Children’s book author and illustrator David Shannon says he’s thought for years about recasting the King Midas tale into a story about a gold-obsessed boy.
“Lately, I’ve seen so many greedy people making other people unhappy,” says Shannon, a Caldecott Honor winner for his 1998 book “No, David!” “More and more, it started to sort of suggest to me I should do it.”
But the myth of Midas was potentially intense for picture-book readers, given that the king does not realize that he too can be turned into gold.
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“I always thought it was maybe just a little bit too dark,” Shannon says. “And then, when I started, I just kind of by accident kept rhyming things, and that added a certain lightness to it or an element of fun.”
“Gold!” is the story of Maximilian Midas, a little boy with a big love for gold, which he acquires through his business smarts. Or more accurately, his ruthlessness. This, after all, is a kid who buys a house for his family and then charges his parents rent.
The book, which is both funny and full of heart, arrives on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Four days later, Shannon, who lives in Burbank, will read it and sign copies at Once Upon A Time bookstore in Montrose on Saturday, Sept. 10.
Shannon, whose books in addition to the “David” series include such titles as “A Bad Case of the Stripes” and “Duck On A Bike,” says he’s always been attracted to kid characters who are little troublemakers.
“That’s got to be something autobiographical there,” the 62-year-old author says. “I’ve always been drawn to that kind of character, that kind of story.
“And in this one, he really does start out rotten,” Shannon says, laughing. “When you start out with a character like that if you can redeem him by the end, then that’s a big turnaround, and I think that makes for a good story.”
“Gold!” is the first of his 30-some books to be written in verse. Shannon says that as a child he always loved the books of Dr. Seuss.
“There’s a bunch of rhyming,” he says of Seuss’s work. “And with a character like the Cat in the Hat, he’s kind of an antihero.”
What he didn’t like reading as a boy, or writing as an author, were books that slipped too far into sweetness and light.
“Even when I was little, I was really turned off by those saccharine books that were kind of what grownups thought kids would like,” Shannon says. “Luckily, I have a pretty good memory of my childhood, and I’ve always wanted to make books that I would have liked as a kid. And part of that is making a book that I like now.”
Shannon says his process for writing and illustrating a children’s book is different every time he does one of his own projects. (When he’s illustrating another author’s words, he says it’s a much more defined journey.)
“It pretty much always starts with my sketchbooks,” he says. “I write down any idea I have and see if it generates more ideas.
“Something like ‘Too Many Toys’ started with the title,” Shannon says. “Because I stepped on one of my daughter’s toys, and yelled, ‘Emma! You have too many toys!’ There was a little ‘ding!’
“For the ‘David’ books, the way I worked I would make lists of sayings that moms or teachers use,” he says of a series that includes titles such as “Oh, David!” and “David Smells.” “Then I kind of mixed and matched those together and arranged them into a loose narrative.”
As for his illustrations, Shannon starts with hundreds of thumbnail sketches to figure out the pacing of the story and the placement of text and images until he’s reached the 32 pages most of his picture books have been. (“Gold!” is 40 pages, he notes.)
Shannon’s books are often identifiable by the style of the art, although he says it’s easier for him to say what’s different from book to book than what’s similar in his art.
“I try to make the illustrations match the character of the story, and sort of accentuate the story,” Shannon says. “With ‘David,’ that was based on a book I made when I was 5 that my mom kept.
“At first, I started drawing (‘No, David!’) like ‘A Bad Case of the Stripes,'” he says. “And it just lost all of its energy and charm.
“I said, you know, ‘What was it about that little kid book?’ And I went back and tried to draw like a 5-year-old, and that’s when it really came to life.”
For the book event, Once Upon A Time is inviting young readers to show up to eat “donuts of gold – golden dough, that is” – and wear their slippers to the store to hear Shannon read “Gold!”
“I just ordered some bunny slippers,” he says, laughing. “Hopefully, they’ll be here in time.”
It will be his first in-person event since the pandemic turned the world upside down, and for that he’s excited.
“I’ve really missed that because even with Zoom, you can’t really interact with the kids, and that’s my favorite part,” Shannon says. “Because, you know, they’re all excited and they’re pretty raucous, especially with the list of books I have. They go nuts over ‘David.’
“So we’re gonna load ’em up on sugar and have at it. It’s going to be a blast.”
David Shannon book event
When: 11 am Saturday, Sept. 10
Where: Once Upon A Time bookstore, 2207 Honolulu Ave., Montrose
To die: Shoponceuponatime.com/event/2022-09