For her 30th anniversary, Lynn Johnston has branched out from comic strip to children's lit.
But she hasn't strayed too far: fans will see a familiar, big, fuzzy face in the main character of Farley Follows His Nose.
In her debut children's book with sister-in-law Beth Cruikshank, Johnston says she used the Old English sheepdog from her beloved, long-running For Better or for Worse comic, which happens to be three decades old this September and has had a phenomenal run in at least 20 countries.
"I get to draw the dog, which I love to draw; it was an opportunity to see him big, and do a lot of expression and colour," said Johnston in a recent telephone interview during a promotional tour that took her away from her home outside North Bay.
The book, aimed at kids from kindergarten to Grade 3, follows Farley as he sniffs around in his neighbourhood. The different smells he picks up are showcased in a wavy line of text at the bottom of pages, in a stream-of-consciousness mode: "... in the breeze he smelled rosesfreshcutgrasssweatypeoplethecatnextdoor ..."
Farley heads to a birthday party after picking up the scent of hot dogs and popcorn, then takes a trip to an unfamiliar town, then finds his way back and helps a lost little boy from the party return home before getting home himself.
Cruikshank is a veterinarian, and the two worked together on the story after Johnston was contacted by HarperCollins Canada. A portion of royalties earned goes to the Farley Foundation, which helps families pay vet bills they otherwise couldn't afford.
The book has also been given the thumbs-up from the Girl Guides. Farley is the first book to earn the Guides' stamp of approval for its monthly book club, an occasion that was to be celebrated Saturday with a book reading and signing at Yorkdale mall. Johnston herself was a Brownie and a guide leader.
Johnston said she did the illustrations for Farley first in pencil, then inked them once they were approved, and then hired a watercolourist to put on the finishing touches. The book took about a year from start to finish.
She enjoyed the process: "You don't get an opportunity to draw much when you are drawing (comic) panels," she said. "I love to draw."
Farley was named after Canadian author Farley Mowat and is based on a real dog Johnston once owned.
The dog was jealous of her son, "so I flipped a coin and the dog lost – he went to a happy home on a farm."
Her goal in working on a children's book was to have fun.
"You want to have young children enjoy it and the parent enjoy reading it to a child," she said. A friend recently read the book aloud to a kindergarten class, "who really enjoyed it because it was about smells."
And neither Johnston, nor Farley, are done quite yet: she's already working on another storyline for the [lovable] sheepdog.
The following things may be noted:
- Lynn now lays claim to hiring Patty Weise.
- She admits to having the real Farley
- Harper Collins was smart enough to connect this book to the Girl Guides of Canada. The kids might not know about the dog but they're guaranteed to buy something approved by the Girl Guides.