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Linda Bailey

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Linda Bailey’s Carson Crosses Canada is a perennial favourite

Linda Bailey, author of more than 35 books, is, without a doubt, a favourite among young readers. And arguably none is as beloved as Carson Crosses Canada. Published by Tundra Books, the 2017 title, which follows Carson and his septuagenarian owner Annie on a road trip, returned to the bestsellers list last year. So far, the picture book has been on the list for 110 weeks.

Bailey spoke with Q&Q about the inspiration behind Carson Crosses Canada, and why she believes readers can’t get enough of Carson.

What inspired Carson Crosses Canada?

Well, just to explain, Carson Crosses Canada is the story of a road trip. A small dog named Carson and his best friend, a white-haired woman named Annie, leave their home on the British Columbia coast and drive across the whole country to cheer up Annie’s sick sister. Together, in their rattle-bang car, they follow the Trans-Canada Highway all the way to Newfoundland – camping, eating, swimming, and seeing the grand sights along the way.

My inspiration was simple. Real life. A few decades ago, I crossed Canada on a road trip almost exactly like the one in the book. I didn’t have a dog at the time, but later I got a hilarious dog named Sophie who made it easy to imagine a dog’s reactions to a dip in Lake Winnipeg on a hot day, or a lunch of tourtière in Quebec City. My own journey felt endless, ever-changing, and spectacular. In the years that followed, I have seized any opportunity to re-drive “chunks” of it, and I’m thrilled every time by the size and the splendour of our geography.

Carson Crosses Canada is such a fun read! Was it fun to write?

Yes! For me, the most fun was writing the two points of view – human and dog. I loved imagining how differently Carson and Annie would respond to the same situation. On a Saskatchewan picnic, for instance, Annie is dazzled by the vast prairie skies … while Carson, looking down, is hoping to catch a grasshopper “for dessert.” Later, Annie is thrilled to watch the huge tidal changes in the Bay of Fundy … while Carson can’t wait to roll in the mud. There are two “visions” in this story, and my hunch is that kids relate most strongly to the dog’s-eye view – which is all about food, fun, and foreground.

Illustration: Kass Reich

Carson Crosses Canada has been on the bestsellers list for 110 weeks. What does that feel like?

Oh my gosh, wonderful, of course. Fortunate. And surprising. Carson is a small story about a little dog and an elderly lady who go on a long journey to visit family. It doesn’t have any kids in it. At first glance, that doesn’t say bestseller, and while I could see that this combination might appeal to teachers and grandparents, I did cross a few fingers about the little guys. The best prize of all, therefore, has been learning that kids do connect strongly and ask for repeat readings. And for that, I think I’ll thank Carson – and Kass Reich, who made him so endearing on the page.

Why do you think readers connect so deeply with Carson Crosses Canada?

The dog, of course! (There’s nothing that can’t be improved by the addition of a dog.) But also, I think there are many readers out there who have, like me, taken a road trip across Canada – or who have dreamed of doing it, or are planning to do it. A book like this, in which the “grand land,” as Annie calls it, is crossed on a camping-and-baloney budget, may tap into some of those memories and fantasies. Plus, there’s a very sweet family reunion at the end.

Will Carson have another adventure in the future?

It’s possible, I guess, but Carson’s story actually feels pretty complete. It seems more likely to me that some other dog might come along with a whole different story. Carson is the eighth book I have written with a dog protagonist. They make me laugh – and that’s always a good start.

Can you speak about what you’re working on now?

I’d be glad to, except that I’m in one of those in-between times when all I have are half-baked ideas and raw “germs” of stories. But my just-published picture book features protagonists that are neither dogs nor people –  but rather, articles of clothing! The Three Little Mittens, illustrated by Natalia Shaloshvili (Tundra Books), is a winter-snowy story about the challenges of friendship. How do you find a best friend when you’re a mitten who doesn’t “match”? As with Carson, the art is exquisite.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Linda Bailey (Credit: Lia Grainger)