Christopher McLucas is a native-Nebraskan writer who’s doing amazing things for education and his community. He was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss his children’s book, “The Giggle Farm.”
Michael Bettendorf: So, I ‘spose to get started. Tell us a little about yourself and the Project.
Christopher McLucas: I’m a self-taught writer from Omaha, Nebraska. The project came out of when I decided to take writing seriously. You do what you always do: you Google it. I googled, “What should I do to get some practices going?” and one of the things on the list was to write a children’s story. And I took it at face value, to write a children’s story. I just worked on that. I was working on, Feint Peace and Other Stories and then when I breaking and couldn’t write anymore with those stories, I would switch over to The Giggle Farm and write that out. As the project progressed it started turning into other things. I drew a lot of inspiration from Norman Rockwell for the idea of how I wanted the book to look when I first started it ‘cause Norman Rockwell is a really big inspiration to me. I found out his paintings were paintings. I always thought they were photos. I got up close to one and was like, “what in the hell? This is a painting.” My mind was blown. That was Americana in my eyes. The idea that that, you can’t really frame things up in certain moments, which is what forced it to be a picture book, also my love of comics. I really wanted to, just, trick children into liking comic books. I wanted them to have photos with words that’d get stuck with them while reading the book. Everything else just kinda just fell along with it in The Giggle Farm with it becoming a coloring book. The coloring aspect being drawn in the words of the book as well. It all kinda fell through a natural progression of creating the book.
CB: Speaking of the natural progression of The Giggle Farm and how the coloring goes into the actual words. I was reading that The Giggle Farm is described as a coloring book, not entirely in the traditional sense. I was reading on the Kickstarter page that it has two different versions of the book where one is essentially a blank page where kids can actually color it and the one is inked. Is that correct?
McLucas: Yeah, you can order certain versions that are more like traditional coloring books where the pages are white. It can be like a free, scratch coloring. The other version allows somebody to take it in depth more. Go through cross shading and utilize certain coloring techniques to make it more of an art book for children in the homeschooling crowd. That’s one of the big things they take it as is they can talk about shading and depth. The reason in this version that you can see these barrels and things in the background is because of the shading and the depth of space, that way it kind of bounds out more. It builds up with the reader at the time. That was another thing I didn’t really realize at the time how I think it’s such a beautiful book and can be colored as a beautiful book, but so many times I’ve seen just, POW, like traditional coloring and a child going haywire on it. I forget that too. It should also be looked at as a free spirit sort of play thing. It needs to be that fluid as well. It shouldn’t be so rigid or strict. I had to let it go in that aspect and let them go crazy with it. Like, why not? It’s something I push away too. I never want to be put into a box. I should also be extending that to my audience as well.
CB: Yeah, that’s I think that’s important for children to not be put in a box. I know there was another children’s book, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was about coming out of the box. Anyway, back to the coloring and physical layout and design of the book. Explain a little bit about how the coloring of the words works. From what I understand it’s about phonetics.
McLucas: The educational aspects of The Giggle Farm lie in the search of rhetoric. Basically the color-say method is a buildup of the understanding of words. Say from the first page on you can color in vowels, sight words and build up to phonetics. That way you can dissect each thing in the understanding of language to reading it to your child. One of the ways the color-say method works is teaching parents that, yes teaching your children to read sounds like a very daunting task, but you really do already know the steps. Like, “a” as a hard sound, a soft sound and how to sound things out. Hopefully, the parents are literate. So we start with maybe just coloring vowels on one page. There’s always enough a, e, I, o, u’s, on the page to do that. And by the next page you can say, ok now we can color in the sight words and explain what it does. This is the reason we have to be here, and explain how the sentence works. And then when you get into the bigger words you can color them in phonetically. Say you were coloring in GIGGLE. The G-I-G would be blue and the G-L-E would be red. So they would actually be able to see that break in sounding it out. Connecting it by doing it, seeing it and having that visual connection of GIG-GLE. You break it up that way and by having all those things work in tandem, usually by the time a child is finished using the color-say method with The Giggle Farm they have no problem reading regular print because it’s like, oh that’s an exercise, but they’re having fun. They don’t know they’re learning. It’s almost like they think, oh I was just coloring. I didn’t know I was learning. You tricked me. And then it ends up working in that way. It’s a practice rhetoric disguised through narrative, through practice. It’s the repetition that kinda keeps in it their head. That’s another thing it’s not necessarily the traditional children’s book to read at bedtime. It’s something you actually have to sit down and explain to your child. It automatically creates a dialogue. I can’t just sit this book in front of my child. I have to be there.
CB: Yeah, it’s not passive. It’s an active exercise.
McLucas: And that’s where the color-say method really works is in practice rhetoric. It’s been really nice. That was another thing about it. I had the idea later in the first year of it: Oh, shoot I do have to provide steps. I can’t just tell you how to do it. It’s like a follow through. There is an exercise to it. That’s been one of the best things about it. Just explaining my motions and moves and seeing it work all the time. There’s this exercise I use at expos at educational bookstores or workshops where we just use the same font that is in the book to color in the words when we use the example sentence, well, I change the “the” to an “a” but “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” We just go through that. “A” got your first vowel, hard sound/soft sound. Then we do “fox.” You have another vowel, “o” with some crazy letters.
Then you just go through it all expanding it. And then at the bottom of that there’s a sentence for the child to work on which is “turn the page over.” So they go through and color it in and figure it out and they do and they’re like, “oh, turn the page over. I get it.” So that way they understand instructional reading, which is another type of reading. ‘Cause comprehension kinda breaks in that way, it’s ok I read this and I understood this story, but then it’s like, well I read this, do I know how to make this desk? Or you know, instructional reading. They will get the different layers of reading. Then they turn over the page and then there’s the word “Congratulations” written on the back of the page. And then that’s like, “oh sweet, I did something!” and then they color that in too, that way they see phonetics working. It’s another part of it. They know that they can break up words and know they can sound them out. There are these hidden ways to say it. That way the parents and the children get it. They see that reading comes in steps.
By the time they’re older, now it’s just, you just remember all of that. You aren’t searching for it. It’s just this practice gibberish you know and you break down that idea to parents and then they’re like, oh it isn’t too hard to read to my children or continue to read. It’s just giving these few steps and opening the path to continuing to reading. That’s the engaging aspect of The Giggle Farm is the story within it. That becomes as malleable as the color-say method because it always happens. Children always put their own story in The Giggle Farm. There’s always a story of a rogue chuckleberry leaving the farm or another animal that the child created that’s on the farm that I didn’t make, it’s something they’re just doing because I allowed them to color on the page. You know, so they’re going to draw on it or do whatever they want to it too. I didn’t plan for that at all, so this is another aspect into it that it’ll allow them to carry on to other story elements. They keep taking things out of the box more and more and more. It’s terrifying sometimes.
CB: To branch off of that, you’ve mentioned aspects of education and teaching parents, but also children. You’ve also mentioned doing some homeschooling. Where did your interest in linguistics, teaching and homeschooling come from?
McLucas: I kinda naturally fell into it. I was just doing the leg work with The Giggle Farm and going everywhere I was supposed to go and looking for places and homeschooling parents would always be there. Picking it up, reading it, really liking it and understanding it. Then I built my customer base in that and meeting them. Then they’d ask me to come and talk to their children and writing. And it’s never something to me, “oh I should do this”, but more the idea that it’s owed. It’s why I got into this. You know, I realize it’s very easy to do. You have to have practices. Have to be disciplined to it. And within your discipline you have to help others. You are owed for this thing you learned and that’s just what it comes to. I do it a lot with other things. Like I worked at Legend and The Emerald Towers across the street from there, there’re a lot of elderly people that come in that know me from working there and know that I’m a writer. And they ask me to have their lives written about. And I got like six people in to writing and they’re very tiny. They always think they have these grand novels that their lives are, and that’s not a bad thing, but with the formatting and everything you can really sum up the lives in, oh, sixty to eighty pages. And they really like it. It’s something they can give to their children. It’s like, this is the stuff I could tell you or I didn’t want to bore you with, but now I can pass it down to you. And I got to the sixth one in and they asked if I was getting paid and I was like, no. It’s that I’m owed. That I learned to write. It’s like if I lived in some village, that’s what people would come to ask me for. It’s my skill and that’s what is. Use it. So that always reminds me that’s what I signed up for. Ok, go to work. Like, today I was paid in yarn. I knit. And she was like, “where can I get you a gift card for coffee?” and I’m swimming in coffee for years of working at Legends and it’s like, I don’t need any more. I said, “how about a gift card to like, Hobby Lobby or something” and she said, “I crochet, why don’t I give you some of my yarn?” and I’m like, “yeah!”
That’s what I really need. I was born in December and that entire month I’m gonna be knitting baby hats for hospitals. A friend of mine turned me onto that. Her mother does it in Iowa. She crocheted about 800 baby hats by herself. And that’s another thing too, as I’m getting more into The Giggle Farm I’m learning I have to promote everything in it. I am an advocate for community. I do think that if we all know each other and work together our lives would be better. The book says that. And I’m a believer because I wrote about it, but I also have show that within my own actions. I’m owed that. I owe that.
CB: Tell us about your experience using Kickstarter.
McLucas: Kickstarer made me realized the use of other social media outlets. At the time of the Kickstarter I only had Facebook I was only able to swim within that circle. The Giggle Farm was funded by my circle of friends from working at Legend Comics and Coffee. There are only three people in the book’s Kickstarter acknowledgment that I do not know and one of those people found me via Kickstarter. My belief was that simply being on Kickstarter would be enough. Kickstarter was a digital jar for friends to put money in. I’m not saying I’m burnt it’s just that experience is the comb you get after you lose your hair.
CB: How was collaborating with Ashlynn Neve and Robert Donlan?
McLucas: When working with Robert and any artist I always stress that I want their style. From my experience when making comics I would just explain the story to the illustrator, give them the script and let them go at. Robert invited me his studio to read The Giggle Farm to him and he would draw from what I read on the art direction, the words of the book, and whatever else he would pull out of me by asking questions. He drew the first two pages of the book the first night, no thumbnail or practice sketch. We’d go over ten pages for each weekend for two months, he’d sketch the storyboards and get a baseline then the next weekend I’d give thumbs up, thumbs down and it progressed that way. When working with Ashlynn I gave her the last page of the book which is the house. The Guffaw house always stuck out in my mind so I knew it would be the cover, the front of the house and the backyard. I always knew I wanted the interior and the cover to be done by different artist, not really a reason I could put my finger on just a gut feeling.
CB: I really appreciate you meeting with me, Chris. Thank you. You’re doing a lot of good things here.
McLucas: You’re welcome. Thank you and Comics Bulletin for your interest in the project.
You can check out The Giggle Farm’s websites here: