By Nicole Torres
Remember the days of sending postcards, using stamps, and reading actual handwriting? Well, you might, but your kids are less likely to (with their eyes glued to iPads and Angry Birds and whatnot). Not to worry though— Abe’s Peanut, a literary and art publication for children, has a very creative approach to engaging today’s computer-oriented seven to 11-year-olds. Using the same format as Abe’s Penny, their original publication, Abe’s Peanut mails out original children’s stories printed on postcards to their subscribers. They pair an author with an artist and send out a postcard each week, telling one part of a four-part serialized story.
For July’s Issue 2.2, Abe’s Peanut mailed out Special Delivery, a clever story written by author and designer Jacque Schiller and illustrated by Brian Mead about a girl who lives inside a book and escapes by postcard. The story was inspired by Schiller’s handmade letterpress book, Under Cover, about a boy who also lived inside a book. The idea sprung from a Max Fleischer animation called “Out of the Inkwell,” featuring Koko the Clown, who comes to life and teases the creator.
“I thought it might be fun to illustrate a little boy who lives inside a book and seeing the same ‘walls’ day in and day out, takes to pulling pranks or trying to escape,” says Schiller.
Schiller approached Tess and Anna Knoebel, the publishers of Abe’s Penny and Abe’s Peanut, with Under Cover, and they liked it so much that they asked if she could tailor it to a postcard format. When it became Special Delivery, it was given to Mead to illustrate.
“Jacque was very obliging and the result is one of the best stories we’ve published! I wasn’t exaggerating when I told her the story reminded me of one of my all time favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth,” says Anna.
Tess and Anna (who are sisters) came up with the idea for Abe’s Peanut in 2009 after receiving positive feedback for their postcard format of Abe’s Penny.
“We thought, if adults love receiving mail, kids are going to love it even more. I was pregnant at the time and we were always referring to the bump as Peanut so that’s where the name came from,” says Anna.
To encourage unusual kids’ stories, the Knoebels don’t just work with professional children’s writers and illustrators. And they only have a few criteria for their writers— it has to be kid-friendly and the word limit is 100 words per card. (For artists, they have to work with a 4×6 image.) For Schiller, the most challenging aspect was adhering to the word count.
“It made sense to serialize Special Delivery, leaving a cliffhanger each week until the fourth and final. I didn’t write the whole story and then break it into chunks,” says Schiller. “Instead, each time I came to a natural stopping point or piece of action, I moved on to the next chapter / card.
An aunt of six, Schiller’s applauds Abe’s Peanut’s publishing model that gets kids reading. (Her niece and nephew in Texas read her story and thought it was creative and funny.) “For what I’d hope kids get of my particular story… imagination stimulation,” she says.
“I know from experience, with everything parents have going on, it’s not always easy to make time just to sit together with your kids and enjoy something as simple as a good story. And with Abe’s Peanut, you get the chance to read something new, not The Hungry Caterpillar for the 1 millionth time (which definitely has its place, too), but a story no one has heard, so it’s easy to stay engaged,” says Anna. “People aren’t writing letters or sending postcards like they used to, but kids should get to experience the fun and happiness a little bit of mail brings.”
For those intrigued by Schiller and Abe’s Peanut, join them at Word Up Books on Sept. 25 for an arts and crafts project and a reading by Schiller.