Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes.
Jeffrey and Sloth
Jeffrey and Sloth
Written by Kari-Lynn Winters. Illustrated by Ben Hodson. Also translated into Korean.
Reading level: ages 3-7 • 32 pages • picture book
Jeffrey looked at the blank page. It glared back.
What would you do if your very own doodle rose up and tried to take over your life? This is exactly what happens to Jeffrey as he tries to overcome his writer’s block. However, Jeffrey learns that even the bossiest doodle is powerless against a well told tale.
Read more about this book at Wikipedia.
See also an early incarnation of this book, “Jeffrey’s Wor(l)ds Meet Sloth,” in Chameleon Magazine, 2004.
The book launch was held in April 2007 at the Vancouver Aquarium, home of some of Canada’s only sloths. A 1-minute video presentation can be viewed in these formats: high quality .mov (8 MB), medium quality .avi (17 MB), and low quality .mp4 (2 MB) (if the sound doesn’t work, try a different browser or download the files to your computer and open them using a different program).
School Library Journal, from schoollibraryjournal.com:
K-Gr 2—When Jeffrey sits down to write a story for his homework assignment, he is faced with a blank sheet of paper and a raging case of writer’s block. He starts to doodle instead, eventually drawing a pudgy sloth. The animal comes to life and begins to taunt him about his writing skills. It doesn’t take Jeffrey long to realize that the lazy animal just doesn’t want him to write about anything strenuous for the sloth to do. He beats the creature (and his own inner critic) at its own game by sending it on an arduous fictional journey in search of the world’s coziest blanket. By the time he finds it, Jeffrey’s homework, and the story, is finished. The theme of the book, that one’s imagination can lead to unexpected places, is not new; nor is the notion of drawings taking on a life of their own. Jeffrey and Sloth is a good read-aloud to introduce units on creative writing to children. The acrylic and colored-pencil cartoon illustrations of the sloth’s imperative journey add an element of silly fun, though the text crowds them on some pages.
—Rachael Vilmar, Eastern Shore Regional Library, MD
Sarah Collins review, from pjsarahcollins.com
May 17, 2010
A Teacher-On-Call Must Have!
As a teacher, parent, and writer, I’m always on the hunt for an indispensable resource. It’s what I pack if my day is going to contain anything unpredictable: a new teaching situation, the hook to launching a unit, an unexpected wait in the doctor’s office. Jeffrey and Sloth is that rare kind of book that works for kids of all ages.
Jeffrey and Sloth is a literacy teacher’s tool for inspiring children with a month’s worth of ideas for their creative writing. Primary teachers will want this book as a fun hook for studying Canada. It’s a substitute teacher’s solution to a blank or boring dayplan: scrap the busy work and create a Social Responsibility mini-unit around themes of power and powerlessness. An art teacher could create weeks of exciting lessons exploring the book’s illustrations: patterns, colors, cartoon animation, and teaching students to illustrate their own stories. And I’m just getting started. Imagine what an educator could come up with if she, like Jeffrey, started brainstorming or doodling on a scrap piece of paper.
Jeffrey and Sloth is a multi-age enjoyable read. My preschoolers loves the situational comedy. My grade sevens enjoy Winters’ fresh approach to writer’s block. This is a book children and adults – formally or informally – will enjoy for years.
CM Magazine 13:20, May 25, 2007:
Jeffrey and Sloth.
B.C.’s Orca Books is known for its paperback series for different ages, but it also publishes thoughtful non-fiction and a fine range of picture books. Jeffrey and Sloth is an example of the latter.
Author Kari-Lynn Winters, who is billed on the jacket copy as an educator, performer and writer, says that the inspiration for writing Jeffrey and Sloth came from a lack of inspiration to write anything at all. And the only lines of type on the first page of the book say, “Jeffrey looked at the blank page. It glared back.” This is a statement any blocked writer can truly appreciate.
Instead of telling a story with words, Jeffrey decides to tell one with pictures. The sloth character he creates takes over events, commanding Jeffrey to draw it a chair, a pillow and blanket. The sloth’s rude behaviour moves the artist to begin shaping the animal’s actions in the direction he wants, and the tables are turned. By the end, effrey’s story is one of visual and textual art.
Ben Hodson’s wonderfully comic illustrations make readers appreciate Jeffrey’s transformation from downcast to jubilant. The sloth, too, changes from the most elemental schmoo-like outline to a three-dimensional creature with moods and facial expressions that will make readers laugh out loud.
Jeffrey and Sloth is a story of the development of artistic expression and empowerment. Bravo to both of its creators.
Ellen Heaney is Head of Children’s Services at the New Westminster Public Library in New Westminster, BC.
Georgia Straight, July 26 2007:
Jeffrey and Sloth
“Good writers have lots of ideas,” the Sloth says, after Jeffrey doodles him magically to life. “You don’t have any!” Not much gratitude from the critical, demanding Sloth, which backfires on the imaginary creature as Jeffrey comes to realize the power an author has over his creations. Not only is the story charming and the moral inspiring (we all have the power to create; ideas lie all around us), but it’s explicitly set in Canada to boot. Makes you want to pick up pencil and paper and see what happens next. Suggested ages: four to eight.
Stories for Children Magazine
4.0 out of 5 stars, November 5, 2007
Have you ever had to write a report for school and just stared at a blank piece of paper, not knowing where to begin? This is what happened to Jeffrey. Until he started to doodle on his paper, and . . . one of his doodles came to life. His doodle is a long armed sloth that tries to distract Jeffrey from writing his report. The sloth starts to boss Jeffery around; telling him to draw this and that for him. Will Jeffery take back control of his life or will he doodle the rest of his life for the sloth?
Kari-Lynn Winters tells a colorful and wild story about taking control of your life, and not letting the little things distract you. She helps us understand that we all have times where we just stare at a blank sheet a paper, wondering where to begin. And that sometimes, `where to begin’ is to write about nothing. Ben Hodson’s illustrations are so vivid and live. Together, Winters and Hodson make this story pop off the page.
Mrs. McGowan’s Class Jeffrey and Sloth activities
November 3, 2009
Jeffrey and Sloth (Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-1-55143-974-7, 32 pages), is one of those rare children’s picture books that hold an appeal for both kids and adults. Although recommended for readers ages 4-9, this beautifully illustrated story belongs on the bookshelves of anyone young or old who has a love of writing and a desire to create, be it books, paintings or poems.
Jeffrey and Sloth Began as Magazine Story
There are only two characters in Winter’s children’s story: Jeffrey, a young boy who is suffering from writer’s block and Sloth, an imaginary and very bossy creature Jeffrey doodles when he can’t find words to write. Eventually, Jeffrey, with the help of Sloth, rediscovers his creativity. Writers in particular will appreciate Jeffrey’s dilemma:
This is the type of book authors should keep on their reference bookshelf and read when they feel the dreaded writer’s block approaching!
Awards and Nominations
Jeffrey and Sloth was Kari-Lynn Winter’s first book. Shortly after publication, it was turned into a stage play by Vancouver’s Theatre and Education Company, Tickle Trunk Players.
It was nominated for the 2008 OLA Blue Spruce Award and was a finalist for the 2008 BC Book Prizes, and winner of 2006/7 ABCs of Education Best Books as well as the 2009 Chocolate Lilly BC Reader’s Choice Award.
Other Children’s Books by Kari-Lynn Winters
About the Illustrator
Each of Ben Hodson’s illustrations in Jeffrey and Sloth are magical. The detail in each image draws the reader in and young children in particular will return again and again to this book, not only because of the storyline, but to lose themselves in Hodson’s bright and descriptive acrylic drawings.
About Kari-Lynn Winters
Kari-Lynn Winters is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. She is also an accomplished poet and an entertaining performer and classroom presenter. Her interactive and informal style has made her a favourite of both teachers and students alike. Educators interested in inviting Winters into their schools should visit her website for booking information.
Jeffrey and Sloth is available at all bookstores and also at Books on Board as a digital download. A detailed lesson plan created by Winters is available for downloading in PDF format to help with classroom instruction.
Cheryl Rainfield’s Children’s Book Reviews, May 2007
Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Ben Hodson
Have you ever stared at a blank page, not knowing what to write? That’s exactly what the boy in this book faces. In Jeffrey and Sloth, Jeffrey can’t think of what to write–so he doodles instead. And one of his doodles, a sloth, comes alive–and starts insulting Jeffrey and telling him what to write. At first Jeffrey co-operates, but pretty soon he gets tired of being bossed around by the sloth, and rebels by writing a story about the sloth, making the sloth do what he wants. Jeffrey and Sloth touches on something many writers, artists, and anyone who’s faced homework they hate will identify with–the blank page.
Winters’ concept of having the doodle come alive and having Jeffrey be prodded into creating a story is both creative and fun. The beginning text moves quickly and completely swept me into the story, but later some of the dialogue felt a bit clunky, and the story slowed down, particularly when the characters were trying to control each other. I also would have preferred a little less telling and more showing, or allowing the reader to pick up on what was happening. Canadian readers may enjoy spotting the Canadian references.
At first the story Jeffrey writes is funny; after being put down so much by the sloth, he writes that the sloth is pudgy, and readers will likely chuckle or side with Jeffrey as the sloth protests. But the book quickly moves into a fight for power, and for me, there was a bit too much negativity–the sloth putting Jeffrey down, and then Jeffrey controlling the sloth and making the sloth go to extremes. I actually started to feel sorry for the sloth, and when Jeffrey smiles when the sloth is thirsty and he makes him swim through a cold lake instead of allowing him to drink, I lost a bit of empathy for Jeffrey. Still, the story ends on an upbeat note, with the sloth “admitting” that the Jeffrey is a good writer (although he admits this under some duress and one wonders how sincere it really is), and Jeffrey finally allowing the sloth to relax and curl up under his blanket, Jeffrey’s homework completed.
Through the sloth’s protestation that Jeffrey can’t make him do anything, and Jeffrey’s realization that indeed he can by writing about him, the book may help readers see that through writing their own stories, they can decide what happens, and perhaps feel a sense of control over their lives.
Hodson’s acrylic-and-colored-pencil illustrations are bright, lively, and cartoonish, and make the book visually appealing. Hodson has a strong sense of design; Patterns appear on the wallpaper, the floor, and the furniture, bringing a pleasing visual touch. Well-drawn perspective and some use of light and shadow add depth to many of the illustrations. Vibrant colors repeat throughout the illustrations, visually pulling the book together; a rich yellow is especially used in most backgrounds, and purple, blue, orange, and grey also repeat often. The backgrounds often have great washes of color, with little or no details, except in Jeffrey’s room, where there are many believable objects befitting a young boy, including a toy robot and airplane, a shell, a goldfish bowl, various balls, a model volcano, and posters on the wall.
Jeffrey’s doodles, appearing as black pencil on white paper, are sweetly drawn and come alive, the line moving from a smaller image of Jeffrey and his page to a larger page where readers can see what he’s doodled. In other illustrations, Jeffrey’s doodles appear on his page in front of him, where readers can view what he’s drawn. This has great visual appeal. The objects Jeffrey draws for the sloth that appear in his room are 3-D, like the rest of Jeffrey’s furniture, and fit in beautifully. White lines are drawn around the images as they “appear” in the room, bringing a sense of magic.
The illustrations bleed right to the edges of the pages, and vary from one per page to a full spread, with some smaller illustrations appearing on top of others. Two different fonts make a nice differentiation between the story and the story Jeffrey writes, and this distinction is increased by Jeffrey’s story appearing on small pieces of white paper.
There is a bonus illustration on the inside title page that adds to the story, where Jeffrey arrives home carrying his backpack and hat, staring glumly at the blank pages of paper and the pencil waiting on his desk. Observant readers will enjoy spotting the sloth appearing on a pinned-up poster on Jeffrey’s wall before he even begins to doodle him, and noticing that the map that the sloth travels over is also pinned up on Jeffrey’s wall.
Jeffrey and Sloth encourages creativity, creative writing, doodling, and art. Readers may want to try to make their own doodles come alive, putting words to their own stories.
Book Hatching Bookbag, by Fiona Bayrock, June 2008
This is a fun one. It’s the story of Jeffrey who can’t think of anything to write, so he doodles. His doodle, a “round-bellied long-armed sloth”, dontchaknow—and a pretty bossy one at that—starts telling Jeffrey what to write. At first, Jeffrey complies, but then writes his own ideas about what Sloth should do. Oh, what power the written word wields!
Jeffrey and Sloth was a finalist in the 2008 BC Book Prizes, which just goes to show… when your teacher says, “If you can’t find anything to write about, write about not having anything to write about.”, do it!
Kari’s always fun to have at book events because she sings…and has great puppets.
Back to the Challenge, by Rebecca Peachtree, April 30 2008
It’s been a while but I’m back to the challenge! I have the tiniest reprieve between my fall/winter courses and my summer courses in which I’ve had the time to do a bit of reading. One of the books I read was Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters and illustrated by Ben Hodson. I went to the bookstore to buy this book and when I was standing in line a little boy behind me said “I know that book! It was part of Blue Spruce!” so I asked him if he liked it and he said yes but that he voted for a different one. I think the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program is a great idea because it allows kids like that little boy at the bookstore to choose the books that they think deserve awards instead of having grownups do the choosing for them.
This book really spoke to me because although I’ve always wanted to write and I have a bit of a creative streak, sitting down with a blank page/computer screen to write something has always been a huge challenge for me. The task seems so enormous that I can’t get started and end up distracting myself with other things.
Jeffrey’s character is a believable and realistic one and his conversations with a sloth, who wants to do nothing but nap in a comfy chair with a puffy pillow and a perfect blanket, are filled with humour and references to the Canadian landscape. The group of girls in my after school program were giggling at the ordeals Jeffrey puts poor sloth through. This really is a cute new addition to Canadian children’s literature.
Storytime Standouts, April 25 2007
Why not try doodling your way to a fun tale? Picture Book Fun for Youngsters
Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson
Staring at a blank sheet of paper (or computer screen) can be awfully daunting when you can’t find anything to write about (or blog about). For Jeffrey, the solution is to draw a shining sun, snow-capped mountains, space aliens and a round-bellied, long-armed sloth. Jeffrey’s sloth suggests that Jeffrey should make himself useful and sketch a chair. Before long, Jeffrey discovers that his drawing and words are magical – with them, he sends his creation digging, swimming, climbing and trekking.
Good fun – especially for a young writer seeking inspiration. Why not try doodling your way to your next tale?
Audio review by Matthew and Jordan
from bookbuddyreviews.com (February 2008)
Kari is available to visit schools, libraries, birthday parties, workshops … Please see more about author visits.