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Exclusive Cover Reveal: Narwhal & Jelly Board Books by Ben Clanton

A character you know is expanding to a new format. Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly are coming to the board book format. Today, we have a first look at the covers for Bubbles and Blankie, which arrive on February 2nd, 2021.

But first, I asked Ben Clanton some questions about bringing his characters to this new realm.

Travis: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking my questions.

Ben Clanton: Ahoy, Travis! My pleasure! Thanks for sharing the covers and for your questions. 

Travis: So Narwhal and Jelly are coming to the board book world! How did this come to be?

Ben: I can’t recall if it was the Tundra Books team or me that mentioned the possibility of making board books first. Either way, it didn’t take any convincing for everyone to be on board! 

A few of my picture books (MO’S MUSTACHE, REX WRECKS IT, and BOO WHO?) had been turned into board books, but I hadn’t yet approached making a book that was specifically for that format. I had been wanting to give it a go though, as my kids are pretty little (two years old and tour years old now) and my mind and house were filled (and still are!) with books for that age group. Many younger kids had already been responding to the illustrations and characters in the Narwhal and Jelly graphic novels despite the main audience being six years and up, so the board book format felt like it could be a fun and fitting place for that duo to dive into.

Travis: I would imagine that bringing a character to a new format is a challenge. How did you approach it?

Ben: Narwhal and Jelly took to the new waters of the board book format surprisingly quickly, I found. Narwhal’s playfulness and imagination, I believe, had a lot to do with that. It also helped that I was already immersed in the world of that age group. What was challenging, though, was that I wanted the board books to be enjoyable for not only the typical board book audience. I wanted older readers, especially kids that read the Narwhal and Jelly early graphic novels, to be able to pick up the board books and enjoy them, too. To feel that these board books belong beside the other books in the series. To try to achieve this, I focused on things that are almost universally appreciated by all age groups. Like bubbles! Who doesn’t like bubbles?! It’s fun to blow bubbles, pop them, watch them, and even to say the word “BUBBLES!” There is something so uplifting about them! Blankets also have an appeal for a wide range of ages. They can be used in so many ways (such as for picnics or capes!), and at the end of the day it is such a wonderful feeling to cozy up with a special blanket and someone you care about.

Another part of my approach was to limit my words and even the illustrations to get to the most essential parts. The parts that resonate with all of us, regardless of whether we’re 2, 22, or 92.

Travis: What’s something fun/cool/rewarding about writing a board book that people might not realize?

Ben: When I’m making a board book, it might be the very first book a baby ever sees! Some of the very first images they ever make out. That’s pretty incredible! The words I’m writing could be among the first they hear. And as that baby becomes a toddler, that book might be their first favorite book. And at that early age books, don’t just get read once. Usually they are read over and over and over again. Author goals right there! ? The experience of creating a board book is special, too, because I get to immerse myself in the curiosity and wonder of that board book age. 

Travis: Since we’re on the topic, do you see Narwhal and Jelly trying out other formats in the future? Picture book? Maybe a gritty YA?

Ben: There we go! ? Coming soon . . . a dystopian Narwhal and Jelly YA series involving a tempestuous love triangle ? and the launching of a revolution. Maybe I’ll call it RISE OF THE RED TIDE . . . Can Narwhal’s optimism overcome the realities of water worlds at war?!

Actually, I originally envisioned the Narwhal and Jelly books as picture books! But the format wasn’t feeling like quite the right fit, so I ended up taking a dip into graphic novels. I can definitely see exploring the picture book format again, though. Now that I know Narwhal and Jelly better, I think I might have a bit more success (hopefully!) finding the right story for that format. AND perhaps I’ll even make something a bit longer than the graphic novels at some point, but I’m less certain what that would look like. It all depends on where the characters want to go . . . Narwhal is much more adventurous than me! I’m usually tagging along like Jelly. ?

Travis: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?

For those familiar with Narwhal and Jelly, it will come as no surprise that I often enjoy a waffle when working on a new Narwhal and Jelly book! I have a big sweet tooth. Though not near as long as Narwhal’s! More often, however, I try to opt for some cashews, peanut butter, cheese, and/or apple. 

Thanks, Ben! Now here are the covers for Bubbles and Blankie, the first Narwhal and Jelly board books, publishing on February 2nd, 2021.

From the publisher:

Dive into a brand new Narwhal and Jelly story for the youngest readers! When Narwhal accidentally bursts Jelly’s bubble with his tusk-tooth, Jelly is a little sad . . . until Narwhal shows him that there are lots of bubbles in the ocean! There are little-bitty bubbles and great big bubbles. There are bubbles up high and bubbles down low. There are bubbles that are pink and bubbles that stink. It’s unbelieva-bubble! This charming board book celebrates the power of imagination and play, and is perfect for both fans of the Narwhal and Jelly graphic novel series and readers new to the world wide waters.

From the publisher:

Dive into a brand new Narwhal and Jelly story for the youngest readers! A big, yellow blankie is one of Narwhal’s favorite things; not only because it keeps Narwhal warm and cozy, but also because it’s not just a blankie. Narwhal can fold it into a hat, wear it as a cape (or a dress!) and even use it for a picnic with a best bud, like Jelly! This charming board book celebrates the power of imagination and reusability, and is perfect for both fans of the Narwhal and Jelly graphic novel series and readers new to the world wide waters.

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.