Dream big and reach for the stars.
That’s the message for young readers in a new children’s book, I Want To Go To The Moon (Simply Read Books), written by White Rock’s Tom Saunders and illustrated by Vancouver artist Cynthia Nugent.
The book will have an official launch party – timely for Christmas shoppers – on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd.
For the multi-talented Saunders, authorship is a new feather in the cap – most people recognize him as a ukelele balladeer/multi-instrumentalist, and theatre and soundtrack composer (his original score can be heard in the current White Rock Players Club panto Mother Goose, as well as his clever topical lyrics for The Wonderful Year We Fell In Love).
Others know the lifelong White Rock resident as an original humourist of distinctly off-kilter sensibility and a go-to man for extraordinary theatrical props – locals with longer memories will probably remember his work as a community television host and co-creator of a legendary Elvis Presley parody, This Is Orest.
The irony of his new role, Saunders said, is that it was totally unplanned on his part.
“I didn’t realize I’d written a book until six months after I’d first written it,” the tall, quiet and typically unassuming scribe noted.
“I almost feel like I can’t take any credit for it – it came right of the blue. In all truthfulness, I wrote a song that has been adapted as a book.”
The song, I Want To Go To The Moon, a catchy, easy-to-sing-along-with ditty, is also included on a CD inside the sturdy covers of the colourful and quite delightful little volume.
With what Saunders admits is some poetic license, it celebrates the achievement of astronaut Neil Armstrong, famed commander of the Apollo 11 mission and the first man to walk on the moon’s surface.
But there’s a deeper and broader purpose to the book, he said.
“It’s mostly an allegory for following your dreams and not being dissuaded when other people try to counter them,” he said.
As he points out – and Nugent’s drawings charmingly illustrate – Neil is a boy who dreams of flying to the moon, but everyone in the story, including his parents, friends and teachers, tell him it’s impossible.
“Nobody is doing it maliciously,” Saunders said. “They’ve all got good, solid reasons why it can’t be done.”
But Armstrong’s determination to live his dream wins through, of course, with results that are historic.
Saunders said that when he first started writing the piece – for a private album of original songs intended to entertain the children of family and friends, produced by longtime musical collaborator Dan Ross – he hadn’t thought of basing it on the career of Armstrong.
“When I was a kid, everybody had a little fantasy about going to the moon. I watched (the Apollo 11 mission and the lunar landing) on TV and it was pretty exciting,” he recalled.
“I got this interesting thought about a really determined kid who was going to the moon, no matter what anybody said. Three verses in, I realized I could make it a half-fact, half-fantasy version of Neil Armstrong, and from that point, a lot of it filled in itself.”
Saunders gives much of the credit for what I Want To Go To The Moon became to Ross’ production skills – including a sound-effects section complete with recreations of the moon landing.
“It’s a fairly long song,” Saunders said, adding, with a chuckle, “Dan called it the American Pie of children’s songs.”
But credit for the book’s existence he gives to Nugent, who took the lead in illustrating the text and successfully pitching the project to Vancouver-based Simply Read, which has built a strong reputation for quality children’s books, distributed through Raincoast Books.
“A couple of years ago, I gave a copy of the song to Cynthia, who I knew from the Vancouver Ukelele Circle – she’d told me she was a fan of my playing, singing and uke-ing.
“The next day I got an email from her saying ‘Do you know what I do for a living?’
She told me she was an illustrator and she thought my ‘moon’ song would make a good children’s book.”
Saunders said it was the beginning of a particularly painless partnership in which his work was practically over before it started.
“I’d get emails from her with her latest illustrations, and I loved everything she did,” he said.
“There was nothing she did I wanted changed, and there was nothing I did she wanted changed. The only change was requested by the publisher – the song was originally called You’ll Never Go To The Moon, but it was felt I Want To Go To The Moon was more positive for the title.”
The book has already had good feedback from those who’ve seen the few advance copies, Saunders said, and a lot more will be available for sale at the launch on Dec. 17.
Saunders said he plans to send a copy of the book to Armstrong himself, although he has no idea what the reaction will be – the former astronaut is not noted as the most gregarious of men.
“I don’t think we’ll get him out to the book launch,” Saunders quipped.
But he’s happy to see the fruition of the current collaboration, he added.
“Whatever else happens with it, my biggest thrill is in seeing my music and lyrics illustrated.”