Hello Readers! Welcome to Kid Lit Village blog where I feature authors and illustrators of picture books. This week, I’m pleased to introduce Brian Gehrlein, author of THE BOOK OF RULES, illustrated by Tom Knight, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. You may also know Brian from Picture Book Spotlight.
An interactive picture book with dynamic illustrations, in which readers have to follow the rules or risk a run-in with a monster—with a gentle approach to mindfulness along the way.
Beware! This book has rules. You must follow all the rules. If you break the rules . . . Dennis the monster will eat you. And you don’t want to be Dennis-food—do you?
With a laugh-out-loud, interactive style, The Book of Rules invites you to get your sillies out before it’s time to focus and listen to directions. And you better get started, because Dennis can’t wait to eat—or, um—meet you!
Welcome to the Kid Lit Village blog, Brian. Thanks for being a guest!
Tell us why you write books for children.
I’ve always been fascinated by children’s books for some reason. Even in college, before I started seriously writing them, I’d suddenly find myself in the kid’s section at Barnes and Noble with no explanation. I suppose to a large extent, I see their potential to make people laugh and come together in a shared experience. At heart, I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller, an entertainer. And kids are an absolute brutal audience–they never lie. They’re not socialized to politely lie that something is good when it isn’t. If a kid doesn’t like something, they let you know. I learned this intimately as an actor at The Coterie Theatre playing Johnny in The Outsiders for young audiences. Nowadays, I scratch the insatiable itch to entertain as a high school ELA teacher. When I teach, my favorite thing is experiencing laughter with my students. So I listen to their responses and I’m always honing my voice with their immediate feedback in mind. When they’re laughing, I know they’re primed for learning–they’re listening! And when they’re listening, maybe then I can share something meaningful–something that needs to be said. Connecting that back to writing books for children, I use laughter as a vehicle to grab attention so that I can impart something serious or important. At the end of the day, that’s my recipe–humor to heart.
I love this, Brian! When I read to children, if the book doesn’t capture them from the start, then I just put it down and pick up something new. Laughter is a great way to capture this audience.
Tell us about the inspiration for your book.
In the fall of 2017 I was in the middle of a huge career shift. I had left my life as a high school theatre teacher and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had just started querying that previous January and finally was putting my stories out into the world to get them out of my head and into the hands of kids. Career wise, libraries seemed to draw me like a moth to flame. Before I landed a full-time librarian gig in December of 2017, I ironically returned to the very elementary school I previously worked at before becoming a high school theatre teacher. A bit of a cosmic book-end moment–sometimes we end up in the place where we started but are entirely different people. Being back in an elementary school as a special education paraprofessional again sunk me down deep in the kidlit waters. Whatever it was, the silent panic of not knowing where I was going with my career, or the humourous returning to a place I had known before, or the ever-present saturation of middle-grade fiction and picture book story times, I could not escape from the single strongest creative surge I had ever experienced in my life. 2017 churned out dozens of stories and poems. Some were only titles, others half-baked ideas, full drafts,queryable books, and everything in between. Somewhere in the middle of that swirling chaos of creativity was THE BOOK OF RULES.
Often my ideas introduce themselves as a title. I think titles really have a lot to say and can sometimes tell you what a thing is. As an aside, the title was almost changed shortly after the contract was settled but it never panned out as something different–very thankful the editorial staff at FSG honored the original! So there was this title in my brain: THE BOOK OF RULES. But what was it? It had “book” in the title so I knew the story was metafiction–boy, do I love me some metafiction. Next, the concept emerged. Perhaps it was through hours and hours of classroom observation–seeing kids dance through the routine of their school day, following rules, getting up, sitting down, transitioning from activity to activity (with varying degrees of success on the scale of perfect order to herding cats). Whatever it was, I had a setting of learning in mind. These are the rules. The rules you follow…unless…unless what? Unless you want to be eaten by a monster. Yes! A monster with an unlikely name…a monster named Dennis–comedy exists in broken expectations. What’s the last thing a child-eating monster should be named? Dennis, of course. So I had the title, character, problem, and concept in mind. Thus, the basic skeleton was there. But it lacked purpose–a subtle theme to tie it all together. Melissa Warten at FSG really helped shape this part. What kinds of rules would they be? Rules you need to follow in order to listen and learn. Rules that prepare your mind and body to engage in learning. Getting the sillies out in a group setting so everyone is properly transitioned and focuses better. Ultimately, it’s about following directions in a fun way and practicing mindfulness in anticipation and support of better learning. Something like that.
Now and again I joke that its true inspiration was from Dwight Schrute and an episode of The Office. “Learn your rules, you better learn your rules. If you don’t, you’ll be eaten in your sleep! CHOMP!” Maybe his little song was just buried somewhere in the back closet of my unconscious mind…who knows?
Haha! Just goes to show The Office can reach a wider audience than we first thought. I love how inspiration can come from so many different sources.
What do you hope readers will gain from your book? Something I think this book will do really well is bring children together. That sounds platitudinal and cliche, but by nature, it’s designed with a unique interactive quality that should elicit strong group cohesion, a calming mindfulness, and a readiness to learn in both mind and body. Call it a tall order…but I’m confident it will deliver. Ultimately, I hope kids just have fun being together reading THE BOOK OF RULES because the story works best in a group setting. I hope they will enjoy laughing and being present in the moment as a group. Certainly, I hope librarians, preschool and elementary school teachers (and anyone for that matter!) use the book to help kids get their sillies out and come out on the other side feeling great and ready to listen and learn. That’s the teacher in me and that was my driving intention beginning to end. All in all, I hope the wordplay, timing, and comedic moments land and that everyone enjoys participating. I can’t wait to see a group of kids respond to my work and provide that honest feedback I crave so much!
You are not just offering a book, you are offering a group experience!
Congratulations to you, Brian!
Brian GehrleinChildren’s Author * Part-time Wizard * Sometimes Pastry Chef
Readers: Thanks for stopping by Kid Lit Village blog; I hope you’ll be back next week to discover another new book release from the amazing Kid Lit Community!
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