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Transcript from an interview with Chris Van Dusen

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Chris Van Dusen. The transcript is divided into the following sections:


Five boys sitting around a table, drawing

Hi. My name is Chris Van Dusen. I'm an author/illustrator of children's picture books. Some of my books are The Circus Ship, King Hugo's Huge Ego, and a new book called Randy Reilly's Really Big Hit.

Well, the first drawing I remember doing specifically was when I was probably about four years old. And I remember my… I remember it so vividly. My parents were out for the evening and either one of my brothers were babysitting or something. But I found this book, this paperback book and it had a blank page in it and I drew this face in the book and I loved that I… I thought it turned out really well.

So when my parents came home, I rushed and I showed my mom. I said, "Look!" And she was, you know, I think she was sort of wondering, "Well, should I tell him he's not right to draw in a book or should I praise the drawing?" And she said, "Well, that's very good. You did a very good job." And I like to tell people that's my first book illustration when I was four years old.

Well, I am one of five boys. I don't have any sisters. And my mother, I'm sure, on rainy days would be sort of overwhelmed with these little boys running around. And she used to say, "Well, why don't you…" You know, "What do we do, mom? What… There's nothing to do. We're bored." And she'd always say, "Well, why don't you guys draw?" And so we'd sit around the dining room table and she'd get us paper and we'd just draw. We'd all draw pictures, you know, all afternoon. And one of my other brothers, his name is Barry, he's also a professional artist. So Barry and I kept drawing and made a living at it.

Well, when we used to draw around the dining room table, we all sort of had our specialties. I mean one of my brothers used to like to draw animals. And they were sort of realistic. He used to draw sort of these realistic animals. Another one of my brothers used to draw these great battle scenes with these fighter planes coming in. So we were all sort of venting our stories at the same time as we were drawing. I used to like to draw space and aliens and monsters and things like that. And I'm sure there was also sort of a competitive thing there. We were a pretty competitive group as you can imagine.

And so, you know, we'd be drawing and I'd be looking over at my brother's and, you know, maybe he drew something that was really amazing and so I'd try to copy that. And I was one of the younger ones. I'm the second youngest. And so I'm sure there was that sort of competition there as well. But then we used to like create stories around our pictures and things like that and I just kept at it.

A stack of Seuss

We used to go to the library almost every week and I used to be drawn to the Dr. Seuss books, which you know, are quite large. And when you're a little kid, you know, you're trying to take out as many Dr. Seuss books as you can. I'd stack them all up and shove them under my arm and I loved taking out those books. But we used to… Yeah, we used to go to the library almost every week and get books, as many books as we could carry home.

Reluctant reader

I have to admit as a child, I was a very reluctant reader. I really didn't like reading. I did read a lot of picture books because I think I was more attracted to the illustrations. But I remember the first book I picked up that I read on my own for pleasure was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming of all people.

And it was so wonderful to just go off on this flying car because that's where If I Built a Car came from. But to go off on this flying car and just have this amazing adventure with such just… I still remember the details and some of the descriptions in that book. It was… It just took me places that I had never been before and I thought, "Wow! This is what a book can do." And so since then I've become, you know, I read all the time now.

But it just took that… It took that first sort of discovery of that book and for me it was that magical book and just wow, just opened my eyes to what reading can be.

Coconuts, kimonos, and Peter Pan

You know, probably my favorite teacher of all time through high school, college was my second grade teacher. And her name was Mrs. Mannix and she was just an incredible person. She introduced us to so many different things. You know, even little things like I remember she brought… We were studying like Hawaii or something and she brought in a coconut and her husband came in and I remember we all went outside and she made us stand back and he had an axe or a knife and he cut this… And for like when you're in the second grade, that's pretty amazing. And then getting the coconut milk out.

We studied a whole thing about Japan and we all had to dress up in our bathrobes and kimonos, you know, and do the Japanese thing. But I specifically remember Mrs. Mannix reading to us the entire J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. And we read it over, you know, several days. And we would all sit on the floor on our little blankets. And I was just… Just to hear someone read that story, which is still one of my favorite stories, and it was just magical. And she really… All my school teachers encouraged art and they never really got too upset when I drew on my papers, but…

Influences

The two people that probably influenced me the most and influenced me to become a children's book author and illustrator are Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey. Dr. Seuss, his words are just magical and the way his rhymes are so musical and they scan so well. I mean it's just, it's amazing. I've always thought rhyme is, well, it can be either really good or really bad. Dr. Seuss is the genius. But if rhyme is done well, it's almost like you don't even recognize it because it just reads so easily. But if it's not done well, it just hits, you know, it sticks out like a sore thumb. So I really studied Dr. Seuss and the way he composed stories and the way he wrote the words.

Writing rhyme is tricky, but I think a story in rhyme just sort of sets a mood for the whole book. My stories, my books tend to be kind of these whimsical sort of silly adventures. And I think the rhyme really adds to sort of the wackiness, sort of the silliness, the whimsy of the story. I've tried writing not rhyme and it's — I actually find it a lot harder because I just, you know, I'm constantly changing the lines.

If you write in rhyme, you get a rhyme and that's, you're sort of dictated by the rhyme itself. And so once you get a line… I mean I sometimes tweak the lines and switch some words around just to make sure it scans as easily as it can. But I think the rhyme just more than anything, it just adds a mood to the book and it's the mood that I want to capture in my books, sort of these just sort of silly, sort of imaginative stories.

And Robert McCloskey was a great writer, but I really I probably appreciate his illustrations more than his writing and his illustrations were so full of detail and set these scenes so beautifully. I mean you just wanted to step inside those illustrations and be where those people were.

Making picture books

The words and pictures sort of happen at the same time. The way I start a book is I start with… Well, first of all, I [unint.] a story and then I compose these sheets of paper that are sort of like story maps or story summaries. And I just draw these rectangles indicating the pages and I'll just do a small notation of what's going to be on each page. So like in The Circus Ship it will say ship coming through fog and just small descriptions. And at the same time sometimes in these little squares and really, they're tiny little squares, I will maybe do a tiny little thumbnail sketch to sort of indicate what's going to happen on that page.

I have to make sure my story fits on the number of pages that the book is going to be, usually 32 or 40 pages. And I have to make sure, you know, the characters are introduced and that the conflict and the climax and it's… My stories are pretty traditionally structured, but I just have to make sure the pacing works well in the pages and that, you know, it gets exciting when it's supposed to get exciting and come to a nice conclusion at the end. So…

Well, once I finish that story summary, then I actually write the story. And since all the books I've written so far are in rhyme, I can't actually sit down and write from page one to the end in rhyme because occasionally you get these rhymes that pop into your head that will work for this story, but it may not be, you know, chronologically where you are in writing this story. So you may get a rhyme that works in the end of the book and then you get a rhyme that works in the beginning of the book.

So you have all these little… It's a very strange way to work, but I have all these little scraps of paper gathered on my desk and then at the end it all sort of comes together as a puzzle in piecing it together. And then, of course, I read through it several times and make sure that it transitions well from page to page. After the story is all written and everything seems to be in place, then I sketch the pages. And the sketching process actually probably takes the longest amount of time because I sketch each page and try to make it as dynamic and as exciting as possible.

And it's almost like… I always sort of equate it to being like a movie director and sort of, you know, setting up the scene. You know, is it best to see the character, you know, from a bird's-eye view looking down on the action? Or you're right there on the ground — I guess that's called a worm's-eye view looking up at the action. Is the character more effective seen from the back or the front? So I do all these things and just to try to make the pictures as exciting and dynamic as possible. And that's the sketching process and that sometimes takes several times. Like I'll sketch a page out, oh, I don't know, you know, 10, 15 times before I get the composition just the way I want it.

And then after the final sketches are all complete and they've all been approved by the publisher and the art director, then I start the final paintings. And the last thing I do in the book are the actual paintings for the book. And usually the cover is the last illustration I do for the book.

Each one of my paintings if it's a full-spread illustration across two pages, takes me about two to three weeks to paint. So it's a long process. It's several months to finish a book.

Gouache rhymes with squash

Yeah. All of my illustrations in all my books were painted with a paint called gouache. When I go around to schools and I talk to kids, I say, "It rhymes with squash." That's the way they can remember it. So but gouache is a water-based paint. It's like an opaque watercolor. That's a good way to describe it. And you can use it with a lot of water and cover large areas, do a big wash, or you can use very little water and it becomes sort of thick and you can cover areas up. You can use it a bunch of different ways. I have a little toothbrush that I spatter the paintings. I dab it. I soak it down, dab it off and I'm always scraping through and all sorts of different things to get sort of different textures and techniques.

But when I start an illustration, I work on illustration board, which is just like a white — it's kind of like a white cardboard, like a really nice white cardboard. And when I start an illustration, I usually start with the background first and then work to the foreground. So the first thing I do mostly if it's like an outdoor scene, would be the sky. And I'll do the sky and make sure that's all dry. And then I'll, you know, the back hills and I'll work right down to where the characters are and usually the last thing I do is the stuff right in the front that I can paint over the background stuff. Because gouache allows you… In other words, if you paint a sky that's all blue and you want to add a bird, you can paint the whole sky and then once it's dry, you can go back and add the bird on top. You can cover things up.

But I don't use computer. A lot of kids say, "You must use a computer because your colors are so flat and bright and colorful." But it's all painting.

I don't use a computer for any of my artwork. I do sometimes when I'm making a dummy for a book, I'll just, you know, print out the words and use that. But, no, I'm sort of technically, you know, not great.

School visits

I go around to a lot of schools and I give a lot of school talks, school presentations. And for older kids, grades like two to five, I really get into sort of the process of making a book, the publisher's role and all sorts of aspects of publishing. And the kids can grasp it, but I make it very visual. I show a lot of pictures, a lot of sketches and sort of keep it sort of fast paced. But I've noticed over the years that when I visit with like kindergarten, pre-k, kindergarten and first graders, they just want a story, you know. They don't want…

They don't want to hear you talk about, you know, how you did this sketch. They just want a story and so they sit and they become… I just read stories to them and then I show them some of my original illustrations, but I just read these stories and they just love it. They just get so engrossed. And in my book, The Circus Ship, there's a picture in the end of the book where all these animals are sort of hidden. It's almost like a game within the book. And I always have to be careful when I get to that page because, you know, they all want to come running up with their little fingers pointing and say, "There's the lion. There's the elephant." And so it's… But it's very rewarding to see them sort of become engrossed in the stories.

When my first book came out, it's called Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, I remember I went to a children's museum and I gave a talk there. And the book had just come out so not many people knew the story. And there's a part in the story where the main character, Mr. Magee, gets blown up by a whale and he ends up stuck in the top of a tree on a small island. And it's sort of a… It sort of leads up to it's sort of exciting, you know, where the boat is flying through the air. And when I got to that part and this little boy in the front row, I'll never forget it, he looked at me and his eyes got really big and he started tearing up.

And I looked down at him and he started like softly crying because he didn't know what was going to happen to the character and I said, "Oh, no. No. It's okay. It's okay. Wait. Let's see what happens." And I quickly flipped the page. But he became so engrossed in this story and just hearing the words and I'll just never forget that experience. He's probably like a teenager now. But at the time I just thought, "Wow. This is really making an impact on these kids."

Transition to chapter books

And then I did that series that Candlewick produced of the Kate DiCamillo stories, the Mercy Watson books. And I think that made a really nice transition from picture books to chapter books. Because like you say, a lot of times chapter books are just, they're devoid of illustrations or they're black and white small illustrations. And for kids… I remember when I was a kid, you know, going from a full-color picture book with all this excitement and detail and then oh, now you have to read this book and where did the illustrations go?

So when Candlewick did the Mercy Watson books that Kate, like I said, Kate DiCamillo wrote and I illustrated, they decided to go full color throughout, which I think makes a really nice transition from the picture books to the chapter books. It really sort of… It's an easier way to lead kids into the older stories.

And it just helps them learn. I mean if a picture will help a kid pick up a book and read a story, I mean if it's just… If it's that little prompt they need, why not give it to them?

Imagining Mercy Watson's world

Well, when I… The Mercy Watson books are the first books that I illustrated that I did not write. And but I was so lucky to be paired with Kate DiCamillo because she's just such a great writer and her words are just fabulous. And I remember when they first asked me if I'd like to illustrate these stories, they sent me this story and I laughed out loud. I mean because she was just, she writes the exact kind of stories that I love to illustrate, these sort of silly, wacky adventures.

You are illustrating somebody else's words, so you have to go by the story and, you know, you can't go off on a tangent. But Kate was great. She gave me very minimal character descriptions. So for example, there are two elderly sisters that live next to the Watsons named the Lincoln sisters. And the only description I got for those characters from Kate was that they're really old and they're really thin. And so that's why I went… And so she really gave me free reign to sort of design these characters as I see fit.

And I don't think she really changed too much. We didn't really talk too much through the process. It was handled through the publisher. So I would submit my sketches to the publisher and publisher would send them on to Kate for approval. I do remember I made a mistake at the very beginning because when I first sketched out Mercy Watson, I envisioned Mercy Watson as a little piglet and I drew this little piglet, tiny little thing, with these giant ears and a great big bow tied around its neck. And they sent the sketches off to Kate and she said… I remember the comment that came back said, "Well, these are really cute, but actually Mercy Watson's a big fat pig." And so I went back and I drew this big fat pig, which was actually a lot more fun to draw than this cute little piglet.

So she did have interaction throughout the process, but I didn't actually meet Kate until the first book was printed. And we met in New York for it was either Book Expo or ABA or one of those. And we met and I was a little nervous because even though the book was out, I had never met her in person and I went up to her and I said, "Hi. I'm Chris. I did your illustrations." She gave me a big hug. She said, "Oh, I love the illustrations." And we, you know, we had a great time during the signings and the whole process of the whole six books was just a blast.

Mr. Magee

Mr. Magee, my first character, he appeared… He's actually appeared in three books, my first two books, Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee. It came about just kind of… He's kind of this hapless hero that, you know, he means well, he goes out and he tries to have a good time with his little dog, but he always ends up in trouble. He always ends up in a bad place. And although he's not based on anybody in particular, my wife thinks he looks just like my oldest brother, but he doesn't know that so hopefully he won't see this.

But he does kind of look like my brother and but I think he's a good-hearted person. He just gets caught in the wrong place. I had a person contact me not too long ago, had sent me an email and she was a writer. She was a first-time writer and she said she had written a story. And it was a good idea I think. But the main character was an adult, like a grown man and a dog and they went on travels. Not close to Mr. Magee but, you know.

And she said she was having a really hard time with publishers getting them to accept an adult as a main character. And she asked me if I had any problem getting Mr. Magee published. And I said, "No. But I think the difference with Mr. Magee is Mr. Magee's kind of a man-boy or he has a lot of childlike qualities even though he's depicted as a grown person.

But I mean what kid doesn't want to know that an adult gets in trouble? That an adult can make mistakes and that an adult can get caught in a bad place and get out of it? And so I think it's those childlike qualities that has made him appealing to children.

King Hugo's Huge Ego

King Hugo came about… Well, I wanted to try something totally different. I wanted to set a book in a totally different setting. I had done a lot of books that sort of like had this sort of a retro feel and sort of 50s, 60s feel. And I wanted to try something, you know, it was a totally different setting, a totally different time period. And being a Dr. Seuss fan I remembered well, Dr. Seuss wrote a lot of these I guess they could be called fairytales, some of his early books. You know, Bartholomew Cubbins and the 500 hats.

And he wrote about three or four books featuring this king. And I thought that'd be kind of fun. So I started thinking about kings and I started thinking about fairytales. But I also recalled a character that was in The Circus Ship, which was a couple books before that and that was the villain of the book. Which it was the first time I had a villain or a sort of bad person in the book. And his name in The Circus Ship is Mr. Paine. And I had so much fun with Mr. Paine because it's really fun creating a negative character.

So I kind of set a challenge. I thought, "Okay. If I'm going to write about a king, could I write about a king that is maybe not necessarily a villain but not a very nice person? Can a book have a main character that's not appealing?" And I thought, "Well, that's kind of interesting. I think I'm going to challenge myself by doing that." And so that's how King Hugo came to be, King Hugo's Huge Ego, because he's a very arrogant, very short king and he just rules supreme and people don't really like him.

But then if you've read the book, he learns his lesson in a truly grotesque manner I might add. Yeah. In fact, I was working on that book and I came down one day. I was working on one of the illustrations and I came down… My studio's in my house and I came down to have lunch with my wife and I said to her, I said, "I don't know," I said, "This book is kind of gross." And she said… She didn't miss a beat. She said, said, "That's okay. Kids love gross." And I said, "Oh, yeah, you're right. Kids do love gross." So and I think kids do like the fact that he gets his revenge or they get his revenge on King Hugo.

And there's a lot of big egos in the world today and little kids may not necessarily know what an ego is. I try to explain it in the book and I think it's pretty well explained. There are so many people in our culture and in our, you know, celebrities who are walking around with pretty healthy egos that hopefully it will teach kids, you know, that having an inflated ego is probably not an attribute or a positive attribute.

Personally I don't really prefer books that, you know, tell or try to teach a lesson or give them a strong moral. But of all my books, King Hugo probably has the closest to a moral. Although I consider it more of just a sort of a wacky adventure where something really sort of strange happens to an unfortunate little character.

Challenge words

But also in all my books actually, I always include a few challenge words. And I didn't even really know what… Actually a librarian told me that that's what they're called. Because when my first book came out… My neighbor has a friend who was a children's librarian. She would come by. I remember she came by to visit my neighbor and I was out in the yard and she said… She said, "Chris, I love your book." She said, "I love your book." And she said, "I really love the fact that you put some challenge words in there." And that was the first time I'd heard that.

And I said, "Oh, thanks. What's a challenge word?" And she said, "Well, words that kids don't necessarily know. They're going to ask their parent, you know, what it means or look it up on their own." And I said, "Yeah. That's really important." She said… She said, "From now on when you write a book." And she said, "You didn't do it in this book." She said, "I don't want you to ever do it." She said, "Don't ever talk down to kids. Don't ever write down to them. Don't dumb it down for them because they see right through it." And they're insulted. They're insulted because they think you're, you know, baby talking them.

And so all my books have some pretty complex language. I mean there's some words in there that, you know, kids may not necessarily know. King Hugo's Huge Ego has a word right in the title that kids may not necessarily know. But I think it just to expand the vocabulary and their learning, it's good to put those words in there.

The Circus Ship, fact and fiction

The Circus Ship, I first read about a shipwreck in a magazine called Down East magazine. I live up in Maine and there's a magazine in Maine called Down East. And about 20, 25 years ago I read this article in Down East about this shipwreck that happened back in 1836. And being a very visual person, when I flip through a magazine, a lot of times I'll skip articles unless something really catches my eye. And I was flipping through this magazine and there was this beautiful sort of old-fashioned wood engraving of this ship on fire.

And nothing really unusual about it except right as I was about to flip the page, down in the corner of the picture there was an elephant swimming away from this shipwreck. And I thought, "Wow! What is that all about?" So I read the article and it told about this shipwreck that happened on October 25th, 1836 off the mid-coast of Maine. And it was a steamship carrying a full circus. It had an elephant, two lions, a tiger, a bunch of different animals, a band, a full circus it was transporting from St. John, New Brunswick to Portland, Maine.

And they hit a gale and through a series of miscommunications the boiler was fired up with no water in the boiler and the boiler became red hot and there's just… When you read the actual story, it's just so unbelievable. You can't imagine this would ever happen and yet 175 years earlier there was an elephant swimming in the ocean right off from where I live. So the idea that that whole thing must have just sort of stuck somewhere in the back of my head because at the time I wasn't writing books.

But it popped out years later when I was writing books and I thought, "Oh, I should really… I should really study that again." And at the time I was meeting with some other local authors and we had this sort of impromptu writing group. And I remember mentioning to the group, I said, "I'm thinking of writing this book about it was some ship that had a circus that sank." And two of the members of this group said, "Oh, yeah. We know all about that." And they instantly, you know, started sending me these articles about this shipwreck. And the more I read, I was like, "Wow! This is really crazy."

But it was such a scary story. I mean it was a huge news story at the time in 1836. It made newspapers all over the country probably because it was so unusual. But I couldn't tell the actual story because it was very scary. People died. Animals died in the fire. I mean it was a very tragic, scary story. But there was still something about the basic idea that I really liked and I thought could work for kids.

And so I took that one little seed and sort of built a new story around the idea of a ship carrying a circus sinking off the coast of Maine. And in my book they all swim to an island and then sort of this whole adventure takes place on the island and it's all fictional except for the fact that there really was a ship carrying a circus that sank off the coast of Maine. There are stories though, however, in the real story that there are rumors that the animals went off from the shipwreck and started living in different parts of Maine.

And that's what made — one of the things that made the whole story so interesting. Like I said, the elephant swam off and lived in a farmer's barn on one of the islands for years. There's stories that a woman was coming home from church on a coastal town and she cut through the woods and she came to a clearing in the woods and there across the clearing was the tiger staring at her. So I mean you hear these stories and I'm sure it was all just embellished. I mean like one reporter read one account and said, "Well, I can make that better," and added these things to it. Because most of these are untrue.

But it was those little things that I just thought were so imaginative and so I sort of used some of those ideas and created my own story.

I also think it's nice that the author's note is in the back. I mean because you can enjoy the story, you can enjoy the adventure and sort of finding animals and have a good time with the book. And then if you get to the back, if you read the author's note — and I'm sure a lot of people don't — but if you read the author's note, it may make you think, "Wow! Okay." And go back and read it again and see the similarities and the differences.

Musical words

When I won the E. B. White Read Aloud Award for If I Built a Car, I was actually quite shocked because I always sort of thought of myself as an illustrator first and a writer second because I started out being an illustrator. So to actually win an award for the story, for the words, was a complete shock. I thought, "Maybe someday I'll win an illustration award." But to win an award for the words was pretty special.

If I Built a Car is… I did work really hard to get the words to flow just right. And I've since heard from several parents that that book in particular has really helped their kids learn to read or to learn to understand language. Because they will get to the end of a line and they'll know what the rhyming word is. And some parents tell me, "Yeah, we play this game where I'll read, you know, the first line and the kid will recite the second one or the rhyme and sort of complete the phrase.

But I think just the musicality of the words, the way the rhyme is constructed in that book, I think it just helps kids sort of understand the reading process a little better if that makes sense or just how lines are formed and the way the story is structured. It's worked well for a lot of people from what I've heard. Plus it's really a boy's book I think.

And to have a picture book that especially appeals to boys, I think is, you know, desired today because boys are reluctant readers. And they're not very likely to pick up a book on their own. So when I hear from parents that say, "Yeah, my son just loves this book and, you know, he's really got into reading it and now he wants to read other books, you know, sort of similar." So that's very rewarding too.

Chris Van Dusen reads an excerpt from The Circus Ship

Hi. My name is Chris Van Dusen. I'm the author/illustrator of the book, The Circus Ship. Five miles off the coast of Maine and slightly overdue a circus ship was steaming south in fog as thick as stew. Onboard were 15 animals who traveled to and fro. The next day it was Boston for another circus show. The captain, Mr. Carrington, was honest and sincere.

He thought that they should drop the hook and wait for things to clear. But Mr. Paine, the circus boss, was terribly demanding. He stomped up to the helm where Captain Carrington was standing and screamed, "Don't stop. Keep going. I've got a show to do. Just get me down to Boston Town tomorrow sir by two." Then came a crash, an awful bash. Things flew into the air. The ship had smashed into a ledge that no one knew was there.

The shattered ship began to tip and sank without a sound. The splashing, thrashing animals swam round and round and round. The captain said to Mr. Paine, "Pray tell what shall we do? We can't just leave them here to drown. We've got to save them too." "The animals?" yelled Mr. Paine. "Why, sir, what are you? Daft? It's me that you should rescue. Pull me up into the raft. Now ferry me to safety, sir, before I die of cold. Don't question me," barked Mr. Paine, "Just do as you are told."

Chris Van Dusen reads an excerpt from King Hugo's Huge Ego

Hi. My name is Chris Van Dusen. I'm the author/illustrator of the book King Hugo's Huge Ego and I'd like to read a few pages right now. Long ago when people spoke with words like thou and thee, there lived a king named Hugo, who was only three foot three. And though this mini monarch stood no higher than an elf, his ego was enormous. He thought highly of himself. Yes, Hugo was a cocky king as boast was could be. To him no other person was as wonderful as he.

He made his subjects bow to him whenever he was nigh. It pleased him to look down on them each time that he went by. And every Friday morning at precisely half past ten, his guards called all the people to the tower base and then King Hugo cleared his throat and gave his captive congregation a lengthy talk he liked to call the speech of aggravation. For hours the poor villagers endured the boring buzz of how mighty and magnificent King Hugo thought he was.

One day King Hugo climbed aboard his coach of gleaming gold to watch the peasants bow to him as down the road he rolled. But when he turned the corner by a field of amber hay, a maiden with a heavy load was blocking up the way. The heralds blew their trumpets then called out to the lass, "Step aside and bow your head. Allow the king to pass." The girl, whose name was Tessa said bluntly, "Go around." She didn't want to drop her load and bow down on the ground.

The king began to rant and rave and spout and spit and sputter. "Roll on," he barked and then they bumped poor Tessa to the gutter. She landed in a rivulet. Oh what a muddy mess, but little did King Hugo know she was a sorceress. The kind with special powers like a wizard or a witch. So she cast a spell upon the king while mired in the ditch. A pox on you oh cocky king in robes of ruby red, let's see if all your arrogance can fit inside your head. Now to see what happens to King Hugo after the spell is cast on him, you've got to read the rest of King Hugo's Huge Ego.

"You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan