Rules of the House

Written by Mac Barnett • Disney Hyperion, 2016.

Sibling rivalry, a spooky cabin in the woods, and monsters. What could go wrong? What could be more fun to draw?


Making scary fun

I recently joined Mac Barnett on several school visits, and while he read his story aloud I watched a hundred kids react to a bear rug, tub, and potbelly stove as they attempt to catch and eat children. A boy clapped his hands over his ears, eyes wide. A girl covered her eyes with her hands, ears wide. All wanted to know what happened next. 

Painting spooky pictures is quite a challenge. It's easy to go too far, or not far enough. I tried to make the monsters a bit goofy, so that if you saw them in broad daylight they would look ridiculous. The haunted house needed to be a nice, tidy cabin, free of cobwebs. 

Scroll down for early sketches from the book.   Click on any image to enlarge it. 

Ian's Room • Oil on illustration board

Rulebreaker Soup • Oil on illustration board

Reading the Map • Detail from a larger illustration. Oil on illustration board

Brandishing the Toothbrush • Oil on illustration board

Nocturnal Intruders • Oil on illustration board

The Red Door Opens • Oil on illustration board

Thanks, Brother • Oil on illustration board

The Tub • Oil on illustration board

Ian's Decision • Oil on illustration board

Wood Box • Oil on illustration board


A very early sketch of Ian, Jenny, and the Bear Rug. I was still figuring out where the actual sign with the Rules of the House should go. I got rid of the fireplace, since one of the characters is a wood stove.

Ian was originally much more nerdy; more of a caricature than a character.

Ian was originally much more nerdy; more of a caricature than a character.

The bear rug was the most fun to draw. Since he has no skeleton, he naturally flops around when he moves, turning inside out.

The bear got a bit too rabid in a few of my sketches. Spooky is fun. Terrifying? Not so much. Making kids cry is not a good marketing strategy.