Welcome to #SeasonsOfKidLit, everyone! From birth, we've been taught to play by the rules. If we play by those rules, good things will happen. If we break those rules...we'll be faced with a consequence. What if the consequence was being eaten by a purple monster? Brian Gehrlein and Dennis the Monster are here today to discuss just that! In their book, The Book of Rules (illustrated by Tom Knight), children are asked to follow a set of rules or Dennis will make them a snack. Want to know more about Brian, Dennis, and their fun book...and maybe a thing or two about wolves? Read on...
Q: Hi, Brian and Dennis. Thanks so much for joining #SeasonsOfKidLit! I’m thrilled to have you both here! First, a question for Brian (that I’m sure we’re all dying to know), how did you come up with the idea for Dennis, a child-eating monster? Did he turn out exactly like you had hoped?
A: Thank you, Heather! I am so glad to be here for this wonderful, spooky season. It’s my favorite! Great question. Back during the fall of 2017 I was working as a special education paraprofessional. I had just left teaching high school theatre and was looking to find a job as a librarian which I eventually did. Now I teach high school English. That fall, I was watching the kids at gym and I heard the first lines of the book. “This story has rules. You must follow all the rules. If you break the rules...I will feed you to Dennis.” Originally, I used a weird combination of first person perspective for the narrator as well as the second person “you” when talking to the reader. It was a wonky execution so we eventually cut the first person perspective. At any rate, I wanted to play with the idea of a book that was extremely interactive that would be perfect for groups of kids at school or for a really unique bedtime story experience. And I wanted to find a way to almost guarantee that kids would play along. So I had to appeal to their own instinct at self preservation. You don’t follow the rules…you’re eaten! High stakes and high fun if you go with it. Dennis as the name of the monster came fairly early on and I wrote the first draft in a single sitting after school the day I heard the opening line. I wanted a super lame name (sorry to all named Dennis) for a monster. I wanted the least monsterly name possible. I wanted a name so drab you just had to laugh and therefore would feel warm feelings toward the monster threatening to make you his meal. The clunky first draft sat in a folder marked, “No Longer Pursuing” and I never did a thing with it. Never queried it or took it seriously. So Dennis waited. He waited until I was brainstorming with my agent to determine possible future projects to go out on submission. I unearthed Dennis and it made me giggle. Several rounds of revision later and my debut book was born. Dennis turned out a BILLION times better than I could ever have imagined. Tom Knight is just brilliant and added so much to the story to make the book what it is today. At every step in the process, Tom's work has blown me away. For those of you who want the short order recipe for my debut...here goes. Trust that voice for a story that just pops up randomly. Write it down as soon as possible. Get the first draft out as immediately as you can–while it’s still fresh and you can hear it. Utterly abandon the idea for several years. Do zero things with it. Forget it. Rediscover it…and ask yourself: why not? Then revise, revise, revise.
Q: Dennis, can you share a little about yourself and your book, The Book of Rules? I mean, did Brian create an amazing story for you or what?
A: Brian’s story is alright. Tom’s art is better. Have you seen me? I look good! I’m terrifying! Even as a baby. Here's me as a baby. Straight up hatched from an egg. Yepp, kids should fear me. Fear the Dennis! I know fear is exactly what my name conjures up, too. It might be the scariest monster name…ever. It’s certainly not the kind of name an author thinks up in order to communicate a book’s overall silly tone. Cause what’s silly about being eaten? But what do I know? I’m a simple monster. I like simple things: ducks, Tuesdays, chamomile tea, eating kids, lurking in the margins and the occasional library. I also have a weird thing on my foot that I should probably get checked out. On occasion, I am known to consume books. This usually happens when I have no rule-breaking children to eat. It is what it is. Monsters gotta eat, ya know? About the book. Oh, what do I say? From my perspective it’s like having delicious food dangle in front of you, just out of reach. It’s usually frustrating because kids tend to follow the rules (except for Rule #5). But watching the kids interact is surprisingly entertaining. That helps with my mostly empty stomach.
Q: What’s been the best feedback you both have received about The Book of Rules?
A: Oh man, definitely kids laughing! Since I haven't done a ton of live events yet, the reactions from the kids usually gets to me via teachers, parents, and librarians on social media. Kids really seem to enjoy having a story time where they're trying not to be gobbled by Dennis! I wish I could capture even a sliver of the joy I've seen and heard from parents and groups of students who have read the book. Here's some feedback.
I really like it when people do story-extension activities and share it online. When I see kids’ drawings of Dennis…I just grin from ear to ear. Tom loves it too! How flattering for your character to be so loved and fun to draw!
All that stuff is great and super validating but honestly the feedback I cherish the most is when my son grabs it off the shelf for his bedtime story. I know I have only a few years of him doing that and it just fills me with such indescribable pride.
Q: What makes The Book of Rules the perfect book for spooky season?
A: The Book of Rules works great for that monsterly, spooky season where you just wanna curl up with a mug of something warm and sweet. It’s chilly out and you’re under a warm blanket with a small child, and there's a pumpkin candle burning somewhere nearby, and you open a book to read to that small child, and it casually mentions how they will be eaten if they don’t follow the rules of the book. Nothing says sweater weather quite like, “hey, kid…Dennis might be pretty hungry right now…are you following the rules?” Also, for teachers, the back-to-school-honeymoon where we’re all on our best behavior is long gone by October. So right about now is when teachers need to be revisiting and reinforcing those classroom norms and expectations-–or just more intentionally building that sense of classroom culture and community. This book’s highly interactive style is a great way to do that! And what a fun way to springboard into a conversation about rules (yuck!). So if you have some unruly littles that need a silly way to revisit those expectations or just get those sillies out and wind down into more focused mindfulness…The Book of Rules (and Dennis) is your new fall jam! Print his picture and put it up in your classroom as an ominous and gentle reminder that a hungry purple monster is uniquely interested in their good (and bad) behavior…muhahahahahaha (lightning flash! Thunder clap!). We all need some Dennis in our life, don’t we?
Q: Brian, serious question just for you: the ENTIRE reading community came together and decided we need more books with wolves in them. How are you helping this mission?
A: I’m glad they did. Because it’s true. We do need more books with wolves in them. Every book should have a wolf—should have wolves. And I will write all the wolf books. And there will be howling and gnashing of teeth. All joking aside, I want the record to clearly show that I do not, in fact, have a wolf book out in the universe. I guess that makes me a big fat wolf phony, doesn’t it? But it’s not for lack of trying. I wrote a new wolf book the other day. I suppose I ought to share that with my agent at some point. One thing is for certain: there will be no ceasing of celebrations in the Twittersphere the moment a wolf book with my name on it is announced. It will be like vindication. As if the sweet waters of justice came rolling down, ringing out a single, resounding message: your weird obsession can become a book too. So go on…nerd out to stuff. You can sell that somewhere. It’s only a matter of time, Heather. It’s only a matter of time. If you’re new here and none of this word salad made sense, do yourself a solid and write a picture book with a wolf. You’ll thank me later.
Bonus Q: Wolves aside, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I hope a lot of books that are tons of fun for kids and adults! And my time-traveling misadventures indicate this is precisely what will happen. So stay tuned. To be clear, there’s nothing immediate to announce on that front just yet but we do have a few irons in the fire–a few things on sub. One I’m particularly excited about is the prospect of another book featuring a certain purple you know who! I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of him. In the meantime, I sure hope we see more frequent Picture Book Spotlight posts featuring authors, illustrators, agents and wonderful picture books!
Thanks for such a fun interview, Brian and Dennis! We can't wait to check out The Book of Rules!
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
A: I’d love to offer a trick AND a treat! Say what?! My trick is that there really are no picture book rules (don’t tell Dennis). The only way we innovate and move forward is if we appreciate convention and tradition but use it more as a launching pad and not something that ties us down. Or, as Captain Barbossa says in The Pirates of the Caribbean…“the rules are more like guidelines.” So bend, push, and (yes, even) BREAK the rules. I assure you, a lovable purple monster will not eat you if you do…
My treat…is a picture book manuscript Zoom critique for one winner!
Double Say What?!! Thanks for such a sweet trick AND treat!
Contest Details: To enter to win a picture book manuscript Zoom critique, comment below and let Brian and Dennis know why you're a rule follower or breaker when it comes to writing and reading! One winner will be announced on or about November 4th.
About Brian Gehrlein:
Brian Gehrlein lives in Liberty, Missouri with his wife, Katherine, and their two sons. The Book of Rules is his first picture book. Brian does his best to follow the rules and has (so far) avoided being eaten. He hopes this trend continues. When Brian isn't writing books about monsters who eat rule-breaking kids, he can probably be found grading short stories and essays at Liberty High School where he works as an English teacher. Sometimes Brian tweets things. You can read the things by following @BrianGehrlein or @RulesofDennis (his monster's official Twitter account!). If you want to connect with Brian, visit the contact page on his website: pbspotlight.com. He also responds to signal flares, smoke signals, and Morse code.
For more about Brian, check out the below links:
Website: Picture Book Spotlight
To purchase Brian's book on Amazon, or to leave a review, click here.