After a nine year gap since his last book was published, children’s author Troy Wilson’s newest title, The Duck Says, has kids quacking up.
It’s selling across the country and is on the cover for Scholastic Canada’s 2015 catalogue.
“It just goes to show you, you can’t stop trying, you never know when you’ll break through,” says the 44-year-old Saanichite. “I wasn’t waiting, I was active, it’s just that hard to get published.”
The Duck Says is a series of sharp-witted rhymes belted by a fun-loving duck as it wanders through a farm. It targets kids from three to eight years old, but is easily enjoyed by kids as young as one.
Wilson’s first book, Perfect Man, was released in 2004 and met great success. He partnered on the book about a young superhero with illustrator Dean Griffiths of Duncan. Orca Books launched it from Victoria and it managed four additional printings and remains in circulation today.
But Wilson learned a big lesson with the 2005 follow-up, Frosty is a Stupid Name. It’s about a girl who names her snowman Bartholomew, and was aimed at the five to seven age group, a younger market than Perfect Man’s seven to 12 year old range.
Problem is, no one ever met Batholomew because parents won’t pick up a children’s book with ‘stupid’ in the title. The book never hit a second printing.
“Obviously, ‘stupid’ was a sticking point,” Wilson said. “I hadn’t anticipated it was a swear word. These are the things you learn.”
Nine years and three months later, the lead character in The Duck Says says a lot of things, and stupid isn’t one of them.
“I’m not a parent so I had to learn to see things from a kids’ point of view and, often more importantly, from a parent’s point of view.”
“My inner child comes from a time when stupid was an okay thing to say.”
Book tours for Wilson mean hitting elementary schools, which he’s done a lot and will do again. Each visit is another chance to learn what kids want to read, and what teachers want them to read.
“School visits are invaluable, it’s truly my chance to learn from kids. I have a niece, and she’s a proud niece who happily accepted my book but she’s entering the chapter book years, and you can’t replace hearing a kid’s reaction.”
Wilson was born and raised in Port Alberni and left for the University of Victoria 25 years ago. He completed his bachelor of arts and then Camosun College’s previously offered applied communications program, and has been here ever since.
Even with the success of Perfect Man he’s moved through a series of day jobs, including call centres. He’s now a lot closer to fulfilling his goal with a career as a writer.
Shortly after his second book he wrote his first of many stories for the Owlkids line of children’s magazines (Owl, ChickaDEE, and Chirp), in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of ChickaDEE. Owlkids does books too, and will print his next book in the spring of 2017. He’s also written for Highlights for Children magazine.
During the nine year gap between books Wilson received hundreds of rejection letters for the ‘countless’ books he pitched.
But The Duck Says has reinvigorated his writing career.
“I always wanted to write. People won’t remember my op-eds for Monday Magazine or book reviews for the Vancouver Sun, it was a long time ago,” he said. “All other writing has fallen away. I’m in libraries taking out piles of children’s books, looking to see what works.”
Perfect Man captures the many aspects of a great read, about a boy who finds his own talents and place in the world. It’s a humorous spin that stays within the superhero genre, thereby finding a niche. The back cover even boasts a testimonial from comic great Stan Lee himself.
The Duck Says, however, is a far different take. It was an idea that struck Wilson during his regular walk along Cedar Hill Road between McKenzie and Hillside avenues.
“Of all the pitches I’ve ever made, this was the kind you don’t make,” Wilson laughed. “I put a series of rhymes together, but without much of a structure in terms of a storyline, and sent it to (publisher) Scholastic Canada. They saw the potential to animate it and they did a great job.”
Scholastic recruited Alberta based illustrator Mike Boldt, who Wilson has yet to meet, and Boldt brought the book to life.
“He did a great job, and really, Scholastic did too, they had a really good feel for what I had in mind, and they were great in making sure I was happy with the direction.”
The Duck Says will soon be available through the Greater Victoria Public Library system (it’s on order). Wilson says it’s been widely purchased by library systems in every province of Canada including B.C., though there are none to date in the Vancouver Public Library.
That’s life, says Wilson, whose Perfect Man still has five copies in the Greater Victoria Library system.
“It’s so competitive now, there are so many more children’s books than in 2005, it’s a thriving industry.”
The Duck Says is also available at Chapters, Munro’s, Bolen Books, Ivy’s, Tanner’s Books and through amazon.ca.
Wilson will be reading the book at an April 1 Victoria Writers’ Society meeting, 7 p.m. at the Central library branch downtown. The event is free and open to the public, but Wilson won’t have any copies on hand.
Visit troystory.ca for more.