NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 17, 2014

Shining a light on 'Monsters'

Port author, illustrator scares up children's book

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — Glubb and Skeebu do all of the things that the average child does: They eat breakfast, go to school, participate in sports, play video games and brush their teeth.

The two main characters in Newburyport resident AJ Smith’s new children’s book prove that “Even Monsters” get scared by things that go bump in the night and need a kiss good night from their parents.

“I was looking for a not-so-subtle metaphor for kids,” Smith said. “The big theme in the book is that we’re all very similar to each other. We’re not all that different really.”

Published on April 1 by Sourcebooks and aimed at children ages 3-6, “Even Monsters” is Smith’s first trade picture book. The author and illustrator has previously written 13 books in the education market, available only at schools and libraries.

“It’s kind of like going from the minor leagues to the big leagues,” said Smith, who wrote “Even Monsters” several years ago but didn’t get a contract until last year. “It’s been a long time in the making.”

Before turning to children’s books, Smith worked as an animator and designer at several studios in New York City, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts. His work has appeared on a number of cartoons and children’s programs, including “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Sheep in the Big City” and “WordGirl,” the PBS show co-created by Jack Ferraiolo of Amesbury.

Although he traded in the big city for the North Shore several years ago, he still does freelance animation work, most recently a small piece that will appear on “Sesame Street” later this year.

Smith and his wife, Karen, lived in Ipswich for a couple of years before settling in Newburyport four years ago. They have two daughters, 5-year-old Mirabelle and 2-year-old Chloe.

“I loved New York, I just didn’t like living in New York,” said Smith, 39. “There’s no open space, no mountains ... Living there is a different world.”

In addition to the “Even Monsters” picture book, Smith has created an online, interactive world where children and parents can learn fun facts about brothers Glubb and Skeebu, including step-by-step instructions on drawing the two monsters; play games and do activities; watch behind-the-scenes videos; and enter the Monster Art Contest. Through the end of the summer, Smith is accepting monster drawings from children ages 2-9. He will then animate the top 20 drawings for a music video.

In the meantime, Smith has planned a number of presentations throughout the region and beyond, including three Newburyport appearances next week and a successful launch party earlier this month at Jabberwocky Bookshop complete with Theater in the Open actors in Glubb and Skeebu costumes.

“I do try to think outside the box a little bit in terms of these presentations for kids,” Smith said. “It’s not just an author sitting there scribbling in books. It’s pretty interactive.”

Smith is already working on a follow-up book, “Even Dinosaurs.”

If you go

What: “Even Monsters” events with AJ Smith

When and where: Thursday, April 24, at 10 a.m. at Newburyport Public Library, 94 State St.; Friday, April 25, at 1 p.m. at Chococoa Baking Co., The Tannery Marketplace, 50 Water St., Newburyport; and Sunday, April 27, at 1 p.m. at The Book Rack, 52 State St., Newburyport

How much: Free

More information: www.evenmonsters.com