A Bedtime Bear Story: The making of "When I Grow Up"
The "A Bedtime Bear Story" brand was not built in a day. It wasn't even conceived by a single idea. In fact, the basis for the stories, (the bears), were not anything more than a drawing that I created more than 8 years prior to the first book being published. Still, it was that initial drawing that always intrigued me to build something around it. It turned out that the first installment in the series happened to be "The Legends Of 16." These characters (bears) looked very little like the first bear drawing yet this book would be the spark that set the fire burning. As more and more stories were written and then other books finished, I still felt that the need to brand the property with that initial bear drawing. I wanted that bear to be the recognized commonality to all these stories. In order to this, I needed that bear to become a character. And, with building a character, it meant developing that characters look, giving it a name, a personality and a world of which to exist in. This began the task of assigning my new character, Kodi the Bear (a Kodiak bear), to a story of his own. While I had envisioned an origin story or a central story, I felt that because many of the books are unrelated and don't necessarily belong to the same literary universe, that all I really needed was an introduction story. Of course, throughout other books (as I often do), a reader can find little visual Easter eggs and recurring nods to characters but they didn't necessarily need to be connected like in an "Avengers" type of way.
All this said, I now had an idea of how to present Kodi the Bear into the brand, I just needed a story. Luckily, at this time, I had already written numerous of yet to be published stories in the brand and could decide which ones I would be able to use this anchoring character in. The best part was that I realized I could do this and plan to do this in 3 books already! Still, for a first time introduction, I wanted to have a story that was very universal for children. I wanted a story with a theme that could be very broad and imaginative. This, set the wheels in motion and I knew that my introduction story for Kodi had to be something that I had not yet written.
When I was a kid (and to this very day) there is not a more central figure in my life than my Mom. Growing up, she was always involved with me, my brothers, my step sisters, our friends, kids at the day care center where she would work and, really, anybody that needed a friend. I think that I was given this great gift of understanding how we are all significant and essential to one another- no matter who we are or what we do. When I thought about this, and what I do, I thought about how I got to here. I thought about where I started and what it was that I wanted to be. This was that epiphany moment where it struck me and I said to myself, "all kids at some point or another imagine, dream or decide what it is that they are going to be when they grow up." Even when you don't know, you still wonder, right? Suddenly, I had my theme and it was off to the races! Thanks again, Mom!
This is where the fun begins! Now I had my character, my theme, my incentive to write and I just needed to get to it. Many of my stories, before I sit down to write them out, already have my ending or big reveal and my process is sort of a work backward from there, then find my starting point and finally fill in the middle. With "When I Grow Up" I did not have that ending part penned out yet. The neat thing for me in the process of this story was that I had this sort of rapid fire rhythm to how I was writing the rhymes. In fact, I was able to use my imagination as much as the character in the book uses his and I was doing it all in real time as I wrote it! Because of this sort of fast paced and free process, in this case, the ending just naturally came to me as if it would in a great conversation or battle of wit. When I reached the end, I really felt like I nailed it! I felt just like a kid does when he or she feels that sense of self accomplishment. Of course, the final stamp, once the illustrations were created, the words edited and the pages all formatted, was reading aloud my dedication page. As best I could, I tried to fill the story with as much representation to as many people as I knew personally. In the end, I realized this was a near impossible task but, in all, still an extremely inclusive amount of content was able to be included. The most fulfilling part was being able to see myself in a number of pages, as I hope many children (and adults) can do the same. And, at the core, my Mom was in every single one of those pages, if not representing that page directly, she was definitely there supporting it all and rooting for everyone represented on it. Yes, the dedication page could only belong to one person. It belonged to my Mom. After all, for a mom, we are exactly who she wants us to be when we grow up.