Indiana children's illustrator Bryan Ballinger credits the inspiration for his upcoming book to his post-college roommate, Ben, and his three dogs, Figbert, Hoss and Leeloo. But it isn't the years of fraternal support or the unconditional love of a pet that enabled the creation of this book. No, their inspiration was of a different, more pungent sort...
Animal Gas, Ballinger's second writing endeavor, is a picture book in which various animals compare the pleasing--or not so pleasing--qualities of their toots. Yes, you read that correctly, and it gets better: Animal Gas is a scratch-and-sniff book. That means that as each animal waxes poetic (literally) about his or her whifters, you'll be able to catch a whiff yourself. (Spoiler alert: None of the animals think their own...ahem...vapors smell the least bit unpleasant.) The clever wordplay is giggle-worthy, and Ballinger's illustrations are strange and wonderful in a way that perfectly suits the story. Skeptics may wrinkle their noses in distaste, but it's unlikely they'll be able to make it three pages in without cracking a smile.
Ballinger, who has been illustrating for more than 20 years, practically has his Ph.D. in silly children's humor, having worked several years for Big Idea Productions, the producer of VeggieTales children's videos. Prior to that, he got his start in the field by doing illustrations for kids' games and magazines. He's also co-written and illustrated another children's book, The Great Cheese Squeeze, but this is his first foray into the world of scented printing.
Attracted to all things vintage, Ballinger has long been a fan of the scratch-and-sniff format. And besides, he points out, the subject matter was "just begging to be done as a scratch and sniff." No argument here. It just wouldn't be "the full foof" without the added olfactory experience. The publisher that Ballinger is using has more 200 scents available to choose from, including the standard Apple Cinnamon, Coffee, and Lemon, as well as gems such as Car Exhaust, Horse Stable, Disinfectant, Marijuana, Sewage, and the ominously titled "Bad Smell." The publisher sent Ballinger scent samples--both delectable and disgusting--that they thought he might like, and he then got to select the smells that best matched the ones described in his book.
Bonus fun fact: the technology, Rub4ScentTM, used by the publisher actually requires that you rub to release the scent, as opposed to the traditional scratching, but unlike the scratch-and-sniff technology of old, the scent has a shelf life of years. This should come as a huge relief to Millennials whose scratch-and-sniff stickers were not so smelly after only a few token scrapes of the fingernail.
Unfortunately, scratch-and-sniff technology is not something that the average e-reader can do (yet), but Ballinger has designed a digital copy of the book for the Kindle- and iPad-toting crowds. Narration and killer sound effects substitute for the lack of smells.
Fortunately, Ballinger hasn't had too much negative feedback from prim great-aunts and proper, grandmotherly types, which he credits to the fact that his story isn't simply potty humor for potty humor's sake. Beneath the puns, rhymes, and general hilarity is a commentary on pretending to be something that you're not and how you can eventually deceive even yourself. Even those opposed to flatulence funniness can--and do--appreciate the value in that lesson. The book has received big laughs and positive reviews from both young and old.
Ballinger sought out many test audiences and previewed it at a local elementary school (to rave reviews, of course), but his favorite sounding board is his daughter. "If she thinks it's funny," Ballinger says, "I know I'm on the right track. Making her laugh is one of my most favorite things in the world."
Self-publishing a book is never cheap, but the special printing used to bring Animal Gas to life costs two to three times as much as the normal, non-smelly variety. That's why Ballinger took his idea to Kickstarter to raise the necessary funds. Sadly, if this is the first you're hearing of it, then it's too late for you to opt in and receive some of the great incentives that Ballinger offered potential backers, such as pages from his sketchbook or--my personal favorite--a full-color illustration of the backer's own pet cutting the cheese. On the bright side, it's not too late to buy a copy of Animal Gas, which is being released Nov. 21 and is available for preorder right now. Ballinger hopes to have the book available on Amazon and in some area bookstores, but until then, they can be ordered directly from him on the website.
Ballinger has several projects on the horizon, including a graphic novel for kids, a kooky vintage cookbook, and a sequel to his zombie anthology. Don't get your hopes up though: none of them are slated to be scratch-and-sniff books, so you'll just have to conjure up the smell of rotting zombie flesh all on your own.