Archive for the ‘Little Golden Books’ Category

The Worst Voicemail Message In Human History


This is my first blog post of 2019, and I’m trying something new: I’m going to end each blog post with an embarrassing anecdote taken from my long and storied writing career. But first, a blatant plug of a new project. To wit:

Over the past few years, I’ve written three LEGO Star Wars books for Scholastic. I hope that I get to write more at some point. My third LSW book, The Official Force Training Manual, came out in October 2018. Recently, Jonita Davis over at the Black Girl Nerds website interviewed me about the three LEGO Star Wars books I’ve written.

Also, here’s an appreciation piece I wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the life and legacy of Stan Lee, shortly after Stan died in November. I knew Stan a little bit (I interviewed him for my book From Krakow to Krypton). Also, I’ve written several children’s books featuring characters he co-created, like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The Avengers, and so on. So I think I have a unique perspective on Stan and his work.

And now, my embarrassing anecdote: When I was first starting out as a freelance writer, I was an entertainment journalist for Primedia Youth Entertainment Group. They published various teen and tween magazines, like Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, and BOP. I wrote for all three of those publications.

At a certain point, I discovered I was pretty good at wangling interviews with pop stars (e.g. Justin Timberlake). Because I knew quite a bit about hip-hop and R&B, I interviewed a few rappers for those magazines as well.

And somehow, I got Timbaland’s phone number.

If you don’t know who Timbaland is, well, he’s a rapper, songwriter, and music producer. His real name is Tim Mosley. I think I was trying to interview him for an article I was writing on Destiny’s Child. (Remember, this was a long time ago, when Destiny’s Child was still a thing.) Anyway, I got Timbaland’s phone number. I didn’t know any of Tim’s “people” (e.g. his agent, his manager, his personal assistant). So I had no choice. I just had to call Tim DIRECTLY. Which you’re not really supposed to do when trying to get a hold of a music-industry celebrity. But I had no other choice. So I called him. He didn’t pick up. And I left him the following voicemail message:

“Hi, Tim? Uh, I mean, Timbaland? This is Arie Kaplan. I’m an entertainment journalist and I’m trying to reach Timbaland. Timbaland, I don’t know if this is your direct number or if this is your assistant’s number. But if it’s not Timbaland’s number, I’m trying to get in touch with Timbaland. So if Timbaland could please contact me, I’d really like to interview Timbaland for the cover story I’m writing on Destiny’s Child for Teen Beat. Anyway, if this IS Timbaland, I hope you’re doing well, Timbaland. Thanks for your time, Timbaland!”

Wow. Think I said the word “Timbaland” enough during that painfully long, rambling, awkward, insane voicemail message? BTW, if you’ve never met me and you don’t know what my voice sounds like, please realize that as I kept saying the word “Timbaland” on that voicemail message, I was acutely aware that I sounded about as cool as Larry David would’ve sounded saying it. As I said, Tim never responded to that message. I bet you’re not surprised to hear that.   

Thanos Demands Your Silence (Because He Needs A Nap)


Last year, I wrote an Avengers Little Golden Book, titled The Threat of Thanos, which is out now. The Threat of Thanos was illustrated by the incredible Shane Clester, and it was published by Penguin Random House.

The Threat of Thanos features Thor, Black Panther, Iron Man, and The Wasp. Oddly enough, those are the main characters in the last four MCU movies (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp). But seriously, that’s just a coincidence.

I should mention that The Threat of Thanos has a totally original plot, and it’s not an adaptation of the Infinity War movie. This was a fun book to write, and I’m really proud of it. If you look at the book’s cover art, you’ll see that Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and all of the Infinity Stones. The biggest challenge in writing the book was figuring out how to explain what each of the Infinity Stones does on a level that a 2-5 year old kid could understand. For example, how do you explain the Mind Stone (or the Reality Stone, for that matter) on a kindergarten level? But I think I pulled it off.

Whenever I write a Little Golden Book, I have to write the art notes as well as the text. (Art notes are notes to the artist, telling them what to draw on every page.) So as I’m writing the text, I’m usually drawing up really rough thumbnail sketches to try and figure out what the art might consist of. Then in the art notes, I describe what I’ve drawn. I usually don’t show the thumbnail sketches to anyone, even my editor. They’re just for my own reference. But they really help in terms of figuring out which specific images will help to tell the story, which images will complement the text, and how many of those images can comfortably fit inside a book with a very specific page count.

I don’t know if other authors draw thumbnail sketches while they’re typing up the art notes, but for me, it’s a vital part of my process. So is listening to the right music. While writing the Threat of Thanos, I listened to Alan Silvestri’s score from the first Avengers movie.

Oh! And as of this writing, The Threat of Thanos is the #1 New Release in Children’s Superhero Comics on Amazon

PS – Back in April, I was interviewed by AJ Frost, Staff Writer for the “geek culture” site The Beat. During the interview, I talked about The Threat of Thanos, as well as some of my other recent children’s book projects. You can check out the interview here.

More Than You Could Ever POSSIBLY Want To Know About The Jurassic Park Little Golden Book


Last year, I wrote a children’s book called the Jurassic Park Little Golden Book, which was published by Penguin Random House in February 2018. That’s right, it’s an adaptation of the 1993 film Jurassic Park, written as a Little Golden Book. And now, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that 1993 movie, The Jurassic Park LGB will be read in Barnes and Nobles across the country on Sat 6/23 @ 11am! Visit your local Barnes & Noble for a Jurassic Park Storytime Event. Details HERE

The Jurassic Park LGB is one of a trio of Little Golden Books I’ve written for PRH. First I wrote the Doctor Strange Little Golden Book, which came out in January 2017. Then I wrote The Threat of Thanos, an Avengers Little Golden Book, which comes out in July 2018.

Then there’s the Jurassic Park Little Golden Book. Writing that particular book was a really interesting challenge. Little Golden Books are meant for an audience of 2-5 year olds. And that’s not exactly the intended audience for the film Jurassic Park. So while I was writing this book, I watched Jurassic Park several times and took copious notes. When I did that, I concentrated on the following things:

  • Who are the main characters?
  • How is the story structured?
  • Which scenes absolutely need to be in the book, given its very specific page count and word count?
  • Which scenes can be tossed out?
  • Which characters absolutely need to stay, and which characters simply won’t appear in the Little Golden Books version of this story?
  • Many of the scenes in this book are going to revolve around the adult characters. But which scenes can be viewed through the eyes of Lex and Tim, the two characters in the movie who are – you know – actual kids, and therefore close in age to the audience demographic for this book?

The movie has many suspenseful scenes, and it’s got a bit of a “horror movie” vibe. Which of course isn’t a bad thing; it’s what the movie is going for. But I can’t give a Little Golden Book a “horror movie” vibe. So I also had to think about which of those edge-of-your-seat scenes can be turned into slapstick-heavy, action-packed, wacky scenes. 

Like the scene where Lex and Tim are hiding from the velociraptors in the cafeteria section of the Visitors Center. That scene is a real nail-biter in the movie, but everything that makes the scene suspenseful in the movie had to be tweaked so that it was funny.

For example, there’s that moment in the cafeteria scene where the raptor sees Lex’s reflection in a metal cabinet, and the raptor slams into the cabinet, thinking that the reflection IS Lex? That scene is pretty frightening in the movie. In the Little Golden Book, it’s just pure slapstick, and the raptor might as well be Wile E. Coyote.

Also, I had to really emphasize the fact that Tim and Lex outsmart and outmaneuver the velociraptors. In the movie version of the cafeteria scene, Tim and Lex get pretty frightened. Which is understandable. But in the Little Golden Book version of that scene, they’re totally calm, never letting the velociraptors rankle them too much. If Tim and Lex aren’t scared by this situation, the reader wouldn’t be either.

A few other random thoughts:

  • Samuel L. Jackson gives an AMAZING performance in Jurassic Park. He has this one scene where he’s smoking a cigarette and his mouth is mostly closed while he delivers this 20-second monologue, and he just crushes it. But his character didn’t make it into the Little Golden Book version of the story, mainly due to lack of space.
  • Jeff Goldblum is also incredible in Jurassic Park. His character DID make it into the Little Golden Book.
  • True story: I work from home, and while I was writing the Jurassic Park Little Golden Book, a neighbor of mine parked his jeep right outside my window. The jeep looked like one of the jeeps from Jurassic Park, and obviously my neighbor realized this, because he put enormous Jurassic Park stickers on the vehicle’s doors. So I had a Jurassic Park jeep parked right outside my window while I was working on the manuscript. Which really helped me “get into character.”

I think the book really turned out well and I’m quite proud of it. It was illustrated by Josh Holtsclaw, who did an incredible job. I’m hoping that I get to write more Little Golden Books, because they’re great fun to work on. I should probably also mention that I’m listening to John Williams’ Jurassic Park soundtrack while writing this blog post. But you knew that already, didn’t you?


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