Transcript from an interview with Dallas Clayton

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Dallas Clayton. The transcript is divided into the following sections:

Dream big

My name is Dallas Clayton. Dallas, Dallas Clayton. Dallas Clayton. I write kids' books. I wrote a book called An Awesome Book and another book called An Awesome Book of Thanks. I like to travel around and read to people and tell them stories and try to inspire them to do rad stuff. That's it. That's what I do.

I had never written a book before I wrote An Awesome Book and so for me like when you have a kid, people tend to give you books. They tend to give you the same books, you know. And they're these really powerful, amazing books. It's like The Giving Tree you get a lot or like, you know, Where the Wild Things Are you get a lot or like any Dr. Seuss you get a lot. And they're really rad. Little Prince, like killer books. But after my son was born, I was kind of like man some of these books are, you know, 20, 30, 40 years old at this point.

Like where are the contemporary books that still have these like heavy, powerful messages, you know? And so I wanted to try to write something for my son that could — not compete with those kind of books but at least like answer questions on a larger level, you know. And so right around that point I was talking to him a lot about his dreams, which is such a trippy concept to me like the fact that like kids dream, you know. And when you're kid's two or three or four or something and they talk to you about how they had a dream that they were on a boat. And you're like, "You've never been on a boat before."

Like what does that mean? Like what does it mean if you're dreaming? Like what does it feel like to be on a boat in a dream that you've never been to, you know? So that concept to me was really crazy so I wanted to kind of write a book that addressed that idea while simultaneously talking about the idea of dreaming big.

It's a bit of a play on words, you know, that idea of like dream the same way that you did when you were a kid. You know, where you could be on a boat even though you'd never been on a boat. Or you could climb mountains and go into space and do all these things that like the older you get become more and more impossible because you're surrounded by people that are telling you that you can't, you know. So that was the sort of staging point for the book, for An Awesome Book.

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The power of stories

I mean when you make something, I think most people… I don't know. Maybe if it's like your second or third thing, you're expecting, you're thinking about what the audience is going to think. But when you make something the first time, you're just thinking about making it, you know. And so for me writing the book was like, "Oh, I'm going to write this book. It's going to be fun. I'm going to make a book. I'm going to give it so some people and that's it." And so any reaction beyond just like, "Thanks for the book," to me was — really blew my mind.

And when it started getting into like, "Hey, I read your book to my kid." Like the first time someone told me that they read this book to their kid, I remember just being like [makes noise], like it's a kids' book. I wrote a kids' book for children, but I didn't consider that. Like I didn't consider someone being like, "I took the most vulnerable person I could find that I love the most in the entire world and I shared with them this message that you wrote." And you're like, "Whoa! That is the heaviest thing I can imagine."

And so everything on top of that, everything where it's like, you know, someone writing me a letter and telling me that I inspired them or someone telling me, you know, whether it's, "I read this to my kid." Or like, "I'm in college and I know that this is a kids' book, but this book really inspired me." Or, "I live in this country that you've never been to." Or like even crazier like, "I'm going through this really hard time." Or, "My husband has this terminal illness and your book has really helped us." Like those kind of things I mean it's immeasurable, you know.

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An Awesome Book of Thanks, basically what happened is after I wrote An Awesome Book, I started touring and I would travel around the country and I would read at schools and hospitals and book stores and libraries and all kinds of places, you know. And I would go to these places and I would talk to these kids about their dreams. You know, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" And one kid would say, "I want to be a basketball player when I grow up." And one kid would say like, "I dream of ice cream falling from the sky."

"I want to invent the machine that can fly around the world in one minute," or whatever. And then one kid would be like, "I want to go to college." And you don't want to say, "Hey, that's not a crazy enough dream. This kid's dreaming about ice cream falling from the sky and you're only dreaming about going to college 'cause for him dreaming about going to college is as crazy as ice cream falling from the sky. And so what I realized after touring a lot was like oh, there's a complement to this idea. The idea is dream big, but be thankful for everything that happens on the way to achieving those dreams, you know.

Every single day there's something amazing that happens to you that you overlook that we as a society take for granted. And when you're a kid, a lot of those things you don't take for granted yet, you know. Like you're a kid, you're two or three years old, you don't even know what a table feels like. You don't even know what this ice cream tastes like. What, you know, what's going to happen if I go through that door? What happens if I pour sand on my head? What happens if I walk around with my shoes on the wrong feet, you know? What if I wear my clothes inside out?

What if I sleep at the bottom of the bed instead of at the head of the bed? Like these are things that as adults we know the answer to even if we've never done them, you know. Like you start thinking like all the things you don't like. I don't like mustard. I don't like the taste of tomatoes. I don't like lettuce. You know, you build up these walls around yourself and so I wrote An Awesome Book of Thanks to kind of talk about that idea of like stop putting up these walls and start appreciating all these small things, all these small opportunities to happen in your day.

All these like little instances where you look at something and think like, "I take that for granted," or, "I don't like that," or, "That's here for this reason and that doesn't involve me." Instead of being like, [unint.] What? I'm in an airplane? What? Like instead of sitting in an airplane complaining about the fact that you don't have wireless service or whatever, you know. Instead of like being in traffic and being miserable because you have to wait five minutes to get off on your exit thinking about like the fact that you're in a car that you didn't even make yourself.

Like you had nothing to do with the manufacture of that car. You don't even know how it works, you know. I don't know anything about an internal combustion engine. And it's amazing like I can drive anywhere I want. I can do anything I want. And I'm so grateful for that and I want kids to feel that way too, you know, like and not just, "I'm dreaming big. I want to be a basketball player and every day until I'm a basketball player, I'm miserable because that's my goal." You know, instead of that being like, "I want to be a basketball player, but I'm going to enjoy every game that I play until I get to the place where I feel like I'm really fully playing basketball."

Or, you know, "Until the ice cream is falling from the sky, I'm going to enjoy every single thing that happens until that point," you know. So that's what that book was about.

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Advice for young writers

I mean I think five to eight-year olds for whatever they wanted to do, my advice would just be to try everything that you want to do, you know. So like if someone was like, "I'm five. I want to be a writer," I would be like, "Cool. You should go and get a boat and you should sail across the ocean and you should climb a tree and you should eat a banana and you should tell me what that banana tastes like and you should make a soup out of it. You should come back and you should fall down and then you should get back up and you should ride a horse and all those kind of things." Like experiences, experiences, experiences.

And I think if you're like 16 or 18 and you feel like you've had a couple experiences and now you're like, "Well, what do I need to do to become a writer?" I would say, "Just start writing." It's like the most basic thing but like the stuff that you write when you're younger, whoever you are, you're going to look back at it and be like, "That's awful. I can't believe I wrote that. What was I thinking? I'm an idiot. I can't believe I showed that to anybody."

So like I would say if you're a kid, just do that. Just like make something. Try to give it to people. Let them judge you. Make something else. Give it to more people and just keep going and that's going to make you stronger as a writer. It's going to condition you to want to write often. It's going to, you know, help you explore new styles and ideas.

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An Awesome World Foundation

I kind of started the An Awesome World Foundation just like everything it was just sort of organic, you know. Like I wrote the book and I put the book out myself and then a bunch of people started buying the book. And then my son when he was in school, he would get these like little like pieces of paper that would come home with him and they'd be like, "This author is going to come read today at your school. Please send $17.95 if you want the copy of the book or $19.95 if you want an autographed copy of the book." Right? And I would look at it and be like, "That's so crazy!" 'Cause if I was in their class, I for sure would not have had that money. I would have forgotten it. I would have lost it. My parents wouldn't have had it. Whatever. A million reasons why I never would have gotten that book. So I'd have been the kid without the book. Bummed, right.

So I was like, "I made these books myself. I can just give them away." Like no one's going to stop me, you know. So I went on tour and read these books to all these people. Well, basically like I sent out an email to everybody that bought the book and then I go in to lunch and then I came back and it was like, "Come to this place. Come to this place. Come to this place." Got in a van, drove across the country, like read to all these places. And every place I went was like more amazing than the next, you know. Like you're like, "This is," you know, with your friends, "This is the coolest thing that's ever happened."

And you're like giving these books to these kids and they're all smiling and laughing and like, you know, some kid is like, "You're Dallas Clayton." And you're like, "I know. It's… How do you know that? Who told you?" And you're so excited. And so then I was like, "How do I do this all the time?" You know, so I came back to L.A. and I was like, "I'm going to start a foundation that, you know, gives away books." Sell books, give away books.

So that's what I did and I started the foundation and now it's like, it's kind of grown 'cause every time I go on tour, it's, you know, "Wait. We can just paint a mural on this school." Or like, "Hey, what if we add music?" Or like, "Hey, what if, you know, we went to this hospital instead of going here?"

Or like, "What if we read in a tree?" Or like, "This guy wants me to read at this rock concert." Or like, "What if I read at a skate park?" Or, "What happens if I go read to a college instead of a preschool?" But like I said, like what I'm doing, it's not about, you know, giving 10 million books to kids that I never see that live somewhere that I've never been. It's about like having interactions with people and making it a very simple small like powerful thing.

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Clayton reads An Awesome Book

"There are places in the world where people do not dream of rocket-powered unicorns or candy cane machines. Of magic watermelon boats or musical baboons or teeny, tiny trumpet players training pet raccoons. Yes, there are places in the world where people dream up dreams so simply unfantastical and practical they seem. To lose all possibility of thinking super things."

"Of dancing wild animals with diamond colored wings. Instead they dream of furniture, of buying a new hat, of owning matching silverware. Could you imagine that? Instead they lay awake at night wishing for a car and not one that runs on jellybeans but one that's regular. They dream of breakfast sandwiches. They dream of telephones. Sometimes they even dream of dreams that aren't even their own."

"Yes, there are places in the world where dreams are almost dead. So please, my child, do keep in mind before you go to bed to dream a dream as big as big could ever dream to be. Then dream a dream ten times as big as that one dream, you see. Then once you've got that dream in mind, please dream a million more and not a million quiet dreams, a million dreams that roar."

"A million dreams so loud they scream, so loud they sing and shout. So super huge they say, 'Hey, world. Guess what I'm dreaming about?' I'm dreaming about everything that no one thought to wonder. Dreams so big that they've got dreams and they've got dreams up under. Please dream for those who have given up, for those who've never tried. Please use your dreams to make new dreams for all the dreams that died."

"'Cause you're the ones whose dreams can be whatever dreams you want. Whose dreams can change the way things are and the way that things are not. And if they say that all your dreams seem too big to come true, you tell them that I told you that's what dreams are meant to do. They're meant to make you seem as if you don't know up from down. Because dreams are dreams and that's why dreams are worth having around."

"So when you think your dreaming's done, just remember what I said. Close your eyes, my child, and dream that perfect dream inside your head. The end."

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Happy 10th birthday

Happy tenth birthday, Reading Rockets. I am so stoked that you exist. I'm so glad that you've made it ten years. Ten years is pretty big. I think you're probably at this point going to start like, you know, getting really into like hanging out on your own and, you know, like ditching your parents from time to time and going out and climbing trees and just really exploring the world. I think that's really important. So congratulations to you, Reading Rockets.

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"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln