When Mark Ceilley shared that his next book was a picture book officially licensed with Queer Eye, the television show now streaming on Netflix, we were curious about the experience of writing for a well-known brand with well-known men who are makeover consultants.
In the book, The Fab Five — Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Tan France, and Jonathan Van Ness — are portrayed as children who already have their fabulous talents. When they meet a young boy, Mason, who is feeling fearful of inviting friends to a birthday slumber party, the Fab Five embark on a mission to help Mason build self-confidence and to prepare for the most amazing sleepover possible.
Mark Ceilley has taught Pre‑K, Kindergarten, First and Second grades and is currently a Reading Interventionist. He holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. His first book was Cinderelliot: A Scrumptious Fairytale, co-written with Rachel Smoka-Richardson and illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (Running Kids Press).
How did it come about that you wrote a story about The Fab Five, familiar to millions from the television show Queer Eye?
Mark: My editor, Julie Matysik, who I worked with on Cinderelliot: A Scrumptious Fairytale sent me an email in January 2022 asking me if I would be interested in writing the book.
Are you a fan of the show? Did you consciously incorporate their personalities into the story?
Mark: Yes, I am a big fan of the show! I love watching it! Before I wrote the first draft, I researched each of the Fab 5. I also watched many episodes. From my research I found interesting facts about each of them, their background, interests, etc. From watching the shows, I observed their mannerisms, gestures, and speech patterns. I took many notes. I then tried to incorporate real life characteristics into the boy characters in the story. I tried to bring out their personalities in a realistic, child-like way.
Since Queer Eye is a brand, what parameters did the publisher give you for the story?
Mark: The publisher gave me a general story line. So, I knew ahead of time what the plot would be and how each character would help Mason, the main character having a birthday party.
This picture book reads like an episode of Queer Eye for the elementary school reader and fan. What did your teacher self bring to the project?
Mark: In all of the picture books I’ve written (some are not published yet) I write it from a lens from both child and teacher. Since I’ve taught elementary school for over 25 years, I have a feel for how kids act, what they might say, and so on. My teacher self looks at a story wondering things such as would a child say or do that? Is that developmentally appropriate for a child of a certain age. I also looked at word count: would the story be too short /too long to keep their attention? Is there enough action and a variety of settings that kids would find interesting?
The book is light-hearted and fun and yet it has the emotional elements of the show: addressing fears, evoking confidence, taking pride in recognizing new skills. How much revision went into this manuscript to make it so heartwarming?
Mark: It took approximately three to four revisions until we got to the final manuscript. The revisions were minor such as word changes/deletions, clarifying a concept, and expanding the dialogue or actions of a character. All the edits and revisions made for a stronger and satisfying story. Writing this book was a wonderful experience for me. The whole process was collaborative. I am proud to be a part of writing a book that incorporates themes of friendship, kindness, coöperation, and building self-confidence.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Mark. So many of us are fans of the show … we’re in awe of your role in bringing a Fab Five story to kids and families. We love that it’s a confidence-building and talent-recognizing book, which is what Queer Eye is all about!
Queer Eye: Slumber Party Magic! A Fabulous Picture Book
written by Mark Ceilley
illustrated by James Jeffers
published by Running Press Kids / Hachette Book Group, 2023