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Playdates Rule! by Rob McClurkan [Behind the Book]

last updated 21 November 2017


Author/illustrator: Rob McClurkan

In his latest author-illustrated book, Playdates Rule! (Bloomsbury), Bright Artist Rob McClurkan taps into old childhood memories of mischief and mayo sandwiches. Read on for more about how Rob tells stories through pictures, bringing ideas from his brain to the page. It’s time to start planning your next playdate!


Playdates Rule! is on sale now!

What was the original inspiration for Playdates Rule!?

Playdates Rule! was inspired by my best neighborhood friend growing up. One summer day, we were running around and jumping into a kiddie pool. I got a good running start, and the momentum I had generated propelled me straight through the pool. I have always been amazed that I was able to bust a giant hole in one of those things. That’s some thick, hard plastic. Since we could no longer play in the pool, we went inside and made peanut butter mayonnaise lettuce and raisin sandwiches. Yes, it was a real thing, and we thought it was delicious.


A strapping young Rob causing mischief with his playdate buddy, Finley

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing and illustrating Playdates Rule!, and how did you persevere?

Writing is the toughest part for me. I have found that a criticism group is especially helpful in brainstorming your way out of a writer’s block. Getting other eyes on the story, including my agent’s, helped me to see what was working and what wasn’t. I did quite a few versions of the book some with subtle changes and others where I took out complete sections and started over. Initially, Finley the Elephant jumped into a pool (inspired by actual events). I ended up losing it in the final version of the story, though.


An early sketch from Playdates Rule! (inspired by real events)

What do you find are the major differences between working strictly as an illustrator on a project vs. as an author-illustrator, where you originate both the text and the images?

When writing and illustrating a book, the characters, words, and pictures all unfold at the same time. I’m with the story from the beginning.

When I receive a manuscript to illustrate, I usually read the story several times to catch the vision. My first read through is rather fast, just so I can get the overall idea. In the next read through, I slow down and start making notes and even some quick thumbnails.


An early sketch, then a finished illustration from Playdates Rule!

If you have to choose, do you identify more with Ezra or Finley in Playdates Rule!?

There is a bit of me in both characters, but if I have to choose, I would say Finley the Elephant. I was a bit accident-prone when no adult was looking… Like the time I crashed my friend’s dad’s riding mower into a tree. Or the time I fell out of a tree onto my head. Or the time I was pretending to drive my grandmother’s car… I took it out of the park and crashed it into a tree. I spent a lot of time in trees or near trees. Or there was the time I washed my friend’s parents contact lenses down the drain. (This may or may not have happened. I can neither confirm nor deny.) Or maybe it was the time I accidentally set fire to the carpet.

Let’s just say I needed adult supervision…

rob as kid

Young Rob McClurkan sporting two fabulous getups

What stories or artists were you most inspired by as a child? How do you think that early inspiration has impacted your work today?

Great question! As an early reader, I enjoyed the Dr. Suess Beginner Book Series. Some of my favorites were The Digging-est Dog, A Fish Out of Water, and Go Dog Go! I also loved Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff and The Magical Drawings of Moony B. Finch by David McPhail. The story was about a boy whose drawings came to life.

I was also a big fan of reading the comics page in the Sunday paper. I collected old Sunday funny papers for a while. I have a few from the late 1930’s. I have always enjoyed creating characters and telling stories. I tried my hand at comic strips in high school, college, and then webcomics before I got into illustration and picture books.


“It was a joy to find a publisher like Bloomsbury who appreciated Rob’s humor as he so aptly captures what parents feel as their little ones created unexpected mayhem at home with their new playmate—they are a wonderful publisher for Rob’s hilarious story!”

– Rob’s Bright agent, Anne Moore Armstrong

Click here for a downloadable playdate invite with Finley and Ezra!

What book projects do you have coming up on the horizon that you’re working on and are most excited about?

Lucy Loves Goosey comes out in December with Little Bee Books. I just wrapped up Tough Tug (Two Lions), which will be released in March 2018. I can’t wait to see those books in the wild. I am also illustrating another fun story called Sloth to the Rescue with Running Press, and continuing to write my own stories featuring a whole host of fun characters and situations, like a bus full of boisterous dogs, a very disgruntled ram. My Bright agent, Anne Moore Armstrong and I are developing those now.


If you’d like to work with Rob McClurkan, you can contact him via his agent, Anne Moore Armstrong, here.


And to hear more from Rob as he discusses his journey as an author/illustrator, tune into his episode on the SquaredCo podcast here.

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