Gus: The picture book that never was.

A few years back I was convinced that with enough creative effort, I could be the best long distance aunt ever. I was going to write and illustrate picture books based on my life in Virginia, so when the neefs visited me they could recognize me and my surroundings and feel like they had walked into a story.

The first book would introduce all the characters in my apartment and what they all did while I was away at work. Think Toy Story, but with a hamster, a squirrel, a laptop, and a Roomba. I have a tendency to name inanimate objects and random animals I see, so fleshing out the characters wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Sophia the Squirrel

However, before I could really get started on the first book, inspiration struck for the second. I drive a bright blue toy car named Gus, and because he goes with me to work every day, he couldn’t be part of the apartment book. Obviously he needed a story of his own. In a rare burst of creative energy, I sat down and wrote a story loosely based on the time I got pulled over for speeding in Maryland with no license plates. It was a cautionary tale.

Meet Gus

The story went something like this… Gus lived in the city, and all he did every day was drive to and from work. He had to go very slow because there were so many cars, and had to stop at every light because the traffic lights were sadists and turned red whenever he drove up to them. (This is a paraphrase. I wasn’t going to use the word “sadist” in a kids book.) All in all, Gus’ life was very boring.

Then, for the first time ever, he got to take a weekend trip out into the country. The weather was beautiful, the road was long and winding, and he could go as fast as he wanted. Everything went by in a green and blue blur; it was exhilarating.

I don’t remember the details of the cop car pulling him over and yelling at him, but I remember that Gus felt super guilty. He really hadn’t known about the speeding rules, but he promised never to speed again. (Not what actually happened in Maryland.)

So when Gus slowed down, he realized that all those things that were blurs of color had become beautiful fields and hills, farms and cows (all that picture book stuff that toddlers love). Gus discovered that his drive through the country was even better when he slowed down and enjoyed it.

Now I figured that toddlers didn’t really need to learn the lesson of breaking speeding laws quite yet. But I did like the lesson of following the rules and how when you do things the right way, it can be even more fun that speeding through Maryland with no license plates.

It was a good story, but it was never meant to be. This is the part where I failed as an aunt and an illustrator. There were just so many pages to draw, and all in color. I tried to use the computer, and I tried watercolor painting. In the end, I just lost momentum.

Maybe someday I’ll have the spare time and the motivation to finish the project. But for now, I will just have to settle for using this post to tell Gus’ story.

Stay strong, Gus. We’ll get back out to the country soon, this time with license plates.


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