Harry’s Story

One spring day, I was in Washington, DC, with my friend Peggy. Through an old friend of hers, we had front row seats at the Supreme Court to hear arguments on campaign contributions. Later, in need of fresh air, we wandered along the Mall towards the cherry blossoms. On the way we came upon the unmistakable music of the Carousel or Merry-Go-Round as we call them in England and couldn’t resist having a ride. Afterwards we watched and noticed that no one chose the shiny white horse to ride. Why? That was the beginning of the story of Harry the Carousel Horse.

Early on I had envisioned very realistic illustrations and had even thought of a video using still photographs. That idea was soon abandoned after learning about the technical challenges. So began the search for an illustrator. Living in Philadelphia, my first stop was the graduates’ exhibition at Moore College of Art. There I saw a wonderful book about the adventures of a dog in the Indian monsoon by Tessa Guze. She gave the animals character without being cute. We talked by phone and she came on board. We still have not met in person. Her first sketches via computer were a surprise because my brain was still focused on straight-up realism. But my literary friend Heather and artist friends Gillian and Damini saw their magic and were adamant about keeping it. And then I noticed that her images gave me a good feeling as I clicked through the pages.

Harry’s first public reading was to a group of children in class. With their eyes on pumpkins waiting to be carved, they were surprisingly quiet and listened.

Having discovered rowing since moving to Philadelphia, I wanted Harry to learn about its joys and challenges. In Harry Goes Rowing, he finds out that rowing is not all about wearing a nifty unisuit and dreaming of a gold medal. Ironically, he soon learns that he won’t be rowing at all. The coach tells him to be the cox, whose task is to steer and manage the boat. Every time I went out in an 8 (the cox plus eight people rowing with one oar each), I imagined what landmarks Harry would be seeing and when he would call for “tens.” As time went on I had an increasing respect for the people who coxed our boat and neatly timed our arrivals at the start line for races. For gripping accounts of the critical role played by the cox, read Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, an account of the U.S. eight-oared crew winning the Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Soon to be a movie, it also tells the story of U.S. life during the Depression with its terrible weather that echoes today’s extremes, and the propaganda behind the Nazi manipulation of the Games.

Again, I envisioned realistic illustrations, and kept wanting Tessa to “get the rigging right.” Finally it registered that this story was not a treatise on rowing, but about horses in a boat, and no way could an illustrator get that “right.” But I did ask winning cox Mike Cipollone for input on rowing commands.

One of my favorite details is Harry telling the crew to pull in their tails. Another is having the Biglin Brothers eat breakfast at our favorite Cosmic Café on Boathouse Row in Philadelphia where Peg grows amazing vegetables. I unearthed a New York Times description of the famous Pair-Oared race the brothers won in 1872. High wind and rough water, no stake boats, no referee and much controversy delayed the race. That allowed more time for them to enjoy Vesper Boat Club’s hospitality.

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