Nearly50 years ago, Bernard Waber introduced a lovable crocodile named Lyle in The House on East 88th Street. Lyle wasa big hit with readers: that inaugural picture book and seven subsequent Lylethe Crocodile books have sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.Now, 12 years after his last book appearance, Lyle returns in Lyle Walks the Dogs: A Counting Book writtenby Bernard Waber and illustrated by his daughter, Paulis Waber, who is makingher children's book debut. Aimed at a younger audience than the earlier Lylestories, the book will be published (as have all the others, by Houghton Mifflin)next month.
Lyle Walks the Dogs, in which industriousLyle lands a job as dog walker for 10 diverse canines, is the first Lyle title Bernard Waber hasn't illustrated. For thelast few years, the creator of more than 30 children's books has been unable toillustrate due to failing eyesight, a result of macular degeneration. Hisdecision to pass the reins over to his artist daughter Paulis was hardlysudden.
"Ithink it's always been in the back of my head to have her take over with Lyle,but it was precipitated when I developed macular generation," he explains. "Ialways wanted Paulis choose her own direction with her writing and illustratingand didn't want to burden her with something I'd done. But she said she wasinterested in doing it and happy to do it."
"Asan artist myself, and as someone very involved in my father's work, this seemeda natural step for me to take," Paulis concurs. "For a long time we had talkedabout doing something together, and then as his vision began failing we gotmore serious about it. And he had talked for a while about doing some Lylebooks for younger readers, so that's how LyleWalks the Dogs came to be."
Paulisconcedes that stepping into the role of Lyle's illustrator was intimidating."My father's talent, the fact that Lyle was his original creation, and thegreat popularity of these books did create apprehension for me," she says. Yetshe notes that a number of things helped ease her concern. "One was mycloseness to Lyle," she notes. "He really does somehow remind me of my father,and he's been a part of my life for so long that he seems very real. He is sosweet, self-effacing, and concerned with other people. Doing this book, ithelped that I knew Lyle so well because I know my father so well."
AfterBernard wrote the story, Paulis contributed her ideas (though she remarks thatthe final decisions were "totally my father's"). They then spent quite a bit oftime walking the streets and parks of New York, taking photos of dogs and their owners, whichPaulis used to help create her watercolor, ink, and pencil illustrations. Shealso drew from her father's descriptions of what Lyle's face would look like invarious situations-often he'd make the face himself to demonstrate.
Bernard'sopen-minded approach to Paulis's art for the book also helped alleviate herapprehension about following in his footsteps. She recalls that he shared agreat deal with her about how he had created his Lyle books. "He was alwayssaying that he refined and changed his techniques so much that there reallywasn't any exact way to illustrate Lyle," she says. "His willingness to seeLyle continue to evolve as the work emerged from my hands was very reassuring.He never made me feel that I had to work exactly in his style in order tosuccessfully capture Lyle and his world."
Creatingthis book (which Paulis notes was also facilitated by the enthusiasm andsupport of her husband, as well as the book's editor, Mary Wilcox, and artdirector Scott Magoon) was not without some sadness. "It's a little sad knowingthat illustrating books, which means so much to my father and to which he'smade such a contribution, is not available to him now," she says. "But he stillhas the stories and the interest, so I am happy I can lessen that sadness a bitby picking up his work and continuing it."
Bernard,who with the aid of magnifying equipment was able to see his daughter'srenderings of Lyle, knew early on that Paulis had captured the essence of thepopular croc. "Oh, she did that very well," he says. "I didn't envy her thisjob, since it was a big challenge. I think it took a lot of courage, but I knewthat she could do it."
Inaddition to assuming the mantle of Lyle's illustrator, Paulis has inherited thepaint-spattered drawing board on which her father worked for decades (and whichhe's replaced with an updated light board). "It is very comforting to have hisdrawing board," she remarks. "You can see splotches of green paint on it andknow that is Lyle. I am delighted to work on it."
Bernardand Paulis are now collaborating on a second Lyle story for preschoolers, Lyle, Lyle, Hello, Hello. Due fromHoughton Mifflin in fall 2011, it takes Lyle on an excursion through New York City. And theWabers expect they will work on subsequent Lyle adventures together. Paulisalso hopes that the book projects she has developed on her own over the years,while raising three children, will be published "and take on a life of theirown."
Topay homage to her father, Paulis has replicated the art Bernard created for thededication page of The House on East 88thStreet on the dedication page of LyleWalks the Dogs. Bernard dedicated that 1962 book to Paulis; the two havededicated the new book to each other. "My father and I have always been greatfriends and doing this book together added a new dimension of collaboration toa relationship I've always found harmonious and sustaining," says Paulis.
Topromote the book, which has a 25,000-copy first printing, Houghton Mifflin hascreated postcards and a new Lyle costume that is available to booksellersplanning events. The Wabers are scheduled to visit several New York City bookstores, including Books ofWonder, which will host a launch party on May 22.
Lyle Walks the Dogs byBernard Waber, illus. by Paulis Waber. Houghton Mifflin, $12.99 May ISBN978-0-547-22323-0