Illustrator Draws on Children's Ideals

from Beyond the Cover

Robert Bender illustrated his first children's book only at the suggestion of his wife. Although it was never published, it turned Bender on to a field of illustrating he'd never before considered—children's books. This month, his latest book hits bookstores shelves. With Lima Beans Would Be Illegal: Children's Ideas of a Perfect World, Bender adds another new page to his portfolio.

"I went to school to study illustration and graduated from Syracuse University in 1984. I moved to New York to do editorial illustrations for newspapers and magazines," Bender recalls. "I struggled and barely eked out a living. As a kid, my wife always wanted to write and illustrate children's books. She went through a period where she thought it would be fun to try it. So I said 'Why don't you write a story, say maybe about monsters'—because I loved monsters as a kid—'and I'll illustrate it.' I did a full dummy book, and I started calling up editors and anybody willing to see me. I got a lot of encouragement."

Within a year, Bender sold a book and was hooked on writing and illustrating children's books. After six books (including A Most Unusual Lunch and Preposterous Rhinoceros) and many speaking visits to schools, Bender decided to tap into children's minds and ask their opinions of what an ideal world would be like. In a mass mailing, Bender sent a request to schools across the country asking that they pass along the question to students of all ages.

The result is a distinctive collection of quotes that inspire laughter and tears, complemented by Bender's wonderful illustrations. The title, Lima Beans Would Be Illegal, came from 11-year-old Amanda Fox. "There was another kid who said, 'We would never have to eat lima beans,' and another kid who said, 'We would never have to eat Brussels sprouts.' But 'lima beans would be illegal' was just so charming," Bender says.

"I got around 3,000 quotes all together. It was a really fun process. For the most part, it was really obvious which ones stuck out to me," Bemder continues. "Some were very repetitious and not original. But every once in a while something would just jump off the page at me."

Not all the quotes are humorous. "The mix was very important to me. I didn't want it to just be a joke book. If you break it down and classify it as funny ones or sad ones, it definitely leans towards the humorous side," Bender says. "There might be one that was more on a serious or sad note, and I'd try to put one that wasn't funny but maybe insightful after it. I felt good about the way it ended up. The balance of the quotes makes an interesting balance."

Bender is already at work on his next book, a collection of advice from children. "I felt like I just scratched the surface with Lima Beans. There are so many ideas out there, this book could be just the beginning," Bender says.