EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 9, 2008

For Young Readers: Family an inspiration for children's book author David Shannon


'Too Many Toys'

By David Shannon, $16.99, ages 4 to 8

Author/illustrator David Shannon gets some of his best children's-book ideas from his family.

His Caldecott Honor picture book, "No, David!," was based on a book that Shannon wrote and illustrated when he was 5 years old. Fortunately, his mother had saved the original in her "magic closet of stuff," as Shannon puts it, and so he was able to use it as the pattern for "No, David!."

A few years later, Shannon's daughter Emma, then a toddler, provided the idea for another book. Emma's love of animal noises persuaded Shannon to write the book "Duck On a Bike" about a farmyard full of noisy animals doing crazy things.

Shannon's newest book, "Too Many Toys", also was sparked by Emma, now 10. Like many kids, Emma has collected an overwhelming amount of toys, an issue that has resulted in numerous family discussions about how to pare down the collection. Those discussions eventually led Shannon to write and illustrate "Too Many Toys."

The book stars a boy named Spencer, who gets toys from all kinds of people and for all kinds of reasons, including birthdays and winning "Peace Person Points" at school.

As a result, his room — and much of his house — is overflowing with toys, as Shannon's acrylic illustrations — filled to the brim with brilliantly colored playthings — make abundantly clear. When Spencer's mother suggests throwing out some of the toys, however, he balks, saying things like, "Grandma Bobo gave me that on my fourth birthday. And I'll never be four again — EVER!"

But Spencer's exasperated mother stands firm. The two eventually manage to make a pile of toys to give away, and Spencer's mother tells him to put them in a box to be carted off while she has a short rest. When Spencer's mom returns to his room, however, she finds the toys all over the floor and Spencer triumphantly announces that he's found the best toy of all — the empty box. It's a fiendishly simple, and hilarious, ending to the story.

Shannon, 49, has been drawing since he could hold a pencil. It stood him in good stead during his school years in Spokane, Wash., where Shannon acknowledges "I was kind of a handful. Teachers were just as happy to put me at the back of the class and let me draw."

His parents encouraged his drawing, and, after a year at college, Shannon headed south to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., where he earned a bachelor's in fine arts. Determined to do illustration, Shannon headed to New York City, where he eventually became a regular contributor to The New York Times op-ed section and The New York Times Book Review.

It was there that a children's-book editor spotted his work and asked Shannon to illustrate his first children's book, "How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?," by Julius Lester, which was published in 1992. Over the next few years, Shannon illustrated a number of children's books. Then, in 1998, he published "No, David!."

The book won a 1999 Caldecott Honor and launched Shannon's career as a full-time children's-book creator. Since then, he's written two sequels, "David Gets In Trouble" and "David Goes to School," as well as several "Diaper David" board books.

— Scripps Howard News Service