Harry, a white dog with black spots who hates baths, made his first appearance back in 1956 in Harry the Dirty Dog, a picture book created by husband-and-wife collaborators Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham, published by Harper & Row.
Harry reappeared in No Roses for Harry! (1958), Harry and the Lady Next Door (1960), and Harry by the Sea (1965). And after more than a half-century, Harry will return on January 5, when HarperCollins releases Harry and the Guinea Pig, written and illustrated in the style of Zion and Graham by Nancy Lambert and Saba Joshaghani. This duo will also create two new I Can Read titles starring Harry.
Despite the hiatus, Harry has retained a strong presence in the picture-book marketplace. All of the titles he headlines have remained in print, with combined sales of more than seven million copies worldwide. Harry the Dirty Dog has been recognized by the National Education Association as an all-time top-100 children’s book, and made a new splash this year, when actor Betty White’s reading of the story on “StorylineOnline” was viewed more than eight million times.
Before There Was Harry…
Zion and Graham were active on the New York City publishing scene during the mid-20th century. The two met while working as designers at Condé Nast after Graham moved to the city from her native Toronto in 1942, and they married in 1948.
The couple reportedly became friends with Curious George creators H.R. and Margret Rey, and the latter introduced Graham to Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Row.
Zion, inspired by a drawing that Graham made of children in an apple orchard, soon penned his first picture book, All Falling Down, which Graham illustrated and Harper & Row released. Their debut collaboration won a Caldecott Honor in 1952, an accolade the illustrator earned again the following year for The Storm Book, written by Charlotte Zolotow.
Zion and Graham worked together on a total of 13 picture books until their divorce in 1966, with Harry the Dirty Dog and its sequels leading the pack, critically as well as commercially. After their marriage ended, Zion (who died in 1975 at the age of 62), did not write any more picture books, but Graham moved to Cambridge, Mass., and continued her illustration work. She died in 2015 at 94.
Tamar Mays, executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, explained that the idea of giving Harry a new incarnation had been brewing for some time. Harry and the Guinea Pig was initiated by Margaret Anastas before she left HarperCollins for Viking in fall 2019, after which Mays took over the project.
In the book, Harry is not at all pleased when his boy and girl begin paying more attention to the neighbor’s guinea pig than to him—and is especially miffed when they insist on bringing the adorable creature to show-and-tell, where Harry accidentally causes it to get loose.
Mays explained that the challenge of creating Harry and the Guinea Pig was finding the right story and an author and illustrator whose work reflects the spirit of the original books—and captures their humor.
“There was real kismet in the combination of Margaret’s illustrations and Zion’s writing,” she said. “They created such an exuberant and mischievous character, and the stories are so timeless and so very relatable to readers—as is Harry and the Guinea Pig. It’s essentially a story about sibling rivalry, after all. What kid with a sibling can’t relate to that? I think Nancy Lambert and Saba Joshaghani have done a wonderful job doing homage to the work of the original collaborators.”
As a postscript, the editor noted that she is happy that the new book’s publication so closely aligns with the centennial of Graham’s birth. “It’s lovely to think that Margaret would be in her 100th year now,” Mays said. “I think Margaret would be very pleased with this book.”
Harry and the Guinea Pig, based on the character created by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham, written by Nancy Lambert, illus. by Saba Joshaghani. HarperCollins, $17.99 Jan. 2021 ISBN 978-0-06-274773-0