing all the amazing stories and ideas and images that flow so freely from the minds of kids. It’s a tap of eternal inspiration and imagination, and we’re so lucky to get to drink from that firehose.
The hard part was picking just one of the dozens of great books kids sent our way. But we hemmed and hawed and hemmed some more and finally came to the conclusion that the one true winner of this year’s contest was, for the first time, the product of more than one kid. Please join me in congratulating Eleanor, Isabel and Will Bolas on their triumph of sibling collaboration, Peacock and Duck Save Friendship!
I would give you the setup, but the kids do it so well themselves.
There is a truly epic “backstory,” which allows us to identify with and cultivate sympathy for the evil robotic overlord antagonist.
And in the final estimation, there is the happy ending that one hopes for in books about friendship.
Here are the author/illustrator triumvirate as drawn in their own inimitable style.
And here they are, drawn by Robbi (Eleanor, Isabel, and Will, left to right).
I have it on great authority that the arrival of the package was met with great joy in the Bolas household. Eleanor was overheard saying “it’s like a dream! I keep thinking I’m going to wake up!” And with good reason. It is not just everyday that one’s first published book arrives in the mail. I had to wait until I was 35 for it to happen.
Over the course of that first exciting evening, the book was read repeatedly by various configurations of Bolases to various other configurations of Bolases.
The next morning, books were taken to school to be shared and gifted to respective classrooms. One of Eleanor’s classmates was so enthusiastic, that he plans to write fan fiction to continue the story with the same characters.
Take a close look. These are the faces of tomorrow’s literary landscape. If you are literally searching for your wallet at this moment in hopes of obtaining your very own copy of Peacock and Duck Save Friendship, I will do you the courtesy of providing the link that will expedite this transaction.
But we must take a moment to acknowledge all of the other incredible kids who shared their amazing work with us. Here is just a little glimpse of each book we received.
I think you’ll soon see why our decision was so very difficult.
As far as we can tell, Peacock and Duck Save Friendship has been enthusiastically received by kids who entered the contest but did not win.
Here, for example, are Aurora and Leila, enjoying their own book while seeing what Eleanor, Isabel, and Will came up with.
And here is Joseph, whose mom reports the following:
Joseph came in, took off his backpack, tore open the red and purple envelope and settled in to read for his twenty minutes of homework. I felt as if the steam from the book, hot of the press, was still rising from the book, it was so freshly read this afternoon.
Joseph said ” I didn’t like the book, I LOVED IT! They wrote a great story! The robot slipped on a banana peel like oooooooo!”
And there you have it. Perhaps the only thing better than seeing the excitement that results from seeing one’s book published is seeing the support and excitement other kids can feel for their fellow young authors — even when they themselves don’t win.
Thanks to EVERY LAST KID who participated in this contest. We hope you enjoyed making a story and bringing it to life with pictures. We sure enjoyed getting the chance to glimpse inside your brains and hearts. Which is, after all, what making books (and sharing them) is all about.
This is Hope. Hope recently experienced the singular thrill of celebrating the anniversary of her birth. Note the festive pink hat. This girl knows how to party. We are flattered and delighted that in the midst of the jubilee, she took a few moments to draw us a picture.
And what a drawing it is! We challenge you not to be riveted while examining this scene in which the Kitty Sheriff (his earnest, crime-fighting intentions are evident in his expertly-drawn eyes), rides bareback on a muscular steed in hot pursuit of a cat robber with the ill intentions of stealing something, presumably Hope’s birthday cake. Because it’s Hope’s birthday, if you didn’t catch my earlier meaning.
What do I love about this drawing? Perhaps the better question is what I do not love. And the answer to that question is “nothing.” Because I love it all. The crescent moon. The sheriff’s neatly coiled (rope? lasso? Indiana-Jones-style bullwhip?), the lovely architectural detail of the the sheriff headquarters’ roofline, the look of grim determination on the eyes of the robber in question.
The scene suggests a grand finale — the forces of darkness and light in collision. How will it end? Which cat will prevail? We do so hope that Hope will draw the next scene, if only to sate our curiosity.
Perhaps at her next birthday? Or perhaps (hopefully) even sooner.
All of this is to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOPE! Thank you for sharing your drawing with us! WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MORE.
Monday night, we drove to New York. We had a busy day of meetings planned for Tuesday (with the titans of publishing!) and decided we’d probably better get to the city early enough to get a good night’s sleep.
We drove the turnpike feeling slightly adrift. Fortunately, the helpful signage helped us find ourselves again.
In time we came to the most majestic of all possible tunnels.
If you’ve never driven through the Holland Tunnel, then you’ve never driven through the Holland Tunnel.
We slept. Long and hard. We woke. We had breakfast in blissful, stylish, child-free silence.
We watched as our friend David’s cat battled invisible demons.
Robbi declared my ear hair situation unfit for viewing by the titans of publishing. It hurt a little, but these are the sacrifices one must be willing to make.
Feeling dashing and rested and sufficiently plucked, we headed out into the big world.
As we traveled north on foot, we learned important lessons about life.
Our destination was the Flatiron Building. Google was our guide.
Because she is an equal-opportunity groomer, Robbi stopped at CVS to buy some band-aids. So that her heels would not be gushing blood when we walked into our 11:00 meeting. The titans have standards about ruptured blisters, too, apparently. So much I did not know. Robbi is full of timeless wisdom.
New York boasts the sorts of buildings we don’t have in Chestertown. We craned our necks in admiration.
Our collective pulses quickened as we approached the fabled Flatiron, most elegant of all New York City architecture.
We were fifteen minutes early. We debated. I wanted to check in with the doorman 10 minutes early. Robbi preferred five. We compromised at 7. In the mean time, Robbi fed a squirrel, which is likely forbidden, but she was feeling bold.
We left the squirrel still hungry and headed across the street. We spent a moment admiring…
In the course of which we burned through the two compromise minutes and arrived at the doorman exactly five minutes early. I’m pretty sure it was part of Robbi’s plan all along.
We took the elevator to the eighth floor.
We joined a sub-group of titans responsible for trade marketing, publicity, advertising and promotion, and digital marketing. They provided an exciting array of NYC-quality donuts.
Our deep-fried enthusiasm threatened to derail all rational proceedings, but somehow we refocused on the matter at hand, which was selling Babies Ruin Everything. Even though the book doesn’t officially hit the bookstands for another nine months, they are already busy at work
Thank you to Kathryn, Molly, Emily, and Caitlin for coming up with an incredible, comprehensive, creative, robust, excellent plan to sell the pants off of our book. We can’t wait to see you wield your mighty titan powers on our behalf.
After donuts and marketing, we headed downstairs to the Imprint suite, home of our fearless publisher Erin Stein, editor of Babies Ruin Everything, and titan extraordinaire.
We were there for several reasons, not the least of which was to finally meet Natalie Sousa, Imprint’s brand new creative director. We knew from checking out Natalie’s portfolio that she is talented and experienced, but would we like her? Would she have helpful, insightful things to say about our work? Would she like us?
Like nervous 13-year olds we approached her office. And…
…if the Flatiron were a pod, Robbi and Natalie would be its resident peas. How I wish I’d taken photos of them hugging.
So…first hurtle cleared. We like Natalie. We really really like her. But what about her ideas?
We headed into the conference room and got to work. The work at hand was looking at the sketched out storyboard of a brand new children’s picture book we’re doing with Imprint. A very different sort of book than Babies Ruin Everything, this book is about exploring the world and taking a long, careful look at the things around you.
I cannot tell you what it’s called because we don’t yet know, exactly.
And I cannot show you any of the drawings up close because they are still top secret. The book has not yet been officially announced. That will happen in December. But for you, dear reader, here is a glimpse into the inner sanctum of how picture books get made. Various titans assemble with the likes of Robbi and me, and we talk, talk, talk about words and pictures and that delightful space where they collide and interact and make powerful alchemy.
After 90 thrilling minutes talking about the new book, Erin pulled out the latest proofs of Babies Ruin Everything and shared them with us and our dear, smart, amazing agent Meredith Kaffel Simonoff. Erin has continued to improve the files – adjusting colors and identifying the tiny imperfections that result from tiny bits of dust and other gunk that can get on the printing plate. These are called “hickeys,” and they must be summarily removed.
The final proofs are gorgeous. The hickeys are gone. The book is now being printed. And it’s not our responsibility.
Erin had warned us that she had a surprise in store for us, and it was a good one. Ours is the very first book cover to grace the wall of the 8th story conference room. Here’s the view out the window.
And here’s the view of the wall.
After building up a powerful appetite with all that book talk, we headed to lunch at a Japanese restaurant. It was delicious. Inexplicably, I did not take photos of my food.
After lunch, we walked with Meredith to the offices of DeFiore and Company where we talked a little more shop. (There are still more book projects swirling in the ether).
We felt honored to have an out-facing presence on her bookshelf in the company of all the other incredible writers and illustrators she represents.
We bid Meredith farewell and headed underground. Our next destination was uptown.
Upon arriving at 51st and Lexington Avenue, we came back above ground…
…though we were still deep in the canyonlands.
We walked a few blocks to the offices of Family Circle magazine.
Where we met Suzanne Rust, the person who wrote the family profile that appeared in last July’s issue.
And spent some time with old pal Lisa Kelsey, Family Circle’s design director.
We talked books. We talked photography. We talked art. It was so nice.
The day was getting late, and so we headed back underground.
When we emerged, the light was starting to get late-day beautiful.
It was 5:00. We braced for the worst, but blazed through the aforementioned Holland Tunnel with little resistance.
We bid farewell to New York. It was gorgeous as the light fell.
We stopped along the Turnpike for the kind of top-end cuisine that can only be found at this little mom and pop joint called Sbarro.
Back down in Delaware, an accidental camera setting let me see my favorite bridge in whole new way.
It was the fitting end to a remarkable day. We were tired but incredibly excited about what lies ahead.
As it turns out, the titans of book and magazine publishing are actually pretty nice and approachable.
At least the ones we we’ve been lucky enough to know.
Candy. You know you love it. It’s terrible for you, but THAT IS NOT THE POINT. It fills your mouth with joy. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and it has been making kids happy and dentists sad for a long, long time.
According to the dictionary, candy is a confection that features sugar as the main ingredient. Popular kinds of candy are chocolate, gum, and lollipops. BUT YOU KNOW ALL THIS ALREADY.
But what don’t you know about candy?
Did you know that the very first official candy was created between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE (that means 2,500 years ago!) when people in Southeast Asia boiled sugarcane juice to create pieces of delicious sweet sugar? I did not know until this very moment. That is called research, my friends.
Did you know that once upon a time, candy was considered MEDICINE!? As in something you would eat to calm a bellyache or make your sore throat feel better? That, my friends, is what we call the good old days.
For a long time, only rich people could afford candy, but then, in the early 1800’s, sugar became easier to get ahold of and machines were invented that could make candy much more quickly and cheaply. At which point, someone invented the candy store! And so children, who had been stockpiling pennies for a long time without anything delicious to spend them on, started trading those worthless copper disks for sweet delicious delight.
At this point, all the dentists got together and cried for the sake of everyone’s teeth before realizing that the development was actually rather good for business.
And that is the brief and utterly incomplete history of candy. Just know this: if you like candy, you are lucky to be living in a time in history when it is easy to get. If you don’t like candy, you should probably check to make sure you are an actual kid and not a robot cyborg.
But here is my true confession: I don’t really like candy. It’s just to0 sweet. I prefer a nice ripe peach.
That’s quite enough for today. There will be more about candy to come. For now, I leave you with this delightful video of a man making cotton candy while dancing on a beach. The internet is a miraculous place. Though, I advise you not go there unattended.