Today I’m excited to talk with Lindsay Ward about the text that inspired Dexter, the best part of meeting with students, and what makes Ohio home.
What inspired you to write Don’t Forget Dexter!?
My husband and I were pregnant with our first child and my husband was required to get a T-DAP booster shot prior to our son’s birth. He went to get the shot and while he was waiting to be seen he texted me a photo with of a toy dinosaur lying underneath a chair with the line “well, they left me here.” I laughed out loud when I read the text and immediately sat down to write Dexter’s story. To this day it’s still the fastest idea-to-story moments I’ve ever had. I ended up writing the first draft within an hour and the rest is history.
When did you know you wanted to write books for children? Has becoming a mom changed the way you work or the themes of your work? If so, in what way?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind, but I never thought about writing. That actually happened by accident years later once I was already published as an illustrator. When I was 15 I got my first job working in a children’s book store. After meeting authors and illustrators who would come do signings at Hicklebee’s (where I worked), I realized I wanted to illustrate children’s books. I loved the idea of working from a narrative. After I graduated high school I went on to study illustration in college and began trying to get published.
My books have always been connected in some way or another to personal experiences. Now that I have two boys, I definitely get inspired by them. I’m also a lot more critical of books as a mom than I was before. Prior to having kids, I would really only care about the quality of the art when I purchased a book for my home library. Now I expect a book to have the full package— great writing and illustrations. Seeing first hand which books my kids respond to has been really interesting too.
When you’re working on a project, does the story come first or the art?
With the exception of Don’t Forget Dexter! and Henry Finds His Word, the story has always come first. Those two titles are the only books where I had a character in my head before the story was written. Generally, I come up with a concept first and then I consider all the directions I can take the story in before I settle on one. Writing is a very instinctual experience for me, I trust my gut to tell me when I’m heading in the right direction.
You hold many readings and events at schools, libraries, and book festivals. Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?
I love meeting with students and visiting schools and libraries. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. So often I’m in my own head working on an idea, so when I get the chance to meet my readers, it’s such a wonderful experience. I don’t necessarily have a particular anecdote, but I have experienced more than once going into a school where the students have never met an author or illustrator before. I love being able to show them that they can do something creative with their lives and nothing is impossible. I think that’s a very important lesson for kids to learn. I was lucky enough to have a mom that always supported my dreams, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to pursue this career if she hadn’t been so supportive.
What’s the best part of writing and illustrating children’s books?
I think that moment where you know you’ve tapped into something great creatively and the idea begins to really come together— that’s a wonderful feeling. I love getting to meet my readers too, that’s the best!
Your book Please Bring Balloons, a mystical story about a little girl who rides a carousel polar bear into a magical arctic dreamscape, has been made into a play and had a recent run at the New York Children’s Theater. Can you talk a bit about that and how it came to be?
I didn’t really have much to do with the process of Please Bring Balloons becoming a play. My agent called one day to let me know they were interested in adapting my book and next thing I know it was a production in New York. I remember my husband brought home a dozen roses for me the day we found out—it was incredibly sweet, saying “this is what they give actors on stage.” Months later, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to New York and see the play—which is one of the best moments of my career as a children’s book author/illustrator. I was so proud of what I had created, and so impressed with the writer, director, and actors who put it all together. Seeing my story come to life was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
Can you describe your studio a little? What’s your favorite thing in it? Why?
Currently, my studio is in a small bedroom in my house. It’s very cozy and has a beautiful view of the woods and river behind my house. I’m very type-A so I like to keep it organized, the only time it’s usually messy is if I’m working in cut paper on a book—then it looks like a bomb has gone off. My favorite thing in it is my blue scissors that I’ve used on every book I’ve ever published. I’m a bit superstitious about them.
You grew up in California, lived in New York and Boston, and now live Ohio. What would you say are the three biggest differences in the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest?
I get this question a lot, mostly from Clevelanders, who are fascinated by the fact that I grew up in California but choose to live in Ohio (sometimes I don’t think they realize how good they have it here). For me, the West Coast is laid back and goes with the flow, the East Coast is always moving, and the Midwest feels like home. I think the reason I fell in love with Cleveland is because the odds are always against it, a lot of people make fun of it or look down on it, but it’s got a lot of heart. Midwesterners are warm and passionate people. I’ve had the opportunity to live in many places and they’ve all given me wonderful experiences and shaped me into who I am today.
What’s up next for you?
I just wrapped up the sequel to Don’t Forget Dexter!, titled It’s Show-and-Tell, Dexter!, which will come out July 17th, 2018. I’ll be working on a new picture book about the relationship of colors, as told by the color Gray, titled This Book Is Gray, with Two Lions starting in January. And I’m thrilled to be starting a new original board book series, I Go, with HarperCollins next year.
What is your favorite holiday?
Hands down, Thanksgiving! Cooking for my family on a day filled with turkey, pie, and football…it doesn’t get better than that!
Thanks, Lindsay! It’s been fun getting to know more about you and your work! I wish you all the best with Don’t Forget Dexter! and all of your books!
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Review of Don’t Forget Dexter for Commitment Day
About the Holiday
The beginning of the year is a perfect time to think about your relationships and let all of the special people in your life know how much they mean to you. It’s easy to let time go by without telling friends, coworkers, and family members that they are important to you and that you appreciate everything they do for you and with you. Little ones are committed not only to family and friends but—often with the same fervor—to their favorite toys as well. And vice versa? Perhaps—as today’s book shows!
Don’t Forget Dexter!
By Lindsay Ward
In an empty pediatrician’s waiting room, a little dinosaur calls out “Hello? Is anyone there?” Then he sees you! Yes, you, and he needs your help. It seems Dexter (that’s the dino’s name) has lost his best friend, Jack. Jack was just there a minute ago coloring with Dexter, but now he’s gone. Dexter’s been waiting “a really long time. Like forever.” He thinks that “maybe you’ve seen him?” Oh, right! You don’t know what Jack looks like! Dexter draws a quick picture of a kid with curly hair, stick arms, stick legs, and a smile. Have you seen Jack?
Maybe you and Dexter need a little more help. Suddenly, Dexter has an idea of who to ask. “Excuse me. Hello? Mr. Fish? Have you seen my best friend, Jack?” Or maybe the lady behind the window knows where Jack is. But she’s on the phone and doesn’t even seem to hear or see Dexter. Wait! Dexter knows what to do—he’ll sing his and Jack’s favorite song! “Dexter Dino, stomp through the swamp. Dexter Dino, Chomp, Chomp, Chomp!”
No Jack? Dexter sings louder, but still no Jack. Poor Dexter! He just doesn’t understand. Could it be…”Oh no! What if he left me here ON PURPOSE?” Dexter thinks, as his eyes with tears. But then denial kicks in. That can’t be…after all Dexter says, “I’m Dexter T. Rexter. The toughest, strongest, coolest dinosaur there has ever been. EVER!” And he’s pretty much right! He’s got a swishy tail, chompy teeth, pretty sharp claws, and feet that “make this really cool sound.”
But oh, dear…did you really just suggest the unthinkable? That maybe Jack “likes something more? Like another toy?” You know what kinds of great toys are out there—all sorts of cars, trucks, trains, and planes that have fancy moving parts, blinking lights, and swell sounds. “Wait, what did you say? You think dinosaurs ARE awesome?” Just that thought has given Dexter more oomph and confidence. So much, in fact, that he’s going to escape from this waiting room through the window and find Jack.
Dexter builds a pile of books to reach the supply closet handle, grabs some sturdy bandages to make a climbing rope, and—under the watchful gaze of the swimmy “unhelpful spectator,” swings into action and…into the fish tank! Oh no! As Dexter sinks to the bottom, he sees all of his favorite moments sinking with him. “No more playtime. No more bath time. No more bedtime snuggles. No more Jack.” Dexter’s tears mix with the aquarium water.
But what’s this? What is that sound? “DEXTEEERRR!” Dexter recognizes that voice. It’s Jack! See? “And you were so worried.” But Dexter knew all along he’d never be forgotten. And now as Jack pushes him around the waiting room in a cool sports car, he and Jack even have a new song to sing!
What child can resist the roar of a dinosaur who needs help? The opportunity to be bigger, braver, and fiercer, than T-rex is irresistible, and in Lindsay Ward’s hilarious direct-address friendship story, it’s irresistible fun. As Dexter takes readers along on his roller coaster of emotions, asking readers for help and reassurance, kids will empathize with this lost toy who’s feeling small and alone. There will be plenty of giggles when Dexter draws his stick-figure portrait, rappels into the fish tank, and melts into a puddle of dinosaur tears. A spirited reading (and singing) will bring the story fully to life.
Ward’s bright, bold illustrations set Dexter center stage as his emotions play out on his very sweet face. From page to page, Dexter’s expressive eyes register uncertainty, hope, worry, bravado, angst, bravery, despair, and finally joy. Orange Dexter is a cutie with his scattered polka dots and kindergarten-style, writing-paper belly. Kids will recognize the doctor’s office with its universal fish tank; the “better” toys Dexter compares himself to are appropriately menacing; and Dexter’s memories of fun times spent with Jack show readers just how strong the bond between these two friends is. As Jack, wearing a Dexter t-shirt and also with tears in his eyes, searches for Dexter, readers will see that the love between toy and child goes both ways. Children will cheer when Jack reunites with Dexter with a huge hug.
Don’t Forget Dexter! is a funny and heartfelt choice for dinosaur lovers and for introducing discussions of various emotions and the nature of love for home, classroom, and public libraries.
Ages 3 – 7
Two Lions, 2018 |ISBN 978-1542047272
Two Lions sent me this book to check out. All opinions are my own.
Discover more about Lindsay Ward, her books, and her art on her website.
Commitment Day Activity
I Love You Jar
You can show the people you love how much they mean to you by giving them your heart! Make this I Love You Jar so you always have a little love on hand to share!
- A decorative clear glass jar, mason jar, or other kind of jar
- Red felt (or other desired color or colors)
- Heart stencils or cookie cutter (optional)
- Cut 10 to 20 heart shapes from the red felt
- Place the hearts in the jar for safe keeping
- When you want to tell someone that they are special to you, give them a heart!