My latest picture book IT CAME IN THE MAIL went through many drafts, revisions, and changes (over 5 years worth!). So much so that the first manuscript I wrote with the title "IT CAME IN THE MAIL" is almost an entirely different story. I thought it would be fun to share that first draft, so without further ado I give to you . . .


by Ben Clanton

James loved to get mail.

So it is too bad he never got any.

When he asked his parents . . . “WHY do I NEVER get any MAIL! It’s not fair.”

His dad said . . . 

“It’s all junk anyways.”

But James liked junk (he had a big pile of it in his room), so he asked again . . . “BUT WHY do I NEVER get any of IT!?”

His mom explained.

“Jimmy Bear (James can’t stand it when she calls him that . . . except for when he does), in order to get mail you usually have to send it.”

James didn’t know who he should send mail to, so he just sent a note to the mailbox. It went something like this:

Dear Mailbox,

I would like to get something in the mail. SOMETHING BIG.



As soon as James put the letter in, the mailbox began to shake. It began making all sorts of strange sounds. 

James could tell something big must have come in the mail and he was sure it was for him. When James looked inside, he was met by a blast of fire. A dragon! A dragon had come in the mail! And it was for James.

When James showed his dad the dragon, his dad said . . . 

“You had better take good care of it. A pet dragon is a BIG responsibility.”

James wasn’t entirely sure how to take care of a dragon (none of his friends had one), so he went to the library and got THE FLAME PROOF GUIDE TO DRAGON CARE.

This is what it said to do:              

  1. Dragons eat a lot . . . feed regularly.
  2. Give it a nice princess and a castle to keep it in.
  3. Be sure to fly your dragon at least twice a day.
  4. Make sure your dragon has lots of gold.
  5. Try not to get eaten, burned alive, or crushed by your dragon.

James wasn’t too sure where to get dragon food, a princess, a castle, and gold, so he sent the mailbox another note.

That magical mailbox gave James all he needed.

“Ugh!” (James trying to carry a huge plate of meat)

“Unhand me!” (James carrying a princess)

“Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” (James taking his dragon for a flight)

But James was finding out that taking care of a dragon is a lot of work. So, he put a note on the dragon (RETURN TO SENDER), and shoved it into the mailbox, but the mailbox popped the dragon right back out with a new note (ADDRESS UNKNOWN).

James was stuck with the dragon . . . and the princess, and the castle, and all the rest.

What could he do?!

James sent the mailbox another note:

Dear Mailbox,

I know you won’t take back the dragon, but can you please send me an idea about what to do with it?



An idea soon zoomed out of the mailbox and struck James.


The idea was this:

Where do dragons come from?

Yes, really more of a question, but that is just the sort of thing one should expect from a magical mailbox.

James’s dragon had come from the mailbox, but was that where dragons come from? James thought about where he had first heard about dragons . . . in stories!

James ran to the library and checked out a magic book. 

He then shoved the dragon, the princess, the castle, and most of the gold back where it belonged . . . in a book.

And so ends this book with James learning a very important lesson . . . or, then again, maybe not! (James is getting something else in the mail now . . . something big)



WARNING! In this post I wax nostalgic and get a wee bit (MEGA) reflective. My apologies in advance!

I had the realization the other day that the start of April is a sort of anniversary for me. It was April 1, 2012 that my very first children's book VOTE FOR ME! made its debut. It is strange to think that I have now been a published author/illustrator for four years. Somehow that seems like not very much time and a lot at the same time. In these past four years I have written and illustrated 8 books (3 of which have yet to come out) and illustrated another 6. But of all my books I think VOTE FOR ME! will always be of particular importance to me.

A big part of its importance to me naturally has to do with it being my first book. So much hope, excitement, and anticipation surrounded both the making and release of this book for me and I still can feel the echoes of those emotions. Interestingly, I think it remains my best read aloud to this point (I do have a couple of books in the works that will give it a run for its money, though). And yet it is also the book I have the hardest time looking at because I have learned so much since making VOTE FOR ME! and feel I could do a much better job making it now. In fact, I do hope to someday re-illustrate and redesign the book. I take some courage from the fact that Eric Carle re-illustrated THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR several times (um, not to compare myself to Eric Carle). I'll need to have quite a bit more success I think before a publisher would be willing to do a new version of VOTE FOR ME!, but maybe someday.

What would I do differently if I was to illustrate the book today? The book is already quite design-y but I'd push that even further. I would go with a thicker and more dynamic line and use different textures. I'd also design the characters differently and I'd hand letter the text. Story-wise there isn't a whole lot I'd change, but perhaps that independent mouse might be replaced by a bird? ;)

I actually remember struggling with what creature would represent the 'independent' in the book. I decided upon the mouse because I could make the joke about the 'big cheese' and because a mouse seemed like a good choice to represent the little guy. Little did I know that four years later an independent would be making a serious run for president.

There are, of course, many things that could be said about this current election. I don't intend to say much here on my site. But I am amazed (or perhaps not really all that amazed) how much more aptly VOTE FOR ME! reflects the current political discourse than it did four years ago.

I feel so very fortunate to be able to write and illustrate children's books. It is a dream job. I often have moments where I go 'I'm doing this for a living! People read my books? People buy them?!' Thank you to all those who have and continue to support, encourage, and inspire me. You rock! Thanks for making my first term amazing. The second term is going to be even better! 4 MORE YEARS! ;)

VOTE and VOTE OFTEN! (Please!)



I've been working on a companion book to REX WRECKS IT! called BOO WHO? recently and came across an old file today with these endpaper concepts in it. I'd entirely forgotten about these!

The blue check pattern is what we ended up going with. Decided to keep it simple. :)


HAPPY 2016!

I'm way excited for 2016! This year is to be full of new adventures for me and for my family. The biggest thing being that I'm going to be a dad! Still can't quite believe it. Also, I'm likely moving yet again, but sticking in the PNW. Why must Seattle be so expensive?!

I have two books coming out this year IT CAME IN THE MAIL and NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA (A NARWHAL AND JELLY BOOK). Fingers crossed that they find some (many?) friends. 2016 also marks my fourth year as a published author/illustrator. VOTE FOR ME came out in April of 2012! 4 MORE YEARS! That is my writing slogan. Thank goodness I'm not limited to two terms.

Lots of fun projects in the works this year with dinosaurs, ghosts, robots, sea creatures, and mutant potatoes starring in my latest endeavors. And then for some strange reason I've been drawing oodles of mermicorns to kick the year off. I'll take it as a sign that it is going to be a magical year. Hope yours is!!