THE SAVANNAH Children’s Book Festival, happening Saturday and sponsored by Live Oak Public Libraries, is one of the most well–attended and popular local events of the year.
We’re going to write about them now. But they will hate us for it.
The Children’s Book Festival is going to hate us because out of all the wonderful, nationally known authors and illustrators they are bringing to town — such as Josephine Angelini, Michael Buckley, and Alyssa Capucilli — we’ve interviewed an author, equally wonderful, who’s written a book about... farting.
Mark Lawton Thomas’s new book, When Farts Had Colors, has an impolite title, yes. But if you’re aware of publishing phenomena like Captain Underpants, you know that what’s popular with kids isn’t always of the most polite variety.
When Farts Had Colors deals with the travails of young Lance Chance, who is relentlessly picked on — and wrongly blamed for a room–clearing gaseous emission — by Merry Maddox. He then imagines a world where, yes, farts have colors.
(Learn more at the book’s website, whenfartshadcolors.com.)
Thomas, a Savannah native who jokingly describes his book as “On the Road for fourth graders,” now lives and teaches elementary school in Atlanta. We spoke to him last week.
Why farts, of all things?
Mark Lawton Thomas: It’s about potty humor and trying to get boys to read, basically. You know, like, Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger. Anything that’s gross, fourth grade boys will read.
Also I wanted to make sure the villain was a girl. There’s nothing worse as a fourth grade boy than being picked on by a girl. It’s a nightmare. Of course you get married to them eventually (laughs).
You say teachers have a particular relationship with farts?
Mark Lawton Thomas: I’ve been teaching for over ten years, and I’ve always been afraid to let one rip in the middle of class (laughs). It’s a constant fear of teachers, and if it happens, all bets are off. Word will spread around school so quickly you won’t be able to live it down.
When Farts Had Colors began as an in–school project of yours.
Mark Lawton Thomas: Yeah, it was an idea that was kicking around for a few years. My kids are a great place for ideas. One weekend I just decided to start reading it to them to to teach them how to write, and also try to hook them into reading. They really enjoyed it. It became an underground hit at Sara Smith Elementary School.
Finally after a couple of years I just said, let me sit down and pull it all together. I wrote it all in a weekend. I wrote it to George Winston’s December. I played it constantly. It’s actually the perfect music to write a kid’s book to. In my kid’s writing class they like to hear it as well.
Then I sent it out to a few publishers. That was harder than auditioning for a movie or a part in a play, because you don’t get any feedback whatsoever. Then I ran into an agent at a Christmas party, and he said send it to me. He pushed it, and Peak City Publishing picked it up. They weren’t afraid of it at all.
I can tell you’re a teacher because there’s actually a study guide for the book.
Mark Lawton Thomas: We don’t want parents to worry about a thing! So there’s an online study guide for the book as well as a vocabulary guide. We also have a section on how to deal with a bully, written by our villain Merry Maddox. I think that’s timely.
What’s next? Are you going to rest on your sweet–smelling laurels or continue to write children’s books?
Mark Lawton Thomas: Well, first off, it’s great to be included in the Live Oak Children’s Book Festival. That’s where I learned to read. I spent hours in the library, and mom and dad would come pick me up. So it’s kind of fate that I would come full circle.
And yes, there’s already a second book planned. It’s called When Farts Had Colors: Poot Two. It’ll have bigger, smellier farts than the previous one (laughs). More explosions!
Savannah Children’s Book Festival
What: In addition to headliners, festival also includes more than 70 coastal authors, arts and crafts, and food and entertainment. Two new festival areas this year are the Book Walk, which encourages families to enjoy a story throughout the park, and the graphic/comics area. J’miah Nabawi will again host the festival’s International Tent, which features multicultural musical performances and storytelling sessions.
When: Sat. Nov. 19, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Where: Forsyth Park
Cost: Free and open to the public