December 22, 2010 10:00 AM

Courtesy Very Awesome World

Two years ago, author Dallas Clayton (below) self-published his first tome, An Awesome Book! ($16), to major acclaim. The colorful picture book, which he made available online, was a hit with everyone — and he was in, well, awe.

“I just made it for my son,” Clayton tells PEOPLE Moms & Babies. “Having it go online and sort of catch fire, and sell out… those are the kinds of things you wish for when you write a book about dreaming big. But you don’t understand the scope of it until someone from a country you’ve never been to is writing you and saying they’ve read your book to their child. It’s unbelievable.”

To say thanks, and to further his mission of encouraging children to chase their dreams, Clayton released his second work, An Awesome Book of Thanks! (AmazonEncore, $17), in October.

“When I would go on tour and read to kids at schools, I realized that the missing half to the concept was that you not only have to dream big, but be thankful for all of the things that happen along the way,” he says. “I wanted it to serve as a complement to that.”

The colorful book expresses thanks for everything — animals, people and ‘the bad things’ too — and teaches children to be grateful for all of life’s ups and downs, because they make us stronger people.

Courtesy Very Awesome World

Clayton says his son Audio Science, 7, understands the themes of his works, which makes them extra-special.

“It’s really amazing to be able to have a career, so to speak, that affords me the luxury of sharing it with my son,” he says, adding that he takes Audio on tour with him when he does readings at schools. “He’s seeing how other people live, and that’s very important. It’s totally changed our relationship.”

Part of Clayton’s mission is to share his message with others, which he does through his Awesome World Foundation. For every copy of An Awesome World! purchased through his site, he donates one book to charity.

While touring schools to promote the book, Clayton says he pictured himself “being the kid in the classroom who can’t afford the book. So giving it away proved to be something that just makes sense. If you’re going to talk to kids about it, make sure it provides for a better future.”

His generosity — and popularity — have caught on, earning him raves from Gwyneth Paltrow (she mentioned him on her blog GOOP!), Sarah Jessica Parker, Justin Timberlake and even Casey Affleck, who used An Awesome Book! in a scene of his Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary, I’m Still Here. “That was the weirdest possible, most surreal moment,” Clayton says, laughing.

But more than the attention, he just appreciates the fact that his message is reaching others. “This wasn’t necessarily written for kids or adults,” he shares. “Everyone can relate to this, regardless of age, race, where they live. Everyone has an experience about dreaming. Five-year-olds have dreams, and 35-year-olds have dreams, too.”

Kate Hogan

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