When I picked up Michael Wright’s two kids books, Jake Stays Awake and Jake Starts School, I didn’t know what to expect, but was instantly wowed by the cover artwork. I first saw Wright’s name on a flyer at my son’s elementary school in La Canada where he was scheduled to be a guest reader. I ran home and flipped through the school phone book to no avail. He was not a school parent. After Googling him along with the Jake book titles, I ended up at his cool and colorful website and contacted him.
Turns out he’s what we call a local writer at L.A. Parent. Hailing from Manhattan Beach, this father of three has a hit series on his hands and the good news is there’s more on the horizon. Despite the downpour last Thursday, I headed over to hear Michael’s talk and found him to be not only an engaging speaker, but truly in love with what he does. The kids in the audience got such a kick out of Wright’s comic delivery when he read the stories out loud and projected the images on the screen – my favorites being the family asleep on the kitchen counters in Jake Stays Awake and the whole family riding together on one tricycle in Jake Starts School. Let me know which pix are your faves by leaving a comment for me below. And if you’ve ever had similar experiences as Jake’s parents did (a child who did not want to sleep alone in their own bed or an anxious kindergardener), I’d love to hear about that, too!
Wright treated us to a short story (rather loudly since that’s part of the plot) called Russell the Butterfly about patience and kindness. I have no doubt a few aspiring writers went home that evening to try their hand at short story writing. The funniest comment of the evening came as a youngster asked how long Wright took to design a two page spread and when he replied, “around two weeks,” the child was shocked remarking he could “draw a picture in like, ten minutes!” Inspired by his youngest son, Michael explained how he began incorporating his zany artistic style into writing children’s books and it’s clear the hysterical stories are drawn from personal experience. In a brief conversation after his book chat I also learned we had several things in common.
Like me, he’s originally from Long Island, N.Y. and has a peanut butter obsessed child. But when you’re as talented as Wright is, you take that obsession (or to quote Wright, his son’s “deep and abiding love for peanut butter) and create what is bound to be another super story called Jake Goes Peanuts, so watch out for that one at your local bookstore. And speaking of local bookstores, Wright was brought to Coleman’s school’s attention by Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, an L.A. Parent’s Best Of 2008 Winners!
Wright told me that as a child his favorite books were Ferdinand The Bull and Curious George and, in addition to an old collection of Hemingway, and a book by David Sedaris on his nightstand, he still enjoys reading H.A. Rey today. Right now he’s working an a storyboard for a one hour animated version of Jake Stays Awake and his agent has a comic strip of his with a syndicator, so that, too, may be something exciting on the horizon. I asked Wright what he would tell parents about dealing with bedtime problems and his response was no surprise. “Keep it funny. Somehow figure out a way to make it their idea to go to sleep. That’s mental manipulation of the highest order – convincing them that they thought of it themselves!” As for dealing with anxiety about starting school, Wright says he thinks there is no quick solution, “just preparing well in advance.”
I like to ask authors and illustrators their favorite color in a Crayola crayon box and Wright’s, I learned, is Aquamarine – “because it always made me feel like I was going to dive into water.” By the way, Wright’s planning another book called Jake Meets Monster and I can’t wait to dive in!