from David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly, August 28, 2018
When David Shannon was 5 years old, he wrote the basis for what would become No, David! — a whole book dedicated to the many, many things he was told not to do. (“No, David!” being the dominant phrase, with occasional detours into sharper scoldings like, “Stop that this instant!”) As an adult, he spruced it up in advance of its official publication on Sept. 1, 1998, weaving together a narrative and contributing imaginative original illustrations.
The ride he’d go on from there was hardly expected.
No, David! emerged as a picture-book phenomenon, winning Shannon the prestigious Caldecott Honor and landing on best-seller lists around the country. It inspired countless sequels, throwing Shannon’s semi-autobiographical hero into new areas of troublemaking, from the classroom to Christmastime, while always retaining the original’s spirit. About a decade ago, he thought he was done, having long moved on to other projects — until the 20th anniversary of the book that launched his career reared its head, and a new idea sprung. Grow Up, David! is the latest entrant in the beloved series, a book for which Shannon looked back to his relationship with his big brother as inspiration. (It’s now available for purchase.)
No, David! and its follow-ups are still grabbing new young readers, and still hitting parents hard too. (Anyone who read it with a parent as a kid likely remembers their mom or dad turning emotional at the final pages.) Its simplicity has rendered it timeless. And so to commemorate the series’ continued success, Shannon stopped by the EW offices to chat with a fellow David — a David who grew up with No, David! as his children’s book of choice, at that. Read on for Shannon’s reflections on the series, the surprising impact it’s had, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Growing up, No, David! was my number-one children’s book.
DAVID SHANNON: And how was it growing up with that book? [Laughs] Did you get “No, David!” a lot?
It was very relatable!
I know you wrote it, initially, when you were 5. Now, so many years later, what do you remember about writing it, if anything?
I’m not sure if I remember writing it, but I do just remember getting into a lot of trouble. [Laughs]
Any of the specific “nos” that you remember particularly?
There were a bunch from the book that are true to life. Getting into Christmas tree ornaments. Stealing cookie dough, too. That was the only way you could get it then. I tell kids that now: Cookie dough ice cream hadn’t been invented, and you couldn’t get it in the rolls. The only way you could get it was to steal it when your mom was making cookies. So that’s one I remember well.
Over the years, what sense have you gotten about what No, David! means to people?
A lot of people have come up to me, and then also, I got lots of letters from kids. There are two categories of what it means to people” For kids, it’s just fun for them. David doesn’t do anything that they haven’t at least thought of doing. He’s not really that unusual. The only thing unusual about him is that he does all of them. Kids can identify with that, and they feel good about having fun with being told “no.” Then for parents — that last page, the “I love you” part, that’s really for the grownups. The kids kind of get uncomfortable with that. [Laughs] But parents say they’re always telling their kids “no” all day long, and then they say, “Oh, am I a bad mother? Do they know I love them?” So they respond to that.
And teachers! I didn’t see this coming. Teachers use it to have a discussion about rules. David is like the anti-example. And the other one I was thinking of: Special-needs kids have really responded to it, which is another thing I didn’t see coming. It’s very gratifying. Autistic kids, in particular, really identify; I think it’s because they can read his facial expressions easily. And of course, they get told “no” a lot too.
Did the success of the book, broadly, take you by surprise?
The degree of success. While I was working on it, I thought it was a good book that was different from anything I’d seen. But you never know if it’s going to be a success or not. I started out doing folk tales, and that’s really hit-or-miss. Sometimes they just fall flat, sometimes they’re big. You don’t really know. I was confident enough about it and had enough fun doing the first one that I started a sequel before No, David! came out. Scholastic was very cool to say, “Yes, David!”
So how did that process change for you? You weren’t an adult as you initially wrote No, David!, so how as an adult did you approach conceiving and then crafting sequels?
I really liked the way the first book came out. It was also a departure, artwork-wise, for me. Everybody I showed it to responded pretty strongly. I said, “The next level where you get told ‘no’ all the time is school.” That’s where I got in even more trouble than at home. From then on, I’ve never done a David book that didn’t explore a different part of being told “no.” The truest sequel is David Gets in Trouble, because that has his responses to being told “no.” The Christmas one I’d always wanted to do, because like I said, there was a page I did in the original, when I was a kid, of the Christmas ornaments. Christmas is the perfect storm: There’s presents, there’s secrets, there’s sweets, the parents are on edge because the grandparents are coming. And then of course, watching over the whole thing is Santa. The biggest “no” you could be told is [in the form of] a lump of coal.
And with this new one?
I wasn’t going to do anymore. This is the first one in eight years or so. But it’s the 20th anniversary of No, David! this year, and it’s also my editor’s 25th anniversary of her imprint. She’d been kind of nudging me, like, “I’d sure love to have a David book for the birthday.” At first I said, “No, I’m done with David, doing new things.” But I’d just been kicking around an idea about brothers, about having a big brother — because I did — and I realized, “That’s just made for David. David’s big brother.” It was a whole different area to explore, that relationship with an older brother.
So you drew from your own life for it?
Well, a lot of it! I always refer to David in the third person because he’s based on me, but he’s not really me. But that’s where I start: “What do I remember from school? From having a brother?” I just start jotting down things. I always say it’s semi-autobiographical.
The original’s visuals are still so memorable. As you go about writing these, do you consider it more visually or in story points?
It’s very much a back-and-forth. Every book’s a little different, however it comes about, but with these I just start by writing down situations and phrases and making sketches at the same time. There would be, like, “You’re too little.” So what do I match that with? Well, “I’m not allowed to play with the big boys yet” — so those will match up. When I get those phrases matched with the images, I shuffle them around so that they have a loose narrative or timeline to them.
Sometimes, you can write a whole paragraph and go, “Oh, I can just put that in the picture.” Much more concise. And a picture’s worth a thousand words, but sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures too — or at least a hundred. Trying to show what something smells like in a picture? It’s much easier to just describe it. That’s the good thing about being the author and the illustrator. I get to pick and choose. Plus if there’s something I can’t draw, I can just take it out altogether. [Laughs]
These books are far from the only ones you’ve written. Does No, David! have a special place in your heart?
It does. One is that it is semi-autobiographical, which can be weird, too. It is kind of me. As far as my career, it put me on the map. When I got the Caldecott Honor, that immediately got me noticed, and my books after that noticed too. So that was very exciting. It allowed me some freedom to explore different things with other books. I didn’t just have to stick with David all the time. I’m all about trying out new stuff. That’s where David came from — trying out new stuff. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
What are you trying out now? Any new stuff?
Who knows! I’m always so grateful when I get a new idea. You know, you’re only as good as you last one. They don’t come all the time. If it’s a new idea that’s all new and different, I’ll go in that direction.
I did also want to ask you about the sense of responsibility that comes with writing children’s books. You mentioned reaching autistic kids, and there is a strong conversation happening now about representing different social groups in responsible ways. Is it something you think about, or find yourself thinking more about now?
I think about it, but it’s a secondary consideration. My first consideration is if it’s going to be fun for a kid to read. That’s the whole deal. You can do all kinds of books that have wonderful themes that are needed and things like that, but if it’s not fun for a kid to read, they’re not going to read it. Something I’ve learned over the years too is the importance of just reading. The main thing I try to do is get kids to read, first, and to have a lot of fun with it. That’s another thing about the David books that was on my mind when I made No, David! but is much more-so now: No, David! is the first book that a lot of kids have ever read. Because it’s easy: You can get eight pages in by just knowing two words. That builds up confidence.
And also, really little kids that don’t know how to read yet, they memorize it and then pretend to read. I’ve had it read to me! [Laughs] That’s the first step: They’re pretending to read. It’s really funny because they always change it a little bit according to what they hear around the house. When he’s picking his nose in the book it says, “Stop that this instant!” The little kid pretending to read will go, “Get your finger out of your nose!” That’s what they hear. But I’ve found that if I try to do something about a certain thing, how “I want this message” and stuff, it comes off really stiff and preachy. That’s the last thing I want. I hated books like that when I was little. If I try to force it into any genre or theme or anything like that, it doesn’t work.
I hear that from authors across genres, trying to find that balance.
And I must end with, is this your last David? You thought you were done.
I know, I can’t say that anymore! I said that before this one so who knows? If a new area of rule-breaking presents itself. There sure are a lot of titles that my friends joke with me about. But some of them are kind of grown-up for this. [Laughs]
THE HOLIDAYS are just a couple of months away...and it’s our extremely biased opinion that you couldn’t find a better place to shop for everyone on your list than right here at Art Kandy.
FOR CHILDREN AND INFANTS...and their families, of course, you can choose from exclusive, limited edition prints from classic characters and books -- like Goodnight Moon, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, No, David!, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and Curious George.
HARD TO CHOOSE from so much scrumptious artwork? Art Kandy is here to help! Call or write us and we can walk you through the menus in the Art Kandy gallery. We’ll let you know what’s new, which of the limited editions are almost gone, and perhaps even reveal a few surprises that are not posted.
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Occasionally, the universes collide.
Like a million kids of the fifties and sixties, I was seduced by Ray Harryhausen, spellbound in my theater seat, watching cyclops and centaurs, bold heroes and master villains, my Saturday afternoons indelibly drenched in fantasy. When I grew up, I couldn’t wait to introduce my son to the world of Harryhausen and he quickly became a fan, as well.
Along the way, my wife and I channeled our passions into a bookstore and a gallery of illustration art. One day, as the fates allowed, we were asked to host one of the first book signings in America for Ray Harryhausen’s biographical, illustration-laden opus, An Animated Life -- to be held just prior to a mini-festival of his filmed work.
Upon my first perusal of Ray’s book, I found my gallery owner’s eye caught by the stunning Dore-influenced production art that was reproduced in the pages. In addition to being the special effects avatar of my favorite fantasy films, Mr. Harryhausen was a distinctive and compelling illustrator, as well. I immediately had a cause: I wanted the world to know Ray Harryhausen as a true artist, that his production designs could stand alone and be appreciated as fine art.
Finally, the day came and the Genie and Master of Majick of my childhood entered our little gallery. Tall, genteel, dressed in tweeds, he was the very image of an English gentleman - despite his Los Angeles origins. I like to think we hit it off. Almost immediately, I began calling him “Commander” -- a title which I think he enjoyed; he certainly was deserving of that elevated position. When the opportunity arose, I began to drill him with questions about his artwork. Do you have the originals? Will you sell them? Can we do a show? Ray’s response was polite, but firm: he possessed all of his original drawings, but he did not sell them and furthermore, they almost never left his home in London.
I began to hatch a plot worthy of Sokurah. Perhaps...we could plan an exhibition and even allow a few of the originals to be reproduced as limited edition prints. Ultimately, Ray agreed: Come to London, he said and see what you want. That invitation, to the 12 year old inside of me -- the kid who spent an entire day at the Granada Theater in Chicago watching The 7th Voyage of Sinbad over and over again -- was the Golden Ticket or perhaps...the Golden Fleece.
I flew to London in the summer of 2005 and was graciously welcomed into the residence of Ray and Diana Harryhausen. After lunch and conversation, I followed Ray up an endlessly winding staircase to Ray’s fantastic workshop.
He took me on a life-changing tour of his models and artifacts -- the tiny armatures of dragons and dinosaurs that once roared off the screen were now quietly resigned to shelf-life in Kensington. As I stood in awe, Ray opened a closet, stretched his long body up and began to pull down boxes of artwork. Each was inscribed with the name of one of his classic films -- or one that had never come to be. I sat spellbound on the floor looking at one masterwork after another -- the drawings painstakingly created out of his imagination, the better to demonstrate to the Hollywood powers-that-be the movie he would make for them.
With extreme reservation and reluctance, Ray allowed me to escape with a clutch of his timeless art. I would have the pieces digitally scanned, we would create limited edition prints and make plans for an exhibit. That first show we did with Ray in Santa Monica was a tremendous success. Harlan Ellison had written a stirring introduction for our portfolio and the event was attended by many fans and friends, including John Landis, J.J.Abrams, Frank Darabont and Ray’s oldest friends, Forrest J. Ackerman and Ray Bradbury.
I noted that Ray’s English demeanor seemed to dissipate when he was with Forry and Bradbury. They became the giggling, mischievous teenage boys they had been growing up together three quarters of a century before - cracking each other up, oblivious to all around them.
Our gallery would continue to publish new signed, limited editions of Ray’s art and continue to host special events with Ray -- at our shop, at the Motion Picture Academy and at Comic-Con. I remember one warm afternoon in San Diego when Ray, being pushed in a wheelchair, got stuck on the train tracks. As we pushed and pried at the wheels of the chair, Ray got the chuckles. “Imagine the headlines,” he bellowed. “Harryhausen killed by train at Comic Con!” Needless to say, we moved the chair before the express came through. The world wasn’t through with Harryhausen yet.
Ray, so under-appreciated during his career, so modestly billed in many of the films he, almost singlehandedly created, lived to see his name above the title on those movies, to receive a Hollywood star, an Oscar and many other awards. To be appreciated as an author and lecturer and an illustrator of note.
Of course, some of us always knew who was behind the Hydra and Gwangi and the Ymir and all the others. Those of us who grew up watching. And for those of us who got to know -- just a little --the kind, gentle, welcoming force that was Ray Harryhausen, we are grateful he was here.
The universe of my childhood and the path I chose as an adult never came together more perfectly than in the person of Ray Harryhausen.
Art Kandy will be live in person at the fantastic Entertainment Weekly CapeTown Film Fest, April 30-May 6 at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood! John Carpenter, Leonard Nimoy, Edgar Wright, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Kurt Russell, Brian Singer -- they'll all be there, along with our amazing exhibit of superhero, fantasy and film art. We're extremely proud and excited to be part of this super fan event. You can see a preview of our exhibit here -- including extremely rare Star Wars art from the legendary Bros. Hildebrandt. For more details and ticket info, visit the American Cinematheque website here.
Stan Lee -- an icon, a legend, a creative dynamo...the man who brought Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, the Hulk and so many other comic book characters to the forefront of pop culture. But who knew? An autograph session with Stan is not just business as usual; it’s a complete one man show. Of course, when Stan signs in public, there’s crowds, fans, flash bulbs, movie cameras,etc. When the great man is signing in a cavernous warehouse with an audience of just a few...well, that’s a different story.
I should note here that working with Stan Lee is more than just business for me. My first real contact with Stan was as a twelve year old fanboy writing gushing letters to “Stan & Jack” that were published in the back pages of Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk comics.Many eons pass and when my son was but a lad, no surprise! He was a Stan fan,too. He proudly posed for a picture with Stan at the LA Times Book Festival one year.
So, it’s with great pride and privilege that our gallery was able to create giant reproductions of some of the comics Stan had more than a little hand in creating. As Stan told me when he saw our prints for the first time, “"I always felt what we were creating was art. It's fantastic to see it represented this way.”
When Stan arrives for the warehouse signing, he’s wearing one of his trademark Members Only jackets and as someone noted, “He’s the last member.” But he looks cool, ageless and energized. The signing goes on for hours and Stan’s determined to keep going, but he has to keep himself and the small team of workers entertained, right? He begins by offering succinct reviews on the curent flux of Marvel movies. The Avengers? “The best part was my cameo!” X-Men? “No cameo. They did that so people would come back and see it a second time. ‘We must have missed the Stan Lee cameo!’”
Still adding his signature, the man who inspired the entire comic book industry launches into a multi-layered tribute to his own classic inspirations. There’s Shakespeare -- no less than Julius Caesar. And not just Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen...” -- but Brutus’s speech, as well. “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”
Then he moves on to Edgar Allan Poe. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary...” Of course, you can find all of the drama, nobility and romantic notions of Shakespeare and Poe in Stan’s writings, too. That's what he brought to the comic page. But Is that all? He teases Kahlil Gibran -- “’A loaf of bread, a jug of wine’...ah, we’ll get to that next time!" he barks.
As Stan wraps up his signing session, he offers a jaunty song or two -- the standards, of course: he sings, “Pack up all your cares and woes...” in a fine baritone. Turns out Stan’s a scholar, a musicologist, a national treasure and a true renaissance man. He’s certainly an entertainer who has given us great fun, adventure and iconic characters for some 70 years. Thank you, Stan Lee! Excelsior!
The Marvel limited edition prints, signed by Stan Lee, are available on ArtKandy.com.
"There are a lot of unformed ideas – parts or ingredients looking for other ingredients, some that I’ve been thinking about for years. I’ve been working on a book about sibling conflict. That’s something that’s always interested me. I’m the younger of two brothers and I’ve always been aware of how that’s shaped my personality.
I’m interested in work which is just fragments. I’ve been trying to do a book a little bit like that. I like the feeling of discontinuity in a picture book and how powerful that can be. I just show a few scenes and let the reader do the work. I’ve only got one desk and I only work on one project at a time. I have trouble dividing my attention. I often have dreams in which I’m living in a huge mansion and I’ll say, “Oh, I’ll go and work in the west wing,” and then I don’t have to clean up! But in real life, I find it’s better to work on one project at a time. It’s hard enough to be an artist and to have a normal life. I try to keep it simple."
Shaun Tan's books include The Lost Thing, The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Bird King. You can find Shaun Tan's signed, limited edition prints right here at Art Kandy.
For most fans of children’s books, Maurice Sendak is the first name that comes to mind. Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Really Rosie -- all classics and just a sampling of his enormous contributions to art and literature.
Most would picture him leaning over a drawing table, writing his prose or lecturing. For me, I picture Sendak being measured for a rented tuxedo in a shop on 3rd street in Los Angeles. Let me explain.
A number of years ago, Maurice Sendak was commissioned to design a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo for the Los Angeles Opera -- a bold and unusual choice at the time. The production sketches, paintings and many of the unused props became the centerpiece of an exhibit we curated for our Los Angeles gallery.
When Sendak arrived in town, he was perturbed to find that the reception for the Opera opening was to be a formal event and he had come ill-equipped. Calls were made and a local tuxedo rental shop could make it happen while we waited. It fell to me to take the non-driving children’s literature icon to be fitted.
Braving mid-city afternoon traffic and a cranky at best Sendak, we arrived at the shop. Unrecognized, he stood in the center of the shop, on public display, tailors surrounding him. He glanced over at me, fully aware of the ridiculousness of the situation. Gradually, Sendak’s identity was discovered by the clientele of the shop. One by one, they stopped to speak to him. He was a captive audience; there was no escape.
At first, Sendak managed a weak smile, but by the time the third or fourth fan was gushing, he had clearly had it. “Children must love you where ever you go,” one persistent woman told him. He stared her down and launched into a tale of visiting an associate’s home and meeting her young daughter -- who was sprawled across a floor, reading what just happened to be Where the Wild Things Are
“Are you enjoying that book?” Sendak asked.
“Um hmm,” said the girl, doing her best to ignore the stranger.
“You know,” Sendak told her, “I wrote that.”
The little girl stopped and for the first time, looked up at him. “Go f- yourself,” the little girl responded.
“Children are not impressed,” Sendak told the stunned woman in the rental shop. “Not by you, not by me.” The woman took a step back from the author and made a hasty retreat. Of course, Sendak’s apocryphal story summed up his characterization of children as possessing their own dark, cynical world. He would boldly continue to support that vision for the rest of his life.
The year after the Opera exhibit, we worked again with Sendak in creating “Freedom to Read,” a limited edition lithograph supporting an anti-censorship in books campaign. We held another series of events and exhibits and shared some memorable moments.
Thankfully, none of those events required formal wear.