Kermit the frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.”
But if you’re orange, don’t even think about trying to find a word that can rhyme with you.
That’s the dilemma facing the pumpkin-colored protagonist of a new children’s book – Orange Porange – the work of two teammates at the Birmingham creative agency o2ideas.
Orange is downhearted because all of the colors he meets can recite words that rhyme beautifully with them.
Take Red, who cruises by on roller skates, shouting “Red, Head, Sled, Bed!”
Or Brown, who exclaims, “Brown, Clown, Frown, Town!” while scooting past on a skateboard.
But what in the world does Orange rhyme with? Nothing.
Orange has moved from frustration to anger to near despair when Purple shows up. Lo and behold, their impossible-to-rhyme names put the two in a category of their own. They join in a joyous, back-and-forth-chorus of nonsense words: “Yurple … Zurple! Yorange … Zorange!” and on and on.
Author Howard Pearlstein, chief creative officer at o2ideas, said the message for young children is a simple but important one: No matter how different or isolated from others you feel, there’s someone out there who is probably dealing with the same things you are. In other words, you’re not alone.
“There is definitely the theme of feeling different and isolated. But at the end of the book, there is acceptance,” Pearlstein said.
And during an extraordinary time when diversity and inclusion are front and center in the national discourse, the book is particularly timely.
“We all have something unique in ourselves – but it is exactly this uniqueness that makes the world better,” Pearlstein said.
Rob Hardison, a senior art director at o2ideas, took on the task of illustrating Pearlstein’s modern fable. At the time, Hardison’s wife was pregnant with the couple’s first child. “That was an inspiration,” Hardison said. “What a great way to do something for my future child.”
The characters he created for the book are deceptively basic: bold, blobish splashes of color with stick legs, and yet with remarkably expressive faces, drawn with short strokes of black line, dashes and dots.
“We wanted them to be simple – almost like a kid’s Crayon drawing of circles of color,” Hardison explained.
The characters interact in front of an unadulterated, sky-blue backdrop, which keeps the focus on their actions and their spare dialogue.
“One of our friends read it to their 3-year-old and he resonated well with the characters’ simple expressions,” Hardin said. “He was able to sympathize with Orange’s plight.”
The book’s palette was inspired by a series of travel illustrations of France, Greece and the Netherlands that Hardison was using to decorate his daughter’s nursery. “I borrowed a little bit from that,” he said.
Pearlstein praised his artistic partner and the power behind the simple illustrations.
“It takes a lot of talent to give these shapes as much depth as they have,” Pearlstein said. Indeed, publisher Marshall Cavendish immediately embraced the illustrations. Unlike many children’s book purveyors, the Singapore-based publisher asks its authors to find their own illustrators. In this case, Pearlstein went no farther than Hardison’s office down the hall.
Their combined talents have created a book that works for both the adults reading the tale to a preschooler and for beginner readers sounding out the words on their own.
“The target is little kids – and adult kids,” Hardison quipped.
It is the first book for both men, who have been working in the creative agency world for decades.
A California native, Pearlstein and his wife began searching for a place with a bit of a slower pace to raise their three daughters. He eventually landed at o2ideas in Birmingham.
Hardison, a native of Virginia, was a military brat who also worked at multiple agencies in several states before a job opportunity brought him to Birmingham in 2006. So began a creative collaboration between the two men that has lasted for almost 15 years.
Pearlstein said the process of getting a book published was a giant learning curve. It started more than two years ago when he acknowledged he was feeling “out of balance.”
“I had devoted so much of my creative life to clients,” Pearlstein said. The time was right, he decided, to put some of that energy toward a more personal creative project – writing a children’s story.
With no experience in the book world, he said he basically “Googled” his way – with many pauses and rejections along the way – to finding a publisher.
Since then, Pearlstein has sold two more children’s book manuscripts to different publishers. They are scheduled to hit the bookstores in 2021 and 2022.
He continues to work on stories, while still working his day job.
“Having a publisher offer a contract for ‘Orange Porange’ helped me to realize that I can do this,” Pearlstein said. “And I’ve been writing nonstop ever since.”