I grew up on the side of a mountain where I had something of a feral childhood. I spent much of my early childhood wandering around the mountain, but I was usually not alone. We had an old collie named Gypsy, and she almost always stayed at my side or rested nearby, always keeping an eye on me. My parents used to say that they had me but Gypsy raised me. I thought about Gypsy as I read Derick Wilder’s touching debut picture book titled The Longest Letsgoboy. Gypsy is long gone, but I have a feeling that she would identify with the dog in this book.
Published in October by Chronicle Books, The Longest Letsgoboy tells the story of an old dog and a young girl going for one last walk in the woods together. Narrated in the voice of the dog, the story beautifully captures the special relationship between a dog and a child. The dog has a unique way of talking. He has his own words for the things that are important to him. He calls trees tallsticks, refers to squirrels as branchjumpers, and uses the name Little when talking about his girl. The dog’s love of Little shines through on every page. He cares deeply about Little, and he wants to make sure that she is going to be okay. Cátia Chien’s mixed-media illustrations are in perfect synch with the strong emotions that the story evokes.
With the publication of The Longest Letsgoboy, Derick now joins the ranks of picture book authors and illustrators who call the Charlotte area home. However, Derick took a long and winding road on his journey to becoming a published picture book author. I asked him about how he came to write this book, and here is what he sent to me:
I’ve been writing since I was a kid—journaling vacations, penning poetic birthday cards, and scribbling silly stories. And after one career in technology and another working with children, I’ve sort of come full circle, initially falling in love with picture books after spending endless hours sitting on the floor of our library and local bookstores with my little girl. Once hooked, I began scribbling silly stories again, this time for an audience of one.
Fast forward almost a decade and that little girl has magically become a teen. Meanwhile, one of those silly stories turned into an actual book, as The Longest Letsgoboy, illustrated by Cátia Chien, was released in October. It’s a circle-of-life tale told through the eyes of an aging dog, and sprinkled with his own dog-speak, taking a final walk with his best friend, a little girl.
This book was actually inspired by a real-life event. I write on the back patio quite a bit, and my huskies at the time, Lakota and Kaya, would often sit by my feet. One morning, Lakota, then an elderly boy, got up and slowly strolled around our yard. I followed him, and it felt like he was saying farewell to the surrounding flora and fauna. So I substituted my daughter and imagined them walking through the woods, with the dog knowing it would be his last day on Earth. I wrote a (very bad) first draft that morning, then spent time in the forests of our local greenway, trying to figure out how a dog might refer to the natural elements. I’d watch squirrels, lie under trees and stare at their canopies, speak to flowers, and listen to streams. Next, I started trying combinations of small words to create dog-speak that made sense and, just as importantly, could be easily pronounced when read aloud. Finally, after about 50 revisions and multiple rejections, Jenna Pocius, my agent, found the perfect home for the story at Chronicle Books.
My next picture book, illustrated by K-Fai Steele and also published by Chronicle, is slated for May. This one will be very different, as it’s titled Does a Bulldozer Have a Butt? and is written in rhyme. But one common thread is that it was also inspired by a real-life event—my young daughter was in the back seat as we stopped behind a school bus and blurted out, “Look Daddy, the school bus has a butt!” It was a brilliant, childlike perspective that I would never have thought of… she wants royalties.
For readers who want to know more about Derick, please click on the following link: https://www.derickwilder.com/
The Charlotte area is home to a number of remarkable picture book authors and illustrators, including Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Gail Haley, Brandon Reese, and Alicia D. Williams. I am pleased to add Derick Wilder’s name to my list of Storied Charlotte picture book authors.