Alumni Stories

Dan Santat: Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator, storyteller and Beekle creator

BFA 01 Illustration

Dan Santat has worked with a number of high-profile authors over the years, but has long desired to get more of his own stories out into the world. He dove headfirst into his freelance work, even turning down a lucrative job offer at Google working for the tech giant’s Doodle team because it wouldn’t afford him the time to work on his personal projects.

I told myself I needed to work on my brand harder than I’ve ever worked for any company.

Dan Santat

“When I said ‘no’ to Google I gave myself this condition, something that my instructor Rob Clayton had advised us to do at ArtCenter,” Santat said. “I told myself I needed to work on my brand harder than I’ve ever worked for any company.”

His resulting book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend , was awarded the American Library Association’s (ALA) Caldecott Medal for 2015 and will be coming to life in an animated film for Dreamworks, written and directed by Oscar-nominated director of Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, Jason Reitman.

Beekle tells the story of an imaginary friend who, tired of waiting to be chosen by a real child, sets off on a magical journey to find his perfect match. When he finally finds his human, he’s given his special name: Beekle.

The name has special meaning for Santat—it was his older son Alek’s first word, for ‘bicycle.’

“The book was my way of saying to my son, ‘Welcome to the world. I’ve loved you before we even met,’” Santat said.

In its awarding of the Caldecott to Beekle, the ALA praised Santat’s “fine details, kaleidoscopic saturated colors, and exquisite curved and angular lines” to “masterfully convey the emotional essence of this special childhood relationship.”

Caldecott medal committee chair Junko Yokota added, “Santat makes the unimaginable, imaginable.”

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