By Jeffrey Sykes
Escaping the Naughty List
By Clay Howard Illustrated by Lincoln Adams
Clay Howard’s second children’s book began as so many great stories do. On those late fall nights when one of his four children worried about something that landed them in trouble he would tell a calming story. A story about a little boy who finds out he’s not so bad after all.
That was the genesis for Escaping the Naughty List, an illustrated children’s book released last month. The text is wonderfully illustrated by Lincoln Adams.
The deceptive cover gives the impression of a typically naughty kid having an outburst at the front steps of the house. The book opens with a two-page illustration that draws the reader in via the regret expressed as the young boy explains his predicament.
“I never meant to be bad. But here it is Christmastime again and my name is definitely on the naughty list…”
The narration grabs you immediately as you want this kid to overcome when he goes on to describe his offenses of schoolboy hijinks and being distracted by the potential fun around him. The child worries at home that he will be the only one on the block to get a lump of coal.
The illustrations have a timeless Victorian aesthetic reminiscent of well-known classics, but also a uniqueness expressed via the character’s personality. He’s a perfectly precocious boy who thinks he can overcome even the biggest hurdles by force of will and effort.
That’s a big part of Howard’s impetus as a writer. With 18 years of parenting – and thus an equal amount of experience reading books to his children – Howard hopes to provide a sense of the possible goodness inside each child.
“Even if you do some bad things, it doesn’t mean you are a bad kid,” Howard said. “It’s not the sum total of who you are.”
He tells his stories with clear language that’s free of anxiety. This allows the focus to remain on the character’s redemption. By bringing Santa into the mix, Howard holds out a goal for the young reader.
“It allows them to get a hold of something they all understand,” he said.
Surrounded by trophies and pennants and books back in his bedroom, the young boy hatches a plan. He will go to the North Pole to apologize to Santa. He starts preparing for the trip and changes his behavior. He is kind to his sister and even brushes his teeth without being told. But all that planning wears the boy out and he ends up where we began, on the front stoop. But instead of having an outburst, we see he is actually yawning. Again we are reminded of the power of context and perspective.
The story ends as the boy wakes up on the couch to the wonders of Christmas and realizes he’s not so bad after all.
The last panel shows a relaxing Santa back home reviewing his good list with a wink of his eye toward the reader.
The illustrations are evocative and warm, perfectly capturing the story’s focus.
“(Lincoln Adams) creates the entire world that I envision beforehand. It’s phenomenal,” Howard said.
Escaping the Naughty List is sure to delight the young reader and serves as a reminder of everyone’s shot at redemption.
You can buy Escaping the Naughty List HERE.