If indeed every dog has its day, Larry is surely having a swell one. The cartoon pup, who stars in 13 books by John Skewes, may well be in his heyday: the series has sold more than 140,000 copies since Sasquatch Books launched it in 2007 with Larry Gets Lost in Seattle, and books exploring six additional cities have followed.
Last April, Sasquatch released Larry Loves Seattle!, the first in a series of board books, and this month the traveling canine takes his first trip through time in Larry Gets Lost in Prehistoric Times: From Dinosaurs to the Stone Age.
The hardcover picture-book travelogues follow a similar plot thread: Larry visits a city with his young owner Pete’s family, loses his humans while dashing after a discarded morsel of food, and wanders through local landmarks searching for Pete – always successfully.
Seattle native Skewes first envisioned writing Larry Gets Lost in Seattle during a 10-year stint working as a character artist for Disney’s consumer products division in Los Angeles. “I think my time away from Seattle made the heart grow fonder, and the idea of a Seattle book began to germinate,” he said. “At the time, I had a dog who was very happy and guileless, but he always left a path of destruction behind him. He ate the interior of my car and broke out of gates, so I combined the visuals of Seattle with my dog’s personality to make the book.”
The author’s experience “doing all these imaginative things” at Disney inspired him to push the envelope artistically in Larry Gets Lost in Seattle and its sequels. “I felt that in earlier books about Seattle, artists defaulted to clichéd blues and greens when portraying the city. At Disney I learned that children don’t carry preconceptions about what things should be, and I believed I could visually interpret Seattle in crazy candy colors. I wanted to punch up the colors and let the book come from a cartoonish and whimsical place.”
As a first step, Skewes created a 13 x 19 inch mock-up spread of the Seattle waterfront and sent it to Seattle-based Sasquatch Books. Editor Heidi Lenze took a look at the oversized unsolicited submission and offered Skewes a contract within a week. Asked if he was surprised by the speedy acceptance, the author said, “I knew I was hitting Sasquatch’s sweet spot with the Seattle theme,” he said. “I tend to always think I’m going to succeed, but I’m usually wrong. So this time I was a bit surprised that I was right!”
To research his city-themed books, Skewes spends several weeks in each locale, traveling with sketchbook and camera. “I always start with a sketchbook, and blast photos with a kind of manic panic,” he explained. “I’m afraid I’ll get home and won’t have the references I need, so I am constantly shooting. I try to get a sense of the city on the ground so readers have the feel of walking around it themselves.”
After sketching out the story visually, Skewes fills in some of the text and creates a PDF that he sends to a co-writer. “Increasingly, I’ve been adding the text to the art myself,” he said. “But I always like to have a second writer go over it and really polish the text.” To date, Skewes has collaborated with Robert Schwartz, Michael Mullin, and Andrew Fox.
Larry – and Sasquatch – Make Leaps
The new Larry Gets Lost in Prehistoric Times is a departure for the previously geography-orientated series – and for Skewes. Instead of reading travel guides and visiting cities, the author had to conduct a different kind of research when he delved into scientific and historic realms. “I always say my books are an inch deep and a mile wide, but that’s hard to do if you don’t really know the topic,” he said. “For this book, I talked to two different paleontologists and went through many revisions to compensate for my learning curve. Dinosaurs are a fascinating topic, but there were so many things I never knew. And since we are discovering so many new things about dinosaurs now, a lot of information out there is already out of date.”
Skewes anticipates doing more science-themed Larry books in the tradition of Larry Gets Lost in Prehistoric Times, including focusing on ocean life and the zoo. But the wandering canine will not be abandoning his U.S. travels. Larry Gets Lost in Philadelphia is due in October, and 2014 releases include Larry Gets Lost in Washington, D.C. as well as Larry board books set in Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, and Portland, Ore. Next year, the pup will also appear in Portland ABC, a follow-up to 2009’s Seattle ABC.
Executive editor Susan Roxborough, who became Skewes’s editor with 2010’s Larry Gets Lost in New York City, attributes the popularity of the series to a combination of factors. “Larry is a cute dog that kids can identify with, and he has a great bond with Pete,” she said. “And John’s artwork is phenomenal, the text’s rhyming is fun, and there’s also the series’s learning component – what we call the nonfiction factoids.”
Roxborough noted that series has sold well in gift stores and shops frequented by tourists, where parents and grandparents are likely to purchase the books for children as souvenirs. “Since last year, Random House has been the distributor of Sasquatch Books, and we’ve found that its crackerjack sales force has enabled us to reach more deeply into the special sales market,” she said.
The decision to expand Larry’s horizons and send him to cities beyond the Pacific Northwest and the West – and now onto geographically nonspecific turf – coincided with Sasquatch’s general editorial direction, Roxborough explained. “There’s a shift within the company to publish books that have national appeal, which is the case with Larry Gets Lost in Prehistoric Times,” she said. “We plan to grow that stream with this series, though continue to add city-specific titles when it makes sense.”
Sasquatch will further extend its reach into the children’s market next spring, when it launches a children’s imprint, called Little Bigfoot, under the editorial direction of editor-at-large Tegan Tigani. Roxborough estimates that the imprint will publish 16–19 books a year, including three or four new Larry titles. “Tegan has worked as a freelance editor and a bookseller and has a deep knowledge of children’s books,” she said. “We think she’ll be a great fit.”
The Larry Gets Lost books will be folded into the Little Bigfoot imprint, but Roxborough will remain editor of the series. “I’ve been working with John closely for a number of years, so it makes sense for me to continue to do so,” she noted. We feel very confident growing this series, and I look forward to continuing my editorial relationship with him.”
Larry Gets Lost in Prehistoric Times: From Dinosaurs to the Stone Age by Andrew Fox and John Skewes, illus. by Skewes. Sasquatch, $16.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-57061-862-8