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Narwhals are fascinatingly cool, and lucky us, there’s a whole buncha new books that feature these unicorns of the sea. One such hilarious take is Ben Clanton’s new _____ book series NARWHAL AND JELLY. I asked Ben to share the backstory of his most awesome underwater adventure…

Ahoy Tara,

I’m thrilled you like NARWHAL AND JELLY! Thank you!

NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA! started out as a PB, or actually a series of picture books. There have been a number of iterations, but ever since NARWHAL first swam into my brain I knew one book wouldn’t be enough for me.

I first got it into my head that I wanted to make a book featuring a narwhal after seeing the book POLAR OBSESSION by Paul Nicklen several years ago. The book has some absolutely stunning photographs of narwhals in it and my mind was o-fish-ally blown. I must confess before seeing Nicklen’s book I didn’t really know about narwhals. That such a creature which seems so fantastic actually exists caught my imagination. I started doodling little narwhals even more than monsters, dragons, robots, or my other usual favorite subjects.

However, my first attempts at writing a story about one of these little narwhals didn’t turn out so great. Most of my initial ideas centered around a narwhal getting lost at sea and separated from its pod. I finally realized I was trying to force too serious of a story on this narwhal when standing in line for ice cream (Molly Moon’s in Seattle). Something about the smell of newly made waffle cones in the air and thinking about how they look like horns (or perhaps a narwhal tooth?) flipped a switch in my head and it suddenly clicked for me that Narwhal is the sort of character that is as sweet and awesome as waffles and ice cream AND that Narwhal’s story should be too.

Jelly, who is a bit of a worrier and skeptic, wasn’t so sure about this new approach for a narwhal story, but that night I came up with three stories (“Narwhal,” “Narwhal’s BEST WEEKEND EVER,” and “Narwhal’s Pod of Awesomeness”) and made quick storyboards and even a mock-up. By the next day I had several more book ideas featuring Narwhal and Jelly. And then a flood of new story ideas by the day after that.

At the time, I just assumed that these stories would/should be picture books. That was the format I was most familiar and comfortable with, but after submitting to several publishers the feedback I received from pretty much everyone was more or less the same . . . the characters are great but the stories seem slight. It was Tara Walker (Tundra Books) that mentioned the stories when viewed together seemed to add up to more than the individual parts. She encouraged me to consider exploring the format and page count. I resisted this idea at first. I didn’t mind the books being light on plot. Actually, that was a part of the appeal to me and one of the reasons I felt they worked well. But as is usual for me with any suggestion Tara gives me that I don’t agree with (which is rare) . . . I eventually came to see she was right. So I tried combining a couple of the stories into a long picture book. It felt forced. It wasn’t until I started to add panels and bonus materials that i found a way to make three 32 page “picture books” into a 64 page ______ book.

This process took years in which I kept revisiting the format and what I ended up with . . . it doesn’t exactly neatly fit into the typical designations of “picture book” or “chapter book” or “early reader” or even “graphic novel.” I suppose “graphic novel for early readers” is the closest. Yet it is really a bit of a hybrid.

Somewhat ironically, even though Tara and Tundra Books had encouraged me to explore the format they weren’t entirely sure about the unusual one I had come up with, but I had been fully converted. I was sure this was the way to go. It took awhile but Tara and Tundra finally decided to take a chance on it.

And aren’t we lucky that they did!

Thanks, Ben and Tundra!

Tundra is giving away a copy of the first NARWHAL AND JELLY book, so leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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Summer/Fall 2018

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