All posts by Mary Casanova

Dirk Yeller is here!

Hey, folks! I’m just about jumpin’ outta my skin to tell y’all about my newest release this month. It’s a picture book about a restless outlaw-cowboy called: The Day Dirk Yeller Came to Town.

It’s illustrated by—who else?—Ard Hoyt (of One-Dog Canoe, Some Dog!, Utterly Otterly Day, and more to come).

All stories have their origins, and this one dropped into my lap. A gift. A few years back, on a trip to New York to visit editors, I woke up at mignight in my hotel with these words rolling through my head:

The day Dirk Yeller came to town, the wind curled its lip,
the cattle quit lowin’ and the tumbleweeds stopped tumblin’ along.

"Pardners" - Mary Casanova & Ard Hoyt

"Pardners" - Mary Casanova & Ard Hoyt

Now I’m not the kind of writer who sleeps with a notepad at my bedside table. I try to sleep. If it’s a really good idea, I figure, it can wait till morning. But these words seemed so crisp, so clear … and just this once, I decided I better get up and write them down. To not wake Charlie, my husband, I went into the bathroom and wrote the words down on toilet paper. And then, I went back to bed.

The next morning, I examined the sentence, surprised that it sounded pretty good…and then sat down and wrote the first draft. Within two cups of coffee, I knew the plot and got it down on paper before heading to my 10 am meeting. And guess what? That crazy opening sentence is still the same. I haven’t changed a word.

So where do story ideas come from? I hadn’t been thinking about writing about a cowboy. I hadn’t been thinking that I should write a book that librarians and teachers–and kids–might love. The story came to me. It tapped me on the shoulder. So much of writing, it seems, is about listening. I’m so glad I listened!

Underneath the inspiration, of course, is a lifetime passion for reaching the struggling reader. I was one in my early years, and I confess, still leave bookmarks halfway in many of the books I start.

In this newest picture book, Dirk Yeller can’t sit still and all the townsfolk worry that he’ll s stir up trouble. But Sam, a young boy who has had his own share of restlessness, shadows Dirk and finally leads Dirk to the one thing that has helped calm his own itchin’ and twitchin’. Where? The new building in town. The local library, of course. Sam discovers that Dirk Yeller “isn’t a real strong reader.” When Dirk Yeller’s face turns “red as Ma’s blue ribbon tomatoes,” Sam helps him sound out words. Before long, “sure as shootin’–Dirk Yeller is sittin’ still.”

Ard Hoyt begged me to let him illustrate this book. “I’ve lived in Texas! I love cowboys and horses and all that stuff!” And he created a larger than life outlaw who both scares away the townsfolk, but not the local librarian, MIss Jenny. And don’t miss the end-papers with an extra “awww” for readers.

I hope y’all will not sit still. I hope you’ll run out, grab a copy of this new picture book, and “sure as shootin’” you’ll enjoy sharin’ it with kids, especially those that just can’t sit still . . . like Dirk Yeller, Sam, and me.