Archive: July 2011
There’s Still Time!

Just wanted to send a reminder that there’s still a bit of time to enter the latest Peter Nimble giveaway!  Five winners will be selected at midnight (PST) on Sunday, July 31st.  Winners will get a signed advanced reading copy of Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes as well as a hand-printed T-shirt.  We just picked them up yesterday and they look awesome:

To enter all you have to do is follow these three simple steps:1

1)  Like my Facebook author page or add me to your circle on Google+

2)  Follow me on Twitter

3)  Spread the word by re-tweeting this message

Seriously easy!  Three clicks of the mouse gets you in the running!  Tell your friends!

  1. A few rules: Each person will only be entered once. US and Canadian applicants only. The contest will end at Midnight PST, July 31. Winner will be selected by randomizer and notified by direct message.
A Body of Work …

Here’s another thing that makes Mary awesome: she lets me draw tattoos on her!  Pretty much every night while she’s reading in bed, I pull out a pen and give her a sweet tat on her arm, shoulder, or foot.1  I work with a variety of themes in my art — most of them are slightly more violent re-imaginings of Lisa Frank pictures.2 Take this most recent example, which I have titled “Zebra with Machine Gun”:

Please note how the Artist has chosen to make the bullets from the machine gun go all the way around the arm and then explode in back of the Zebra’s head! Genius!  Now if only she’d let me frame the original…3

  1. I have tried, more than once, to tattoo her face, but for some reason, she refuses.
  2. To see more of my Fine Art, I direct readers to check out “Easter Bunny vs. Holo-Shark” and “Editorus Rex
  3. Roald Dahl actually wrote a terrifying, brilliant short story entitled “Skin” in which an old man has a tattoo on his back done by a famous artist. The story does not end well for the old man.
Book Launch Party In New York!

The first time I visited New York as a young adult, there was just one bookish attraction I wanted to see.  It wasn’t the statue of Alice Liddell in Central Park.  Nor was it Patience and Fortitude outside the NY public library.  No, what I wanted to see was the world-famous Books of Wonder bookstore!  Up to that point, I had never been inside a store completely dedicated to children’s books — and what a store it was!  To this day, I always make a point of stepping inside to lose myself for an hour or two. 

This fact is among many reasons that I am immensely pleased to announce that on August 11, Mary and I will be at Books of Wonder for a Peter Nimble Launch Party!


I cannot stress how much I would love to pack out this store!  Bring a million friends! There will be games, readings, giveaways of awesome t-shirts, and snacks!  Please note the awesomeness of that last fact.  Snacks, people! Take it away, Andrew:

Please come by and say hello! It’s going to be an awesome time.  As for my besties on the West coast, details coming soon on a big LA signing event at the end of August!

Interview at the Literary Asylum …

For those interested, I’ve got an interview running over at the Literary Asylum.  The Literary Asylum is a fantastic children’s book site run by screenwriter and author Matt Cunningham.  Matt is an awesome guy and something of a Batman expert.1  He and I talk about the differences between writing books and writing screenplays/comics.  I also give up some of the back story about about how Peter Nimble came to be. 

Even better, Matt hotseats me into answering this all-important question:

MATT:  Finally, if there was a zombie apocalypse (or I should say when!) and you were trapped inside a building with only one book to read, what would it be and why?

Now aren’t you just dying to know what I picked?  Click here to find out. 

  1. Lisa Yee used Matt as a Batman encyclopedia while writing her latest novel Warp Speed.
Drawing in Church …

The above picture is one I drew in church last week.  My whole life, I’ve drawn in church.  My father was a pastor when I was growing up, and my mum understood that drawing can help right-brained people concentrate.1  And so every Sunday, when my father started his sermon, she would pull a box of art supplies from her purse so the two of us could draw.

Drawing can have a powerful meditative effect.  My mother’s work — which she affectionately refers to as her “knittings” — elevates this idea to a new level.  Each painting represents hundreds of hours of meticulous, repetitive mark-making to build textures.  All of these large-scale paintings began as tiny “knittings” worked out in small notebooks, sometimes in church.



I recently discovered another artist who draws in church.  Abrams illustrator John Hendrix has an entire section of his website devoted to drawings he’s done while sitting through sermons.  I’ll let him explain:

“Drawing in my sketchbook is the very best part of my work. I love it because it is linear improvisation. Much like jazz, it is unpredictable, exciting and unfiltered. Often with very good and very bad results. I attend church every Sunday, and I draw during the sermon. All of these pages were done in a pew (though I don’t bring my watercolors with me- that waits till I get home). Simultaneous drawing and listening transforms familiar language into something new- a feedback loop of symbols, theology and wonder.”

John’s work puts me to shame.  Behold:


I think this sort of meditative drawing extends beyond the pews.2  When I got to college, I started drawing in journals while I listened to lectures.  A lot of the pictures were mnemonic devices related to the lecture, others were the germs of what would later become stories.   (I still remember the afternoon in graduate school when I found myself sketching a certain blind thief!) 

College also happens to be when I started to become a better student — my grades went up, and I started to take a more active role in what I was learning.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  I can’t help but wonder whether there are kids out there struggling with school who might be helped by being given a box of art supplies?

  1. My mum never wore the “pastor’s wife” hat too comfortably. More than once she was confronted by ladies in the congregation for wearing too much black.
  2. Just to be clear, the sermon I heard this week had nothing to do with baseball or monsters … though part of me wishes it had.
GIVEAWAY PART II: Bigger, Badder, Givier!

Hello readers!  I’m excited to announce phase two of the Peter Nimble giveaway!1  This time around, I’m giving away five prizes! 

Each winner will receive a Peter Nimble galley as well as a rad Peter Nimble t-shirt!  These shirts were designed with the help of Nick Caruso from Campfire Goods and will be printed on American Apparel 50/50 tees.  While I was up in Canada, I got the neighbour kid to model a shirt for the site:


Nifty, right?2  To enter, just do THREE simple things:

1)  Like my Facebook author page or add me to your circle on Google+

2)  Follow me on Twitter

3)  Spread the word by re-tweeting this message

If you want to read the first chapter of the book, mosey on over here.  I’ve also listed a few reviews here.  Now get Tweeting before I sick the Beibster on you!3

  1. For the curious, there is a phase three and the prize is A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
  2. The shirts are currently being printed, which is why I couldn’t show a real photo. Just to be clear: actual t-shirts will not come with Justin Beiber inside them. Sorry ladies.
  3. A few rules: Each person will only be entered once. US and Canadian applicants only. The contest will end at Midnight PST, July 31. Winner will be selected by randomizer and notified by direct message.
THE GIVING TREE: A Picture Book Without a Hero

Few picture books seem to be so divisive as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. 1 While the book has no shortage of fans, many other people protest how the story sentimentalizes (and promotes) a one-way relationship in which a Tree gives and gives and gives without ever getting so much as a “thank you” from the capricious, selfish boy.

This criticism puts me in a mind of one other great doormat in literary history: William Dobbin from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.2 In a nutshell, Dobbin is a sweet, loyal soldier in love with the vapid-but-beautiful Amelia Sedley. Dobbin spends much of the book as Amelia’s friend, caretaker, and confidant — putting up with an endless stream of abuse in the process. At first a reader admires Dobbin’s loyalty and firm character, but slowly we start to get the feeling that we are not watching a hero, but a chump.

One of the most shocking (and delightful!) moments in the book comes late when Amelia — who has since fallen on hard times — finally condescends to accept Dobbin’s oft-repeated proposal of marriage. And that’s when something wonderful happens: Dobbin rejects her! He finally shows some self-respect and demands a woman who actually appreciates him for who he is. Awesome.

Unlike Vanity Fair, The Giving Tree does not have this satisfying reversal — at no point does the Tree stand up for herself. Instead she continues to be exploited and (the narrator would have us believe) continues to be “happy”.

What could Shel Silverstein have been thinking?

I’ve recently been spending a bit of time with the book, and I think I’ve found some things in the text that actually complicate the offensive “doormat reading”. Let’s dive in …

2) WHAT KIND OF LOVE? An essential assumption of the doormat-reading is that the book’s relationship is meant to be an allegory for romantic love.3 However, there are clues in the book that indicate that the dynamic is much closer to parent/child than girl/boy. Consider the fact that the boy moves from child to old man, while the tree essentially stays in a fixed state, always older and wiser. Consider the fact that the Tree shows no jealousy or feelings of betrayal when the boy courts a girl under her eaves. Consider the fact that at every stage, the boy comes to the tree as a provider, rather than a romantic companion. I don’t know why, exactly, but I am much more comfortable with the doormat reading when it is taken out of a romantic setting. No matter what happens, the parent in a parent-child relationship always maintains a degree of dignity and power.

1) BUT NOT REALLY” Every scene in The Giving Tree ends with a refrain: “And the Tree was happy.” Some readers see this phrase as a tacit endorsement of the relationship — and the boy’s terrible behavior. This, however, assumes that the author is being completely straightforward with the word “happy.” Wouldn’t it be nice if Shel Silverstein found a way to indicate that the refrain “And the Tree was happy” was, in fact, ironic? Lucky for us, he does just that! Right before the final scene, Silverstein adds a twist: “And the Tree was happy … but not really.” Of course this does not instantly negate all of the Tree’s aforementioned happiness, but it does point to the fact that the author understands the difference between declaring oneself happy and actually being happy.

3) “I AM VERY TIRED” I have long maintained that an author cannot hide from his ending: the final scene of every story works as a key with which the reader can unlock and interpret every scene before it. Throughout much of The Giving Tree, it does indeed seem as though Silverstein is sentimentalizing a doormat relationship. The end, however, tells a different story. In the final scene the boy returns to the Tree one last time, now old and decrepit. He is made to remember all the things that he has taken from the tree, each one more humiliating than the last (“My teeth are too weak for apples,” “I am too tired to climb,” etc.). While he does not openly apologize for his past behavior, I do think that some sense of remorse is implicit in his tone.4

* * *

I suspect the one thing missing for people are the actual words “I’m sorry.” The old man may be sad and humiliated, but he is not repentant in a way that we wish he were. To this I would answer that an overt apology would undermine the entire book. The point of unconditional love is that it has no conditions.

Of course, we will never know what Uncle Shelby meant to say in his book. However, I tend to believe that if there are two valid readings of a text — one of which makes the book awful, and the other makes it better — we would be best served to grab hold of the reading that lets us enjoy the book. Call it an Occam’s Razor of Interpretation.


  1. The movie Blue Valentine contains a charmingly direct critique of the book, which you can read about here. Also a nice article on Silverstein’s unlikely rise to kidlit stardom here.
  2. Mary and I have long hoped to one day name a dog “Dobbin” … it is a good name for a loyal friend. (Also, for the curious, the title of this post is a reference to Vanity Fair’s subtitle: “A Novel Without a Hero”.
  3. This is a moment where CS Lewis’ exploration of The Four Loves becomes very helpful in articulating such differences. I would argue that Giving Tree haters assume it is a story of “eros” love, whereas defenders see the book as a portrait of “agape” love — the love that transpires between God and mankind.
  4. You will notice that this is the only scene in the book in which he does not directly ask for anything from the tree. Perhaps because he is too ashamed?
We Have a Winner!

The tweets are in from the first Peter Nimble giveway! I used a random number picker to determine the winner … Zoe Rain Dasher Benji!

Congrats! Judging from the name, I’m pretty sure Zoe is a Jedi knight. You can learn more about her at her website, where she posts reviews and runs giveaways of upcoming YA books! Enjoy your copy of Peter Nimble, Zoe … and thank you to everyone for participating!

* * *

Right now, the awesome folks at Penguin Canada have me hanging out with booksellers in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia.1

Speaking of spreading the word, everyone should check out what Librarians Mr. Schu and Donna are up to on their annual road trip across the country. They stop along the way reading books at various attractions.2 Here’s John Schu reading Peter Nimble at what seems to be a restaurant run by a serial killer –>

Later in the week, I’ll announce another (EVEN BIGGER) giveaway! Stay tuned!

  1. I even got to meet the folks from Canadian trade publication Quill & Quire who gave Peter Nimble a wonderful writeup last week!
  2. I think the official selections are Frankie Pickle and Owly … I can hardly imagine better traveling companions!
Advance Reviews and–OMG FREE BOOK!!!

When I was at ALA, I spoke with a number of different writers about what I should expect as I approach publication.  Invariably, the conversation would turn to one dreaded question: “Have you seen any reviews yet?”  This was always asked gently, in the same tone one might use to inquire whether a friend has any living grandparents.  

Every time, I gave people the same reply:  “Ask Mary.” 

The thing you should know is that writers are famously sensitive to reviews.  Even a rave review with a single itty-bitty criticism lodged in the middle can feel like a crushing blow.  Most every author I know has a few “funny” stories about when they went over the edge, obsessing over stupid Amazon/Goodreads/Bookscan rankings until they had a nervous breakdown.1

For that reason, Mary and I decided a few months back that I wouldn’t read reviews.  Not a single one.  Instead she would read them and then tell me what they said.  She doesn’t omit the bad stuff, but she does make a point of framing the criticisms (of which there have been mercifully few) in terms of things I might want to remember when a embark on a new project.  Because the fact is, Peter Nimble has already been written, and there’s no real use in obsessing over a manuscript that I can’t change.

That said, Peter Nimble reviews do exist — and, frankly, they are pretty freaking awesome!  Here are a few highlights:

“What begins Dickensian turns Tolkien-esque in this quest replete with magic and mystery…. Auxier has a juggler’s dexterity with prose that makes this fantastical tale quicken the senses” – Kirkus Reviews

Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is both a pull-no-punches adventure with the darkness of the most authentic fairy tales, and a whimsical romp in a fictional world where anything is possible … The book’s quirky nature, distinctive plot, and fresh themes will draw young readers in and spark their imaginations, earning it a place on the shelf for re-readings.” – Quill & Quire Magazine

“the fast-paced, episodic story, accompanied by Auxier’s occasional pen-and-ink drawings, is inventive, unpredictable, and — like its hero — nimble.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“When the book ended, I was not only left with the satisfaction a great story brings, but with the idea that each one of us is important and can make a difference in the world…. Indeed, this is a book that could quite possibly steal The Newbery right out from under all of the other books I have read so far this year.” – The Lemme Library

“What is the most telling difference between works of children’s literature written long ago and those written today? I’ll answer for myself: Tone. The tone of a book like Wind in the Willows or The Secret Garden is difficult to replicate. What Peter Nimble manages to do is create a tone akin to those books of yore…. Kids will stay with Peter every step of the way. It’s like something you’ve seen before and nothing you’ve ever read.” – School Library Journal (Fuse #8)

Now doesn’t that sound like a book you want to read? 

Here’s the good news: even if you missed ALA, there’s still a chance to win a copy of the book before it hits shelves!  I’m giving away a copy of Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes right here!  To enter, follow these two easy steps:

1) Follow me on Twitter!

2) Retweet this link!

That’s it!2  You really have no excuse not to enter!  And plus, don’t you remember all the great things those reviewer people said about the book?!  Now get Tweeting!

  1. You doubt me? I dare you to google “author meltdown.” Prepare to cringe.
  2. A few rules: Each person will only be entered once. The contest will end at 12pm EST on Monday, July 11. Winner will be selected by a randomizer and notified by Direct Message.

How’s this for an opening line?

“Before you fairly start this story I should like to give you just a word of warning.  If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately … Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are.”

– Ethel Turner, Seven Little Australians


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