From Everywhere and Nowhere by Philip C. Stead
Where do your ideas come from? I hear this question more than any other. Sometimes the answer is easy. For example, take the first book I made with my wife, Erin, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Due to an unlikely series of events I was asked to come up with a story in about 24 hours. Luckily, sitting on our kitchen table was a little pencil sketch of an old man and an elephant.
Knowing I was running out of time, I made the not-so-extraordinary leap to a story about, well, and old man and elephant.
Sometimes the origins of an idea are much harder to pin down. Take another book of mine, A Home for Bird. I could try to explain how my great-grandpa Vernon…
became a toad by the same name…
Then, of course, there’s the cuckoo clock on my wall…
The clock belonged to Vernon once (the man, not the toad), and it’s missing its bird.
I could tell you that these things (and more) added up to a story about a toad named Vernon who goes looking for a home for a lost cuckoo bird. But the truth is, I wasn’t thinking about my great-grandpa, or the clock, during the six years it took me to write A Home for Bird. So where did the idea come from? Was it always there?
Some stories come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Some of my stories have been described as jumpy and disjointed. This is either positive or negative depending on the disposition of the reviewer. Honestly, I can sympathize with both points-of-view! One book in particular, Sebastian and the Balloon, is especially jumpy and disjointed.
The book can be read as an exercise in organized absurdity.
(NOTE TO SELF: Possible topic for future Nerdy Book Club essay: “Organized absurdity” as the primary condition of childhood.)
The jumpy absurdity of Sebastian is a reflection of where the ideas came from. That is, they came from all over the place. For a while there was only a story about a balloon…
Then there was a story about a roller coaster…
Then, for no good reason, the two stories got mashed into one. Bookmaking is messy like that sometimes.
Then Erin made a real nice drawing of the 3 Fates as a gift for our friend George.
I thought, why not throw the three of them into this story, too?
My whole life I’ve been a collector. As a kid I collected baseball cards, and coins, and postage stamps. Writing allows me to be a collector of ideas. I can organize them and disorganize them however I like.
Which brings me to my newest book, Special Delivery, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. (Hi, Matt!)
Special Delivery is a book about postage stamps, and mail, and elephants, and monkeys, and bean eating, and kindness, and ice cream sandwiches, and ridiculousness, and alligators, and bubble gum, and determination, and airplanes, and hot chocolate. It’s my most jumpy and disjointed and absurd book yet. And, so, it’s a big surprise to me that I know that exact moment when this book came to life. One day over morning coffee a friend said to me, “Last night I dreamed I brought an elephant to the post office.”
“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “Where did you mail it?”
“Nowhere,” she answered. “I couldn’t afford the postage.”
So there you have it. An elephant became a dream became an idea became a book. It’s as simple as that!
As for where the monkeys, the beans, the ice cream sandwiches, the alligators, the bubble gum, the airplanes, and the hot chocolate came from—
I have no idea.
Philip C. Stead is the author of the 2011 Caldecott Medal book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, which was illustrated by his wife, Erin E. Stead. He is the creator of such widely acclaimed books as A Home for Bird and Hello, My Name is Ruby. Kirkus, in a starred review, called his most recent book, Sebastian and the Red Balloon, a “beautifully rendered picture book full of whimsy, heart and delight.” Philip lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
For those who are interested, Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell are offering an original art giveaway to support children’s literacy. To see more about this opportunity, Check out their post about it at Mr. Stead’s website for more information.
Check out the other two Special Delivery Trifecta posts by clicking the images below!