The Ronald McDonald House is close to the hearts of many Hallmarkers who regularly volunteer there. Hallmark writer Cat H. is one of those volunteers. She joins us today to talk about a charitable idea that came to life in a book about a feisty dog named Mr.Bean. Read on!
For such a little dog, Mr. Bean is kind of a big deal.
Mr. Bean is the house dog at Ronald McDonald House, though his official title is “Director of Love and Compassion.” In his very distinguished role, he gives comfort and snuggles to the families that stay at the three Ronald McDonald Houses in Kansas City. These families are dealing with extreme childhood illness, and so it’s often an overwhelming and intensely emotional time. Mr. Bean gives them some much needed love, levity, and support.
But he wasn’t always a good dog. In fact, he used to be quite the misbehaving mutt for the first year or two of his life – digging holes, escaping his yard, and causing a lot of headaches instead of healing them. His bad manners landed him at Wayside Waifs, a local animal shelter, and when Ronald McDonald House came calling, he knew he had to shape up. And now he’s a model citizen! (…mostly.)
It was the hilarity and misadventure of this little guy that gave Tina N. and me the idea to make a children’s book about him. Tina, a writer, regularly volunteers at Ronald McDonald House, and for a time was the writer behind Mr. Bean’s own social media pages. (Yes, he has those!) I’m a musician, and I’m in a singing group that often sings at the house. One day, an off-hand comment from our friend Emily, the head of marketing at the house, inspired us to make the book a reality.
We both had experience in writing books, but neither of us had experience with all the other aspects of making a book: project management, printing, designing, and illustration. So Tina took charge of organizing and managing the process and figured out every step and every person we’d need along the way. Without her willingness to dive into something that was outside of her usual area of expertise, this project would never have made it.
I had the fortunate task of doing what I love: writing books for kids. And I was pretty hopped up about it, so I went home and started the first draft that evening. E.L. Doctorow has this great quote about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.” And that’s me to a T—I just have to sit down and plod through writing the whole thing, not knowing where it will take me, while remaining open to different possibilities.
I like to write in verse – it forces you to make some very creative and unexpected plot decisions. And for me, handwriting the first draft is best. If I write on a computer, deleting something is too easy. If I write it down on a piece of paper, I have to live with it for a little while. Which is a good thing, because often the perfect edit comes later, after you’ve walked away for a bit.
Once I got the first draft in shape, we showed it to our friends at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City. They were thrilled, supportive, and told us to keep going. That was when we knew we needed an illustrator who could bring this heartfelt story to life.
Mirna S. was the perfect person for the job. Her style is bold, eclectic, and vibrant, alive with colors, artsy, but approachable and friendly, too. We were thrilled when she said she was interested in the project and happy to be part of a volunteer effort for such a great cause.
Mirna’s illustrations gave this story its heart. She chose a limited color palette – the Ronald McDonald House colors – and paired it up with a pencil sketch style and purposeful smudges in some spots to add visual personality to Mr. Bean’s story. But what I love best is how Mirna draws kids. From their outfits to their scrunched-eyed smiles, you really get a sense that these are real, quirky, cute kids.
Along the way, many other folks stepped up to the task of volunteering their time to make this happen, such as designer Scott S., and Laura M. who ran the show when it came to getting this thing printed.
But ultimately, it was the folks at Ronald McDonald House – including Marketing Director Emily Gretzinger, past CEO Holly Buckendahl, and current CEO Tami Greenberg – who believed in this project from the very start and were able to secure funding so that kids everywhere could hear Mr. Bean’s story.
The book is now being sold online here and in a growing list of bookstores. And the best part? All proceeds directly benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City and their goal to #keepfamiliesclose.
Projects like this one don’t come along very often, and for me, the lesson is this: if the perfect creative opportunity presents itself, jump right in. Don’t waste time worrying that you don’t know how to make it a reality, just start. Even if you never see your idea come to fruition, you’ll get to practice your art and learn things along the way.