CLAYMATES…Something Amazing

“Can we read it again?” Ever since our 4 1/2 year old daughter was a baby, she has enjoyed re-reading certain books over and over AND OVER again. As the words become so familiar that they are easily recited from memory, I pull my eyes off of the page to watch her experience the story. I love the way she gets lost in the pictures, noticing new details during each read. If you think about it, often the first true pieces of art a child is exposed to are the pictures in their favorite book. Thinking back on my own childhood, I can still remember the powerful images that took me sailing to the jungle island of Wild Things. Or showed me what would happen If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and exactly what it looks like Where The Sidewalk Ends. Illustrations are powerful. They embed themselves into our memory and enhance the words of the story by giving you a glimpse directly into the imagination of the illustrator.

As a graphic designer, I have always had an appreciation for illustration. I probably spend more time than most examining images, word placement and font choices while reading our nightly bedtime stories. As luck would have it, when my family moved to Madison in 2013, we wound up living next door to illustrator, Lauren Eldridge. Being artists, neighbors, and having daughters close in age, Lauren soon became one of my closest friends. As we spent countless afternoons chatting in the back yard while watching our girls play together, Lauren gave me a glimpse into the crazy, stressful, AMAZING world of illustration. I’ve enjoyed learning about agents, publishing companies, where to get the best plastic eyeballs as well as all the ins and outs of the kid’s literature world.

The “KidLit” world isn’t one Lauren initially set out to find. Born and raised in Fargo, ND, Lauren earned a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota and went on to complete a graduate degree in Early Child Exceptional Education from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Through the post-college whirlwind of navigating the real-world, getting married, building a house and having a couple of babies, Lauren found a creative outlet by designing environments in her free time. This passion along with her background in working with children and her life-long admiration for picture books unintentionally created a perfect mash-up for her to head on a journey towards the magical world of illustration.

Photo by Nick Wilkes

Meeting via Twitter, Lauren collaborated with Dev Petty (author of I Don’t Want To Be A Frog) to create her debut book, Claymates, which hits stores on June 20th (pre-order links below)! Though they have never met in person, (Lauren lives in Madison and Dev in the San Francisco Bay area) the two came together to spark the idea of two blobs of clay coming to life. From there, the framework for Claymates was born!

Throughout the story, the reader joins the blobs on an adventure as they use their creativity and a little experimenting to mold themselves into silly characters before their sculptor returns. The endearing facial expressions make it impossible not to instantly fall in love with these two characters! Between the lines, the story applauds the notion that stepping out of our comfort zone can allow us to be free to find our unique self. Boosting confidence and self-esteem, this book reminds the reader that sometimes trying something new can result in “something amazing.”

Lauren is currently working on her sophomore book, Sleep Train by Jonathan London, which is set to debut in 2018. In this project, she assists in taking the reader on a peaceful train ride through an assortment of beautiful environments (she has shown me a few sneak peaks… amazing!)

Learning about the process of how these memorable picture book images come to fruition has given me a whole new level of appreciation for the field of illustration. What I’ve learned from Lauren is that working as an illustrator can be overwhelming and stressful but also so much fun! To her, getting to be a part of a moment where a child and their parent/grandparent/caregiver can connect and go on an imaginary journey together is magical.

Lauren and Dev’s creation, Claymates, is an instant classic… a book that will not only inspire you to try something new but it will leave you AND your child asking, “Can we read it again?”

Come meet Lauren Eldridge at the official Madison Claymates book party at Mystery To Me on July 8 at 2:00PM! There will be a reading, some behind the scenes info, a quick Q&A and book signing. The Claymates jars of clay will be handed out while supplies lasts! Don’t miss it!

Pre-order Claymates at:

* “The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own.”Kirkus Reviews

* “Petty’s punchy, dialogue-only narrative and newcomer Eldridge’s expressive sculpture give these clay buddies a surplus of personality…. a giddy mix of naive and naughty.”Publishers Weekly

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