Growing up in the small neighborhood of Ware Acres in Longview, Texas, there were lots of kids on every street and we usually gravitated to whoever’s yard was best suited for tackle football. That is until ONE kid got a big round trampoline in his backyard. Kyle suddenly became everyone’s favorite neighbor! Back then there weren’t protective walls around trampolines or even protective padding covering the springs. Nope. You had to jump up straight or you were going over the edge and onto the ground, or worst of all—down through the springs! Throw 4 or 5 rambunctious boys onto a trampoline and it didn’t take long for bodies to go flying! But we somehow survived with no broken bones.
I never had a trampoline of my own, but as soon as I had a house and my first kid—my wife and I bought a trampoline for our large backyard. We had a lot of fun on that thing until we decided to sell our house and move overseas. We never had a backyard during our years in China. First of all, houses in China are really apartment homes in tall buildings. In addition, green grass was a rare commodity and could only be found in small patches scattered throughout our city. By the time we returned to Texas at the beginning of 2020 due to COVID concerns, one thing everyone in our family could appreciate was having a backyard again. And one thing everybody wanted was a trampoline! So we ended up with two: one in my mom’s backyard (whose house we visited at least twice a month) and another in my in-law’s backyard where we were living. Trampolines are great, especially big ones, and especially when you are quarantined to your house for up to 10 days at a time. Needless to say, our whole family spent a lot of time together on trampolines during 2020 and 2021. But none more than our 5-year-old daughter. She could spend hours on the trampoline, but not just bouncing and jumping. No, for her it was like a fort or castle that she would fill up with her toys and dolls because “they want to bounce too, daddy!”
During one particular quarantine marathon from her PreK school, my daughter and I found ourselves in the backyard on the trampoline once again. However it wasn’t long before my lower back started to ache and so instead of jumping, I laid on my back and rested. When my daughter begged me to jump again I was inspired to come up with a new form of entertainment (and quick!) and that is how “Steamroller” was born (you can read more about the trampoline game in The Cloud Riders). On another sunny, but windy afternoon, my daughter and I were lying on our backs on the trampoline just watching the birds and airplanes flying by in the sky. Then we noticed a cloud pass by directly overhead. It was moving fast. And that is when my daughter said “I wish we could ride on a cloud daddy!” And that was the moment the wheels in my head started turning and the first scenes of The Cloud Riders began to take shape in my mind.
Originally, this story was about a little girl and her daddy, but then one day my daughter looked at me and told me that she missed her Papaw and especially the way he had picked her up and lifted her high in the air above him. At 6’4”, that was pretty high! Her Papaw, my step-dad, had passed away in the middle of 2021 and our daughter talked about him often — sharing some of her favorite but simple memories and guessing about his life up in heaven. It was during one of the conversations that I decided to make the story about a little girl and her grandpa — Chloe and Papaw.
Like so many of the stories I am writing these days, they ended up traveling to China because of Papaw’s (fictional) history there and because that is where he had met his wife, Chloe’s Granny. But with a cloud that can go anywhere, who wouldn’t want to also go on an elevated Safari ride over Africa?! Those were some fun scenes to imagine and write about.
I think just as exciting and fulfilling as writing The Cloud Riders has been seeing the story come to life through the illustrations of my niece, Madi Davis, and then Michaela Bedard. It wasn’t long into writing this story that I knew it absolutely needed to include artwork. First, I reached out to my niece who is a missionary with YWAM and loves to draw. We hashed out an initial plan and agreement and she got right to work, sending me rough sketches that I loved. The only problem was that she had just started a new semester of missionary training school and was soon to embark on an overseas mission trip and so she didn’t really have the time to invest nor would she be able to meet the deadline I was aiming for. So that’s when I did a random search online for new artists and came across the resume page for Michaela Bedard. Around that time I was also wrapping up work on The Angry Little Cowboy and was in need of a cover design and background. Michaela’s page had the PERFECT background image so I reached out to ask her for permission to use it. She agreed to produce something new but very similar and I was so thrilled with what she created for me that it made perfect sense to pitch The Cloud Riders as our next joint project. This was my first time collaborating with an artist so I don’t really know if my experience was typical or not, but I can say that Michaela was amazing to work with and I couldn’t be happier with the end result. She has definitely helped bring The Cloud Riders to life!
In the end, I hope The Cloud Riders entertains as well as resonates with young readers who love (and maybe miss) their own grandmas and grandpas. It’s been fun and meaningful to read this story to my daughter over and over again and then wonder together about just how high and fast Papaw is soaring around heaven today.
And finally, if you’re wondering whether or not Chloe and Papaw’s exciting adventure in the clouds was real or just a dream — that’s what I’m wondering too. Life is full of mysteries!