Kids' books: 'Where's Spot?' is still spot on at 30
Eric Hill's classic toddler tale of a lost puppy in "Where's Spot?" celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Scripps Howard News Service
It began as a simple bedtime story, the tale of a lost puppy that Eric Hill spun one night for his toddler son Christopher.
Hill's story had an unusual twist, however. As a graphic designer, Hill was working on advertising fliers with a "lift-the-flap" feature and he decided to adapt that feature to his bedtime story. Thus was born the classic toddler tale of "Where's Spot?" (Putnam, $12.99).
This year, "Where's Spot?" is celebrating its 30th birthday. Putnam has just published a special anniversary edition of the book, there are Spot birthday parties planned at bookstores around the world and a new 30th-anniversary plush Spot (Kids Preferred, $10) recently was unveiled.
Spot, the cheerful yellow puppy with a brown spot on each side and a brown-tipped tail, also was featured at this year's White House Easter-Egg Roll, and he'll star in a live production, "Spot's Birthday Party," which will debut this fall at Adventure Theater in Washington, D.C., and then travel nationwide in 2011.
Hill, 82, still marvels at the success of "Where's Spot?," which sparked a new craze among little ones for interactive books. By lifting the flaps in the book, readers could actually help Sally, Spot's mother, search for her lost puppy.
"I, of course, was unaware that in the process of making this book, I had started a whole new development in children's books,"said Hill, who was born in London but now lives in France and Southern California. "I was just having fun. 'Where's Spot?' wasn't meant to be a published book and I only had Christopher and myself to please."
While Hill created the original "Where's Spot?" in 1976, the book actually wasn't published until 1980. As he explained in an e-mail interview: "... finding the right publisher who could tackle the new aspect of attaching flaps to the printed page wasn't easy."
Once published, however, "Where's Spot?" was an instant hit. Since then, the book has sold millions of copies and been translated into 60 languages. Hill has continued Spot's story in numerous other "lift-the-flap"books, including "Who's There, Spot?"and "Spot Goes to the Farm."
Hill also has extended the line by publishing other Spot books that don't have the "lift-the-flap" feature. These other Spot books include board books for babies, books with sounds in them and "touch-and-feel" books. In addition, Spot has starred in an animation series.
"When Spot first started, it was just flap books, but it soon became apparent that there was a need for other types of books that Spot could enhance with simple, humorous and educational content,"Hill said.
Asked how he came up with Spot's distinctive look, Hill replied: "Spot was based on a golden-retriever puppy with a mix of hound to provide the characteristic markings on Spot's body and tail. ...
"Sally, Spot's mum, clearly shows the hound mix, whilst Sam, the dad, is pure golden."
Spot's name, of course, is descriptive. After doing the first drawings of Spot, Hill said that he suddenly realized that Spot's markings mirror the markings on an aircraft.
"I grew up drawing aircraft — that is how I learned to draw," Hill said.
Hill chose Sally and Sam as the names for Spot's parents because they are "simple and soft-sounding words. It's all to do with basic home-comfort feelings that surround Spot's family life."
Over the years, Hill has created a sister named Susie for Spot. Hill also gave him a cadre of friends, including Helen the hippo, Tom the crocodile and Steve the monkey. The Spot stories, meanwhile, are built around the kinds of experiences that human preschoolers have.
"So far, I have had no trouble in producing new stories for Spot because I very early on decided to base Spot's adventures on the life and experiences of a young child," Hill said. "So he has had a birthday party, celebrated Christmas, gone to the beach with his parents, visited his grandparents, and played with his friends in the park, etc., etc."
These days, Hill says he is considering three new possible "lift-the-flap" Spot books.
"Which one will win out, I can't say. All three have merit, but so far, it's an even match," Hill said.
Looking back at the success he's had with Spot, Hill said that he has decided that "there is such a thing as destiny.
"I have ... accepted that what I am doing now, and have been doing for 30 years, is what I was meant to do."
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com