Hippo Press by Jeff Mucciarone
Wobar children’s book 46 years in the making
Hippo readers know Henry Homeyer as the Gardening Guy. Homeyer, who lives in Cornish Flats, writes a weekly gardening column and has published three gardening books. A few weeks ago, Homeyer published his first children’s book, Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet.
Q: [Homeyer touched on how the book was a 46-year project.]
In the summer of 1966 I was a sophomore in college. I was working for a summer recreation program, and on my first day … I was playing with 50 – 75 kids. … I was tired, so I told them we could sit down under a tree and I’d tell them a story. … I made up a fictional character. I don’t know what part of my brain it came fro, but I came up with a boy named Wobar … who was found on a door-step. … he was born with a mustache. … He was always picked on because he was different. … So Wobar runs away up into the mountains and he meets a cougar. … he is able to speak to animals … and he makes friends with the cougar, and they go on a quest for a magical peace pipe that can end all wars. … I told the story probably three afternoons per week and I’d always leave the kids at a cliffhanger, so they’d want to come back and hear more the next day.
[Parents told Homeyer he had to turn the story into a book. ]
I just thought, “Year, yeah, maybe some day. But I’m busy now.” … so in 1982, after spending 10 years in Africa — I’d gone off to see the world as a young man. I joined the Peace Corps. … I didn’t know a thing about how to sell a book. This was the pre-computer age. I had a manuscript … and I shipped it off to the biggest publishing house of children’s books at the time. … I literally didn’t want to go away from the house thinking they would be calling. Three months later, I got a message about how it didn’t quite fit their list. … I ended up putting it in a drawer and forgetting about it. Then about 10 years later I took it out and worked on it some more. … In 1999 I got serious about it. I went to a writer workshop on the West Coast. … And last year I sold it to Bunker Hill Publishing.
[Homeyer had some family help.]
The illustrator is Joshua Yunger, who is my stepson. … He went to the Art Institute of Chicago. he’s a professional artist now. As a child, Wobar was the first chapter book he read. He’d be the first to tell you, he had trouble with words. He was more of an arts person, not a words person. When he got to Wobar, he said he couldn’t put it down. … He did drawings for it when he was 9 or 10 years old, and now, 25 years later, he did the official work. [Yunger also wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Hippo and Monkey.]
How much has the story changed since you first told it?
That’s hard for me to know. I imagine it changed quite a bit. The characters remained the same. They traveled and went on a quest. Certainly, I was influenced by Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer going down the Mississippi. … the book isn’t like Tom Sawyer at all, but they did steal a boat to try to get away. … They hop a freight train …. I have hopped trains myself, so I could add authentic details.
What was your favorite part about the whole process?
I think the most exciting thing for me is that my boy Josh got to illustrate it. … It’s really wroth a Caldecott award [given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children for illustration]. They are fabulous illustrations. … Josh’s participation has made this so much more rich for me and so much more wonderful. It makes my soul feel good.
What ages is the book written for?
Third-graders can read the book. It’s got 40 chapters, and each chapter has one illustration. The chapters are relatively short, about 1,000 words each.
What’s the response been so far?
It’s been out two weeks or so. I have seen two reviews and they both were positive. I am doing a lot of book signings and readings in Vermont and new Hampshire.
Would you try another children’s book at some point?
If this version of Wobar is a big success, then I would definitely consider writing a sequel. Frankly, I think it could be a nice movie. … There is a clause about movie rights [in the contract with the publisher]. I think it would be perfect for Spielberg to work with — there are so many cliffhangers. It’s such a fast-paced adventure.