Author, artist and long-time Kidscreen contributor Jim Benton knows three is a magic number—at least when it comes publishing.
Benton has a trio of books that are slated to hit shelves this year, which include this month’s double release of Let’s Do A Thing! (Victor Shmud, Total Expert #1) from Scholastic, which gives seven- to 10-year-olds a glimpse into the life of a young troublemaker, and Quite a Mountain: A Fable for All Ages from Andrews McMeel Publishing, which follows a bear as he decides to climb a mountain. And in October, Scholastic will publish The Handbook, a fantasy/suspense story for kids ages eight to 12 that imagines a world where children manipulate their parents only to realize they’re in over their heads.
Benton, however, remains level-headed amid the publishing flurry. He spoke with Kidscreen about his new books, what’s next and the one important piece of advice he has for writers.
Victor Shmud, Total Expert‘s eponymous hero believes he’s an expert in everything. Why did you want to focus on a character with so much confidence?
One of the traits I’ve seen in a lot in kids entertainment is characters that are awkward or lacking self-confidence. But I’m thinking about the kids I know—if you asked a little kid if they thought they could land a 747, they’d say yes. And if you asked them if they thought they could land it on top of the Empire State Building, they’d say yes. And they’re not making this up. They truly believe that, because the world hasn’t knocked the confidence out of them yet. It’s this great quality kids have, and the character of Victor has it, too.
What can fans expect from Quite a Mountain?
Quite a Mountain is a little bit more of a fable. It’s written is a way that kids and adults can appreciate. It’s like Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go! in that you can read it to your kid or you can give it to someone graduating or entering a new phase in their life.
The Handbook is aimed at a slightly older age group, how did that change your approach?
The Handbook is different from some of the other books I’ve written before because it’s a little bit more of a young adult book. The only illustrations are very small chapter-head illustrations, which don’t capture the action at all. And I wanted to make sure the entries in the book’s Secret Parents’ Handbook weren’t like magic spells. The whole thing is based in psychology. The story involves a lot of intrigue and a lot of action.
With three books hitting shelves this year, how do you develop your ideas and juggle projects?
I make a lot of sketches and notes, and I probably have a lot more bad ideas than good ones, but they all kind of go up on the bulletin board here. I knock them around for a while and if something continues to be funny or interesting to me after a long time, I might pursue it. Something I’ve been knocking around for six or seven years, actually, I just pitched today and it still felt fresh and relevant.
What’s your process for writing from so many characters’ perspectives?
You just pretend to be somebody else. The character kind of becomes like a puppet. You construct the puppet and give it its voice, and put words in its mouth that you think the puppet would say. I think it’s really just in your head, you pretend you’re somebody else. Writing is sort of a form of acting in that way. It’s actually pretty liberating.
What is your motto in life?
My life’s motto… Do I have a life’s motto? I’m very big on joking, so probably just, ‘Laugh it up.’ That would be something close to it.
What is your motto in writing?
‘If you are boring to children, bad things should happen to you.’ But there’s a logic to this. If I said to you, ‘Write me an article for orangutans,’ and you couldn’t do it well, we wouldn’t blame you because you don’t own an orangutan and you’ve never been an orangutan. But you were a child once, so if you write things that bore children, then shame on you. Because you were a kid, you know better. You know what bored you then, so if you do it now, again, bad things should happen to you.