Claymates, illustrated and photographed by Lauren Eldridge, written by Dev Petty, published by Little, Brown & Company, ISBN: 978-0316303118.
Sometimes certain picture books boggle my mind, making me wonder “how did this come together?” For example, what did Dev Petty’s manuscript for the clever and inventive Claymates look like when it arrived in the able hands of Lauren Eldridge? How many visual cues did Petty give Eldridge? Usually authors and illustrators don’t really meet with or talk to each other, but this work feels as if two talented minds got together and shared the same unified vision. I know, I know…I can probably do a search and find a making of Claymates article, but on another level: I want the mystery of this collaboration to remain a mystery.
Claymates is one delightfully strange book that celebrates creativity, taking chances, breaking the rules not only when it comes to art, but also when it comes to self-identity. Two balls on clay (one gray, the other brown, both with googly eyes) sit on a desk in a photographer’s (Eldridge’s I assume) studio. On the title page the gray blob of clay gives a smirking naughty sideways glance to the startled-looking brown blob who turns out to be a newbie in this creative space. I don’t know how Eldridge makes these characters so expressive in her photographs, but wow, each glance is extremely amusing. Just watch the gray one look pensive when the brown one asks “What do you think is going to happen?” and then giddy when it replies “Probably something wonderful.” Suddenly human hands appear, and they shape the clay balls into a gray wolf and a brown owl. After this interfering human leaves, the book explodes with zany comical energy as the gray character becomes rebellious, trying to convince its peer to join in some shape-changing mischief. And yowsah, do they ever transform themselves… into elephants, peanuts, an alien peanut, a dinosaur so large it cannot fit into the frame. Meanwhile, Petty’s amusing dialog appears on what looks like torn off pieces of post-it labels.
I look at a LOT of picture books. I admire books that feel and look like no other, and Claymates emerges as it’s own unique self. Funny, the work it reminds me of most is the classic Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck.” The photography is crisp and clear (I love the blurs when they change shapes); the dialogue clever and lively; and the resolution perfect (the brown clay is hooked on creative rebellion–hurray!!!).