soup of the day special edition: ben clanton dishes on the table sets itself

Ahoy there!*

The Alphabet Soup table is all set to welcome story-scribbler, picture-squiggler, fun-socks-wearer Ben Clanton, whose second self-illustrated picture book, The Table Sets Itself (Walker BFYR, 2013), is officially hitting shelves today! WooHoo!

Until I read this charming, whimsical story, I thought I was the only one who had a meaningful relationship with cutlery. I loved reading about how Izzy and her friends Dish, Fork, Knife, Spoon, Cup, and Napkin finally get the chance to set the table themselves. But because they soon tire of being in the same spots day after day, they decide to switch places. Uh-oh.

Is this front endpaper cool or what?

This leads to a few small disasters and a big ooh-la-la adventure for the runaway Dish and Spoon, whose absence turns Izzy into a complete mess because no other plate or spoon will do. How will she get them to return to the table? Generous sprinkles of punny jokes and visual humor (I bet you never knew a cup could lift a cow) make for a rollicking read aloud, and did I mention macaroni and cheese is instrumental in setting things right again?

Per mac and cheese, the sheer adorableness of this story (which also features a mailman resembling Cliff Clavin of “Cheers”), and because I am Izzy, I simply had to ask Ben to set us straight on The Table Sets Itself. We wish him a very Happy Pub Day and thank him for giving us the real scoop and forking over the goods.

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Is it true you sold your first picture book after an editor saw your work featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast back in 2010? Please fill us in on all the juicy details, listing the books you’ve published since then.

Yep! Soon after the feature, Tara Walker contacted me asking to see more. To say the least I was beyond thrilled! That email from Tara eventually (after several stories were rejected) led to my first published picture book VOTE FOR ME! I have a second story I worked on with Tara coming out this Fall called MO’S MUSTACHE! It’s about a monster and his mustache and some other stuff.

Several months before the 7-imp feature I met Mary Kate Castellani at an SCBWI retreat. I ran several stories by Mary Kate but none of them were working quite right. However, I had read a short piece at an open mic night at the retreat. The story had gotten a good reaction but was lacking depth. I added a girl as a protagonist (thanks Mark Fearing for that tip) and THE TABLE SETS ITSELF was set to become a real edible book. Okay, the book isn’t edible . . . unless you’re a monster or a goat.

I’ve also been illustrating the Jasper John Dooley book series by Caroline Adderson and the MAX books by Wiley Blevins.

In that fateful 7-Imp post, you shared two dummy spreads that look like they’re related to your new picture book, The Table Sets Itself (Walker Books, 2013). What sparked the idea for this dishy tale?

This story kind of just set itself one night. I was visiting my parents for the summer (I was in college at the time) and at dinner we were recollecting how my sister could never seem to remember how to set the table as a kid. My sister and I took turns setting the table and doing the dishes, so you would think she would have it down! Anyways, I was doodling and scratching away in my sketchbook later that evening and what came of it was THE TABLE SETS ITSELF.

Ben with his sister Samantha (talk about a smoldering look).

What was the most fun part of creating this book? Tell us about your process and any noteworthy things you learned along the way.

The idea and the initial vision for the book is for me the most fun part of creating any book. The trouble is that the initial idea of the book pretty much never works out. There are usually plot holes or one-dimensional characters that need some fleshing out.

One of the big things I learned when working on THE TABLE SETS ITSELF is the importance of a central kid protagonist. Izzy (the star of the book) wasn’t even part of the story at first. To start out the story was really just a bunch of short puns and randomness stuck together. It was recommended to me by Mark Fearing to add in a kid and it did wonders for the story.


As for my process, I generally always start out with the idea and then move to making character sketches. Once I get a manuscript put together and the characters to a point I’m reasonably happy with them I make a dummy. And then another dummy. And then another. After oodles of tinkering I get to move to final art. I love seeing the book come together but the idea of FINAL art scares me worse than any monster ever has.

What is your favorite piece of cutlery and why? Within the context of this story, which character do you most closely identify with?

I really like spoons! They’re nice and smooth and usually are scooping something delicious. Within the context of the story, I really can identify with Cup. In fact, I’ve got a whole other story featuring Cup . . . which will hopefully become a book someday.

Final art

Do you plan to share this book via school visits? If so, what kind of activities do you have in mind?

Definitely going to do some school visits! I’m guessing an eating contest won’t go over so well, but I’ll definitely be doing some drawing, make your own placemat stuff, and some random tangential thingamabobs. Suggestions?

Activity Page: “draw the monster”


Macaroni and Cheese:

Best when homemade! Don’t get me wrong . . . I like a box of Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Especially with some Field Roast Apple Sage sausages mixed in. And fresh basil! But it is hard to beat homemade . . . shredded Tillamook cheddar with some mozzarella and feta. I’m also a fan of macaroni and sneeze. Peas please!

Four Cheese Mac and Cheese via The Cook’s Life



Anything else you like to chew on?

I really like Indian food and Lebanese. Mexican too! I once ate a dog biscuit. I don’t recommend it.

Crazy sock fetish:

There’s something about a fun pair of socks that makes me happy!

Your sister Samantha (to whom the book is dedicated):

Still struggles with setting the table!

Fave food-related children’s book(s):

The Book that Eats People

Latest culinary adventure:

Had some excellent homemade juice recently. Also, planning on taking my veg burger skills up a notch (or getting some skills in the first place).

What’s next for you? Are you drawing more food (say yes)?

MO’S MUSTACHE has no food but plenty of flavor-savers! I’ve also got a book in the works called REX WRECKS IT. No food in that either unless blocks are part of your diet.

This one hits shelves October 12, 2013!

Any upcoming appearances or events you’d like to publicize?

I should get on that! I’ll post upcoming events on my Facebook page and my website

Back endpaper


* * *

Please join me now in congratulating Ben by donning your nattiest bib and a pair of fun socks:

Next, pick up your favorite spoon, dip deep, and slurp with wild abandon. (Mr. Cornelius wanted me to tell you that he personally cut out the cheese flowers and their chocolate centers.)

Hip hip Hooray for Ben, Izzy, Fork, Knife, Spoon, Dish, Cup, Napkin and Chopsticks!!

Today’s Special: Izzy’s Cutlery Chowder (each spoonful a new adventure)

Thanks for creating this faboo book, Ben. Really looking forward to MO’S MUSTACHE! And YES to the Cup book!

* * *


written and illustrated by Ben Clanton
published by Walker BFYR, September 2013
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Cool themes: table setting, chores, friendship, adventure, humor, cutlery
**Starred Review, Kirkus**

Ben Clanton’s Official Website, Squiggles and Scribbles


*Ben’s favorite greeting

**Spreads from The Table Sets Itself posted by permission of the illustrator, text and illustrations copyright © 2013 Ben Clanton, published by Walker Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


23 thoughts on “soup of the day special edition: ben clanton dishes on the table sets itself

  1. Fun interview and delicious questions! Glad to hear I’m not alone in the dark when it comes to the final art! Thanks for introducing the new book, feally looking forward to it!


  2. Ooh, I have to get this book- especially since the star is Izzy (that ‘s what friends called me when I was a kid.) And it looks like such fun. Delicious post- as always!


    1. Very cool that you featured Ben and now look at him! He’s definitely someone to watch; am excited to see more of his work :). Mustaches!!


  3. This looks like my kind of book! I love the illustrations! I like the illustration that shows kids how to set a place setting right (my mom showed us the right” way of setting a table). The macaroni and cheese has made me hungry for it now! 🙂


  4. True confessions – also once ate a dog biscuit (Milk Bone) on a dare. Drew the line at a Gainesburger though.

    Love Ben’s studio view – I know that river! Hustling to the store to fork over my cash, then I’ll spoon up with my kiddos and feast on this delightful book!


    1. Shall I call you Milk Bone Cathy from now on? 😀 Thanks for sharing that little known fact. I have new respect for you now . . . (bow wow).

      Do your kids set the table?


  5. Sounds adorable! And I’m in love with the endpaper! Congratulations, Ben. I’m looking forward to reading The Table Sets Itself and your future books 🙂

    I will have to don my socks after this hot weather passes.
    Thanks for a delicious post, Jama!


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