Say Yes to the Best: Mazza Artist Tom Lichtenheld’s Yes Day! Becomes a Film
For most kids, there is a constant yearning to be able to do things that grownups get to do if they so choose: spend money when and how you want, eat cookies for breakfast, jump up and down on your bed until you’re exhausted; things like that. However, every kid also knows that when you’re a grown adult and do these things you don’t have immediate repercussions waiting in the form of a hawkeyed parent breathing down your neck, ready to swoop down with an emphatic and final “No!”
What if kids had the opportunity for a 24-hour period wherein they could make the rules, ask to do crazy things, and have their parents give them an automatic, positive response? That is the idea behind Yes Day!, a book written by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which has now been made into a Netflix motion picture starring Jennifer Garner, and is set to be released on March 12, 2021.
The idea for the book was hatched several years ago, when Lichtenheld, who donated his life’s work to University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum in 2018, thought of the premise for a whole village where the answer was always yes. He took the idea to Rosenthal, with whom he worked regularly, the pair bouncing ideas off of each other until the right inspiration hit them. “Amy said that her dad used to observe a day with the kids where he said yes to all of their requests,” Lichtenheld explained. “That seemed like a better idea.” As a result of that discussion, the duo created and eventually published Yes Day! in 2009.
It is a concept book, said Lichtenheld, in which there is “just a little bit of a story arc,” and where a question is asked on one page, leaving readers needing to turn to the next page for the answer, an answer that is shown more than told. “That was done deliberately,” Lichtenheld said. “It was really tempting to put the word yes in the book, but we thought it was better if kids got to figure it out and it also challenged us to be more visual anyway.”
Now, with the book having been made into a major motion picture, Lichtenheld said that he’s both flattered and honored that there was interest in making the film. One of the stars of the Netflix movie, Jennifer Garner, made it known a few years back that she was a big fan of the book when she began posting Yes Day activities with her own children on her Instagram account. Lichtenheld remembered, upon seeing her posts, being immediately impressed with her candor. The way in which she posted the pictures of her life with her children after a Yes Day, where she looked justifiably exhausted and untouched by the glamour of Hollywood, was something that stuck with him. Coincidentally, it was a couple of years after when Lichtenheld’s agent let him know that a production company was interested in making a movie.
Lichtenheld said that he can’t help but think of how Rosenthal, who died of ovarian cancer in 2017, would be “so tickled” about the movie, and of how much Garner makes him think of her. He met Garner at a fundraiser in Chicago where she read from the Yes Day! book. “Just from seeing and meeting her briefly, I could tell that their personalities would mesh well,” he said. “Both were grounded and bubbly. The fact that [Garner] even just came to that fundraiser was enough. She’s a good person.” Rosenthal, he said, was equally as good. In honor of Rosenthal, when Lichtenheld was at the Mazza Museum in 2018, he created a drawing on the wall of a Mazza Museum office in memory of her. “She changed my life. I was doing books, but not having much success. When I met her, things really took off.”
This current period of life, when everyone is slowly starting to realize the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic being over, might just be the perfect time, Lichtenfeld suggested, for the release of the movie. “We’re definitely ready to visualize what life can be like getting out there and doing whatever we want again,” he said. “We’re now seeing the vaccines being distributed and we can all maybe give ourselves over a little bit to at least entertaining the idea of doing those things.”
While he said he realizes it’s easy for him to say, as he doesn’t have children, Lichtenheld thinks that much of the message behind the story is that parents, perhaps, might be able to benefit from finding more opportunities to lighten up on their kids in the current time period. “There are so many more restraints now,” he said. “My mom would open the door, point outside, and say ‘come home before sun comes up.’ We can’t do that, particularly right now. It’s obviously a different time, but maybe it’s even more important to think about really listening to kids and, if possible, doing what they want, just because they want it.”
“Yes Day!” is a story of one day indulgences and the joys of family and friendship. It appeals to the good people in all of us, at a time when we, many of us, as parents, are having to make difficult decisions amidst locking down and shutting off, leaving us feeling not so good about ourselves, as a result. But, if we can take the story of the book, and now the movie, and see what a shot of positivity in the form of affirmative approval can do, it might very well make a difference, something Mazza Director Ben Sapp said might lead to a change of disposition for the downtrodden. “This movie, Sapp said, “as a reflection of the book, is needed now more than ever, and, regardless of the format it gets shared and released in, will leave everyone forever grateful.”
And who wouldn’t say yes to that?
The Mazza Museum will soon have Yes Day! hardcover books, autographed by Tom, available for purchase. Contact us to reserve your copy by emailing [email protected]. The cost for the autographed book is $14.99 + tax. Orders will be taken through March 12.