Don’t go looking for it on Amazon. It’s not for sale, and it never will be.
See, this children’s book was a gift. A bit of backstory…
Last June, my boss at my day job announced that he was retiring. After nearly 20 years in his post, and in a decades-long career that was now seeing him inducted into seemingly every Hall of Fame known to man, he was hanging it up as of Dec. 31. When he was inevitably asked what he planned on doing once his life no longer revolved around football games and conference championships and meetings upon meetings upon meetings, my boss said he wanted to give back to school children.
Early childhood education, specifically. He was looking to volunteer his time to school children. So, when we as an office began planning a big get-together to celebrate his career (we settled on a roast), the idea of potential gifts came up…and one of my co-workers, knowing I’m an author, suggested a children’s book detailing our boss’s life and accomplishments.
I agreed, even though I’ve never attempted such a thing before–and at the time, we didn’t have an artist. Those are important when writing children’s books. Essential, even.
Still, I took on the challenge. Knowing full well this was never to be mass produced or made available for public consumption; this book was to be nothing more than a thoughtful gift celebrating everything our boss had done in his illustrious career. In the process of writing what ultimately became known as Little Dennis, I learned a lot about myself, creatively speaking.
First of all, writing a children’s book is not easy. It requires a completely different skill set than novels. Or even short stories. All prose is not created equal, and in the case of children’s books, it has everything to do with the target audience.
See, children’s books aren’t 75,000-word tomes. They’re not giant blocks of seemingly endless text. They’re not an exercise in people trying to impress others with what they think is a massive vocabulary.
Children’s books are short. Colorful. Dramatic. They’re vibrant, quick and to the point.
There’s rhyming. You have to keep the art into consideration (not unlike my first creative love, the comic book). I had to make sure I wasn’t using words small children wouldn’t understand. I wanted to make sure my lines rhymed (even though I know that’s not a requirement for children’s books, a lot of them I know of do rhyme), so in a sense, I was flexing poetic muscles I didn’t realize I had.
And I had to do it all to sum up the life and career of a man who’d accomplished a great deal in almost 50 years.
Amazingly, I had a draft in three days. A draft that, miraculously, didn’t require many edits. We found an artist in short order, and before I knew it, I was looking at a full-fledged art and all draft of Little Dennis. I had somehow managed to check children’s book and biography off my book-to-do list, in one fell swoop, and the reception to the book was overwhelmingly positive.
My former boss loved it when we presented it to him at his roast. Those in attendance also received a copy, and they were as effusive in their praise as he had been.
Don’t look for me to ever write one of these things for the purposes of selling it–writing children’s books is a specific artform, one I don’t think I possess the tools for. This was an exciting challenge, the rare opportunity to stretch my capabilities as a writer, and while I’m proud of the finished product, I don’t think I have anymore of those in me.
Especially when I still have so many ideas that need my attention in the world of novels.
If nothing else, I’ve come to appreciate children’s authors even more. They are magicians with words, in ways those of us who write for adults are not, and I am in awe of anyone who can churn out more than one of those things at any given time.
If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of knowing that every time my former boss reads Little Dennis to a classroom full of schoolchildren, he’ll be showing them my words.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to my superheroes and fight scenes.
About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.