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James Littlejohn’s son has “an insatiable appetite for books,” and one day as the two read and re-read books together, Littlejohn had an idea to write a children’s book about something that really matters to him: basketball.
“My love for basketball goes deep,” Littlejohn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the Deseret News. “I worship at a church with a basketball court in the middle of it, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
The book is called “B is for Baller: The Ultimate Basketball Alphabet,” and introduces kids to some of the greatest players to ever play the game. The book is not endorsed, affiliated or sponsored by the NBA or its teams but simply seeks to educate children about the people that Littlejohn calls “important historical figures.” For example, “M is for Malone.”
The Karl Malone page in “B is for Baller.” | Illustrated by Matthew Shipley
“High on the mountaintop, a postman’s on patrol. Watch out — when Karl sets a pick, it’s hard to slow the roll,” the book reads.
Littlejohn and the book’s illustrator, Matthew Shipley, have never met in person. Littlejohn lives in Los Angeles and Shipley lives in Durham, N.C. The two are both graduates of Brigham Young University. Littlejohn has a degree in communications and Shipley graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in illustration, but the two weren’t at BYU at the same time. They know of each other because of their individual involvement with HumorU, BYU’s stand-up comedy club. Through mutual friends, Littlejohn knew of Shipley’s talents with illustration, so when he had the idea for the book, he enlisted Shipley’s help. The two launched their Kickstarter on April 18 and reached its funding goal of $5,000 within three days. It has now raised over $11,000.
“My favorite thing about the project is probably that it combines sports and illustration, two of my favorite things,” Shipley, whose love for sports began with his father, said. “I love the challenge of figuring out how to best illustrate each player(s) to fit the corresponding letter. I haven’t finished all the illustrations yet, but Allen Iverson has been my favorite player for a long time, so if my favorite doesn’t end up being that illustration, I’ll be disappointed in myself.”
Their past experience in comedy shines through on the Kickstarter page both in a video that stars Littlejohn and his son (watch above), and in the text description of the campaign.
“Matthew Shipley’s been drawing and balling since he was a kid. He led his church ball team to multiple titles as an overweight but deceptively athletic teenager,” Shipley’s bio reads. “He now draws pictures as a less overweight, deceptively athletic illustrator.”
While the two had no previous experience in self-publishing or in launching a Kickstarter, they have been pleased with the campaign’s success.
“We both had to do a lot of research to try and figure everything out,” Shipley said. “If we started all over, I’m sure there are some things we would do differently, but overall we’re really happy and frankly, blown away, by how things are going.”
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