By Elisha Cooper
I read somewhere that all stories have one of two plots: man leaves town, or, man comes to town. That’s it. I was thinking about this a few years ago while looking through Kevin Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon, which, in its perfect simplicity, captures the man-leaves-town plot exactly, except that in this case the man is a kitten.
I started wondering, what if I reversed this? What if the “man” doesn’t leave town, or come to town, but stays right there in town and everything comes to him?
That’s how I first thought of Homer. I thought of a dog, sitting on a porch, whose family—children, parents, other dogs—come and go in the course of one day while he stays in place. That was the idea.
Once I had the idea, I needed details.
So I drove from New York to my parents’ farm in Connecticut. My parents had a fourteen-year-old yellow Labrador named Henry. I spent the morning drawing him as he napped in the shade under an apple tree. I sketched his eyebrows lifting when he heard a sound, his nose reading the wind, his tawny hair shifting when he stretched. I spent a peaceful couple of hours with Henry, trying to capture his old-dog serenity.
Then I drove to my family’s house on Long Island Sound. The house looks over a field and a marsh, out to the beach and the water. It’s a beautiful place to watch the weather, and a great place to sit on the porch and read (I dedicated this book to porches, which was really my way of saying I was dedicating the book to reading, or at least to that space that opens around us when we are reading in a place we love). I spent that afternoon drawing the architecture of the porch, and the clouds and the boats skimming over the sound.
Then with my sketchbook full of dogs and clouds, I drove back to New York and started putting the book together.
A last note: as I finish writing this I notice that it, too, has a man-leaves-town plot: children’s book author drives out from New York to draw dog.
Elisha Cooper is the author of a number of acclaimed picture books, including Homer, which goes on sale today (May 29th). You can visit him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/elisha.cooper.author.