Who Pooped in Central Park? Scat and Tracks for Kids has its origins in a much more rural setting. In 2002, author Gary Robson was on his ranch in Montana, near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, examining a pile of torn-up hay. His children asked him what had torn up the hay. Robson proceeded to explain it was deer, not cows, by showing them the tracks and scat of the animals. His kids suggested that’s what he write his next book about, and he came up with a title idea: “Who Pooped on the Ranch?” Up until that point Robson had written mostly technical books, and was excited by this new path.
“The first few places I pitched it to laughed and said no,” said Robson. Then he tried pitching another title, a serious book about mining disasters to Kathy Springmeyer, acquisitions editor at Farcountry Press. “She said it wasn’t a fit but asked me if I had any other ideas.” Robson told her about Who Pooped on the Ranch? and she said, “Take that off your ranch and put it in Yellowstone National Park and send me a proposal.”
Robson did just that and in two days they had ironed out a deal, which included another book set in Glacier National Park and one in Grand Teton National Park. All three titles came out in 2004, and the first printing of 7,500 copies of the Yellowstone title sold out in less than two months. The series has sold more than 400,000 copies to date, with almost a quarter of that from the Yellowstone book.
After 19 titles in the series, Robson has decided to tackle a more urban location: Central Park. Who Pooped in Central Park? (Farcountry Press, May 24) brings the theme of discovering animals through their scat to a city environment.
Central Park proved to be a unique challenge as it differs greatly from the other locations in the series. While the other titles feature two children, Michael and Emily, and their parents visiting national parks or conservancies, for Who Pooped in Central Park? Robson eliminated the parent characters, and created four kids who get dropped off at the Central Park Zoo and decide to take a walk through the park instead. Robson and the illustrator relied on a wealth of online photos, and utilized the Central Park Conservancy’s collaboration with Google Street View by featuring a walkthrough of the paths in the park.
Working closely with park staff is indispensable for Robson’s work on the series. “I’m working with the ranger staff and park management to make sure they’re happy with what I’m doing,” he says. “For example, in Yellowstone, if the ranger staff didn’t like the book it wouldn’t sell. I wanted to have the same relationship with Central Park. So that means I have to listen to what the conservancy says and work with the people there.”
Central Park is also unique in that as an artificial ecosystem. Robson says it experiences more rapid changes than other parks he’s written about. “I had bunny rabbits in the book but I had to remove them because there are no more rabbits in Central Park. Short of something like the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone Park, you don’t see major significant animals that appear and disappear out of nowhere like you do in Central Park.”
Robson has also been the longtime bookstore owner of Red Lodge Tea and Books in Red Lodge, Mont., which he bought in 2001. Owning the store gave him insight into what kids like to read and gave him access to many people in the trade. “Had I not been buying books from Farcountry Press and known a bunch of their staff, I don’t think I would have had the guts to pick up the phone and call the acquisitions editor,” said Robson. He also says that Springmeyer’s suggestion of placing the book in Yellowstone is what made it all work. Robson is closing Red Lodge Books and Tea this June in order to manage the Billings Bookstore Cooperative in downtown Billings, Mont., which bought the entire inventory of Robson’s store. Robson said he likes taking on new challenges, and after owning Red Lodge Books & Tea for 15 years, this new venture was an offer he couldn’t refuse – managing a bigger store within a bigger city. Plus, the cooperative model appeals to him.
He also loves the interaction he has with his readers. “The feedback from kids isn’t what got me started writing them, but it’s what keeps me writing them,” he says. “Now that it’s been over 10 years I’m starting to get some feedback I never expected to hear. I was doing a signing in Yellowstone one summer and two young women in their 20s were walking across the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn, recognized me [Robson was wearing a Who Pooped in the Park? t-shirt], and one of them squealed and came over and said your books helped me learn to read. I was about ready to cry.” Robson will get more of that interaction when he goes on his first tour in the New York City area from June 24–28. Plans for that tour are still in the works.
Robson – who grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and has a deep connection to nature – says he hopes that Who Pooped in Central Park? can show children “who may not have the opportunity to visit wilderness areas, bits of wilderness that can be found even in the hearts of the biggest cities.”
Who Pooped in Central Park? Scat and Tracks for Kids by Gary Robson, illus. by Robert Rath. Farcountry Press, $11.95 May 24 978-1-56037-654-5