Dr. Soot

By Tk Published on .

Copywriter Erik Jon Slangerup joined Columbus, Ohio, pharmaceutical shop Gerbig, Snell/Weisheimer & Associates four months ago, but that's not the big news for him this year. It pales in comparison to the publication of his first children's book: Dirt Boy, new from Albert Whitman & Co. Slangerup, 30, says he always wanted to write children's books, even before he had kids (his sons are ages 6 and 4), and he has a collection of rejection letters to prove it. "I don't even have an agent," he chuckles. "I've been giddy about this for months."

Dirt Boy is the story of Fister Farnello, who loves to get dirty and hates to get clean. One day, before his maternally-enforced bathtime, he runs away, gets lost in the woods and is befriended by a filthy giant known as Dirt Man. The two become befouled buddies till Dirt Man tries to devour Dirt Boy, which sends Fister running back to his mother -- who doesn't recognize him till he gets a major hosedown.

Slangerup's sons were key in the creative process, of course. "They're both filthy, but the older one inspired the book," he says. "He came in from playing outside one day and sat on my lap; he had that ripe smell, that mixture of sweat and dirt, but he was completely oblivious to it." Eureka! "I'm fascinated by kids' lack of social hangups. I told my son he had bad breath one time, and he was proud. He went around blowing it on everything."

Slangerup himself, in contrast, is on the tidy side. He's a California-born Mormon who studied advertising at Brigham Young University. "On campus, there was a strict dress code," he recalls. "This book is a rebellion for me." Moreover, he remains a practicing Mormon; "No alcohol, coffee, tea or tobacco -- but I only have one wife."

His next book idea: Cooking for Ogres. Again, "there's an underlying threat of being eaten," he notes. "It's a big fear for kids. It's a big fear for me." But it's not a problem. His agency advertises Prozac, but he doesn't need it, he's a jolly guy. "You can take Prozac, or just put me in the room," he laughs.

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