The question I’m most asked when I visit schools or talk with teachers is: “Where do you get your ideas, Mr. Asch?” (Kids often call me “Mr. Frank Asch” I guess because they are so familiar with seeing my name printed that way on my books. One five year old was actually disappointed when he met me because he was sure I was a bear and not a person! But that’s another blog.) So I thought I would begin this blog by talking a little about where I get my ideas. Actually, I will talk around that subject because, to be perfectly frank, I’m not really sure where my ideas come from. But what I can talk about in some cases is the circumstances, intentions, and experiences that accompany the birth of an idea for me.
In many cases it’s something that’s going on in my reality that triggers an idea for a book. That and a constant watchfulness for something that might inspire a good story. For example, I remember telling a friend that I often felt like a turtle afraid to come out of my shell. His response was something like: “Don’t worry. Lots of people feel like that. The trick is knowing when to poke your head out of your shell and when to draw it in.”
Right away I knew there was a story in that statement. And it didn’t take me long to figure it out. The result was Turtle Tale which you can now watch on this website as an animation created by my son, Devin. I thought it was such a “primal” idea I went out of my way to keep the art as stripped down and basic as possible. No frills what so ever. That kind of approach doesn’t win one any prizes or awards, but I’ve always sought to match the style of my illustrations with the intent of the story rather than developing a fancy ‘one style fits all’ kind of approach.
What was the experience behind Moonbear? Well, that’s a bit harder to talk about. But I’m pretty sure it has more to do with an experience I had with the moon rather than any experience I ever had with a bear, and that experience happened many years before I wrote my first Moonbear story. I was still in art school at Cooper Union and having a difficult time living on my own in the big city. I felt like I was in some kind of limbo between adolesence and adulthood. I was chomping at the bit to go out into the world and do something. But I couldn’t quite extricate myself from school. And living in the city was getting me down. Then a friend invited me to visit her parents house in the country. In the middle of the night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was a full moon that night and the moonlight was coming through the blinds making diagonal slashes across the covers. As I sat up in bed I held my hands in the moonlight and really saw it’s beauty as if for the first time. As I turned my hands in the moonlight, dipping them in a waterfall of light, I thought, “Oh, my God! The moon is everywhere and it’s so beautiful! One doesn’t need more than this to be happy!” I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience like that. But if you have, you know that it stays with you. Many years later as I put my aspirations to be a painter aside and focused on kids’ books as a career, my goal was to write stories that were not just entertaining but stories that reflected some piece of the puzzle of life that I had put together for myself. So of course I wanted to write about my experience with the moon. But I couldn’t just recount my experience as it had actually happened. I had to couch it in the language of story. My first step was to create a character that loved the moon as much as I did: Moonbear.
Why a bear? Well, bears often stand upright so they are a logical stand-in for people. And they are solitary animals that rarely interact with other bears. They can’t rely on others to teach them what the world is like. They have to figure it out for themselves. So they are apt to form foolish misconceptions about the nature of reality which often makes for fun and mayhem…
More on this topic later. I just wanted to get my blog rolling. I hope you like my new website. Many thanks to my wife Jan who did all the heavy lifting and our friend Nathaniel Gibson who knows everything there is to know about building websites.