How do you convince little boys that reading books is cool? According to Glenn Murray, co-author of New York Times bestseller Walter the Farting Dog and newly released Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale, the secret is in the details. "Little boys love trucks, dinosaurs and farts," claims Murray. As a father of two now grown and well-read sons, and more notably a supervisor in the Canadian Ministry of Education, Murray would know. The Nova Scotia native has spent many years observing how children learn and what inspires them to read. "Many young boys have not had a male role model read to them," says Murray. In truth, most elementary teachers do tend to be women. "Little guys want to be like the big guys they admire," says the author. As he explains, if young boys don't see men reading, then it becomes a thing that a teacher makes them do, not something they think is cool. "It's so important to hook them very early," he claims. "Otherwise, they develop an attitude or a learned helplessness." And Murray has made it his goal to hook them. He frequently carries a box of books with him, reading to children wherever he goes in order to encourage them to read for enjoyment themselves. But Murray admits there aren't that many exciting things for boys to read. Which is where Walter the Farting Dog comes in.
One thing that Murray has noticed over the years is that boys tend to judge books by their covers, literally. According to the author, trucks, dinosaurs and farts are a few of the best topics to grab their attention. And the Walter books do just that.
In the latest title, Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale, the lovable, yet thoroughly smelly dog saves the day by catching a bank robber dressed as a clown. As in the first Walter book, the flatulent pet inadvertently uses his seemingly detrimental characteristic to the surprising benefit of others. "Walter is able to turn his liabilities into assets," says Murray. Murray himself, it seems, is well-versed in turning liabilities into assets. Murray and his co-author William Kotzwinkle stumbled upon the story of Walter when they were sharing anecdotes at a dinner party. Kotzwinkle told a story about a dog he had once met, and from that anecdote Walter was born. "We created our own dog with gastro-intestinal problems as a kind of joke," says Murray. In fact, the two authors had joined forces to create a screenplay about children searching for buried treasure. "We were trying to write about something completely different, but it fell flat," explains Murray. "So we took this as a consolation prize." And what a consolation prize it was. The first Walterbook sold over 300,000 copies and spent 38 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, hitting number one last summer. But success for the Walter books did not come easily or quickly: Getting the Walter book published was a struggle that took nearly 10 years. "We were surprised by the strength of the resistance," admits Murray. According to the author, many publishers seemed initially interested and amused by the book, but the subject matter was too controversial. After all, this was a book about a dog with a severe case of flatulence. "When the book was finally picked up," says Murray, "it was clearly an idea whose time had come." And indeed it has. With a movie deal in the works, a Walter doll coming out in the spring, and another book to follow next year, we certainly have not seen or smelled the last of Walter. For Murray, though, the success of the Walter books lies in fulfilling his mission of instilling a love of reading in young boys. "It's what Walter is all about," says Murray. "If I can get them to pick up a book and read it from front to back, they're set." And if they just so happen to get a laugh out of it, Murray wouldn't mind that either.