An interview with Dallas Clayton

Children’s book author, illustrator and dad Dallas Clayton talks adventures, touring and how his son inspires him

Dallas

Dallas Clayton's books are all about dreaming big, and since self-publishing An Awesome Book! have become so popular he's developed a massive following and inspired millions of young readers. His new book, Gerald’s Missing Shoe, is the product of a collaboration with children’s shoe brand Geox, all about letting your imagination breathe to launch the junior and baby collections. He chatted to us about imagination, adventure and losing your shoes.

Where did the idea for the story Gerald’s Missing Shoe come from?

Geox had this idea of inspiring creativity. So they came to me, and asked how I would approach a book if the theme were ‘let your imagination breathe’. That’s already sort of a theme to the work I do anyway, book-wise: having big dreams and trying to fulfil those dreams. So it was a natural fit to extend the idea of creativity and inspiration and art into a book using the shoe as the main character that allows for us to go down the rabbit hole.

Tell me about an adventure that one of your shoes has had.

One of the kids I spoke to at an event recently said he loses his shoes all the time, and usually when you’re talking to a kid you want to build empathy by saying ‘that happens to me’, even if maybe it doesn’t. And then I thought about the last time I lost my shoes, and they were all the greatest real-life adventures.

It’s a sure sign that you’ve been in water, at least in California. You’ve gone surfing and you might be in a place where you’re willing to disregard your shoes forever for the sake of maximum life fun. Losing your shoes is probably a good sign that you’ve done something pretty amazing.

And then, what happens once they’ve been lost? Where do they go? Is their adventure equal, if not greater, than your physical adventure? The answer is probably yes. You could say the same for your lost keys, probably. They go on adventures that you don’t even know about.

Do you involve your son in your writing process? Does he inspire you?

I do, 100 per cent. He inspired the first book that I wrote, An Awesome Book, and he’s continued to be involved in the entire process along the way.

I’m really into including your kids in the work you do. There are so many parents out there with kids that have no idea what their parents do, and even if they know what they ‘do’ they have no idea what that job entails. Fortunately I’m in a position where what I do is really fun and I love to do it. And even if my son wasn’t interested in it, I would want him to know the ins and outs of how it works - and maybe, even if it’s not applicable to him in any way, shape or form, that he could take away something from it and use that to get to wherever he wants to be.

He’s been there for the whole process, so he gets to see it all the way through. We often reduce books to just objects, but he can pick up a book and know that someone made that, and that’s really valuable. It’s cool to know that people make things and they come from ideas you can pull out of the air and shape how you want.

When and where do you read to him?

I read to him before I got on the plane. I don’t know if he’s aware that it’s fleeting, but he loves being young. He knows when dad’s going to read to him it’s special time, but it’s also ‘I don’t have to read, I can let someone else read to me!’ That doesn’t happen for grown-ups, and that’s unfortunate. I want someone to read to me!

Could mums also take a lot from reading your books?

I hope so. I hope everyone can take a little bit of something from what I do. Far be it for me to tell anyone what to take from whatever, but I try to approach things thematically, and pick themes that are big enough and broad enough that they can reach the most people. So yes, I hope so.

Did you ever dream that your books would get so big?

I like making things, seeing them through and doing them as best I can. In today’s artistic climate doing something the best you can means it reaching as many people as possible, financially and commercially, and all of those elements. None of that really excites me to any degree. But I certainly want to share what I can with as many people as possible. I certainly planned on making something that people could appreciate for a very long time.

What are your favourite children’s books?

I’m a big fan of just the classics. I like Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl. I like Oliver Jeffers, he’s great. There could be some amazing stuff out there, I’m not going to discredit anything, but story-wise I feel like Dr. Seuss is still the gold standard.

I really like those Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves. They don’t really have so much value in the States but they’re gigantic in the UK. We just had them as T-shirts in the Nineties! I got some of them for my son. He loves those books. Good stories. Very British.

Do you spend a lot of time reading books to toddlers?

With toddlers, reading the book is maybe the least important part. You just kind of want to go, ‘take this book with you and go read it with your parents, and while we’re here let’s have an experience where we colour or dance or run around and do magic.’ I like challenges, of making kids feel like they’ve won things and participated in earning things rather than just giving them things, even if it’s just ‘if you can guess what colour I’m thinking about, you can have this poster.’ Then for the kid it’s like ‘I won this poster!’

When I go on tour, I do a lot of ‘let’s make up a song... that maybe we have already made up before’, and dance contests. ‘Oh you guys want some books? Who’s gonna dance?’ It’s challenging kids to use those improvisational parts of their brain, it’s really fun.

And what’s next for you?

At the end of this year I’m going to take stock of everything I did this year; what worked, what didn’t work. I’m going to put out six books next year, so I’m coming to terms with that reality.

My son’s been travelling a lot this year, and so I think we’re both going to settle down for a family Christmas. Sit. Look at a tree. Open presents. And drink some cocoa.

I’m also getting these monster costumes made, and I’m just going to start hanging out with them. I’ve already got one made, it’s at my house, so I have to name it, and then I’m just going to start hanging out with it and introducing it to Los Angeles. I’ve decided that I don’t really want to live in an ultra-real world anymore, I kind of want to live in like a magical realism place. So my life’s gonna get really weird over the next year.

In terms of a legacy, I want to have given away more books than I’ve sold. That’s the goal.

Get a copy of Gerald’s Missing Shoe free with any shoe from the baby collection, or download from the Geox Kids book app.

Dallas was chatting to Katherine Price.

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