In many ways, my life has come full circle. After living more than 25 years in Manhattan, I have moved to the small East Texas town of Commerce, which reminds me very much of my hometown of Hiawatha, Kansas. And now, 58 years after I wrote my first book, The Little Squeegy Bug, a new version of that book is being published by Winslow Press.
I was 27 years old and an Air Force sergeant stationed at Barksdale Field in Louisiana. I had been a high school drama/journalism teacher until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like thousands of other young men, I immediately enlisted in the armed services. Now World War II was winding down, and I was thinking about my future. I planned to resume my teaching career, until one day my older brother Bernard called. He had been injured in the military and had a long recovery time ahead. To pass the time, he wanted to paint pictures for a children's book, and he wanted me to write it. As a nonreader in school, it seemed ironic that I was being asked to write a book for young children to read. But Bernard needed me, so I had no choice.
It only took a few hours for me to write the tale of a little bug that lived by the brook a little bug without a name or a mission in life and how that little bug became Squeegy the Firefly, the Lamplighter of the Sky. It took Bernard much longer to do the pictures, but soon we had our first book and our own publishing company, Tell-Well Press. I wrote two stories each year. Bernard did the art, and Bernard's wife Maxine kept the books. Things were tight until something amazing occurred. The first lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her column, My Day, "The grandkids were at the cottage this weekend, and I read them a marvelous book about a little firefly, written by two young GIs. Our grandkids loved the story, and so will yours." The book took off and so did my career as an author. Since then, I have written more than 300 books, but none have been as memorable as the first.
The last 10 years have been a prolific time for me as a writer. With my co-author Michael Sampson, I have written 10 books, with topics ranging from girl's basketball (SWISH!) to Bible heroes (Adam, Adam, What Do You See?) to football (Little Granny Quarterback) to math/counting (Rock It, Sock It, Number Line).
But one morning over coffee, as we struggled for a new manuscript idea, Michael suggested that The Little Squeegy Bug was appropriate for a new generation of readers. At first I protested, thinking the language and art were outdated. But as we played with the language, we were able to shrink the story by 50 percent, revising it into a picture book format with more room for art.
It was wonderful to revisit this old story and even more magnificent to have an opportunity to correct the mistakes I had made as a young writer. The original story was over-told and contained scientific inaccuracies. Plus, the original story portrayed a bumblebee who carried a "gun" in his tail. We quickly changed that language to "stinger." The art was the next challenge. My brother Bernard, who illustrated my first 20 books, had passed away, and the original squeegy bug art was lost. But Winslow Press found a talented new artist to do new pictures for our new story. When our editor sent sketches of Pat Corrigan's work, we knew he was the perfect choice for the new squeegy bug. Pat's delightful illustrations have made the little firefly soar again, and the spectacular printing job makes the little bug shine as he never did before.
All is well I have returned to my roots of small town America, and The Little Squeegy Bug, the Lamplighter of the Sky, is once again lighting up bedtime story times.
We just hope that history continues to repeat itself, and that the new first lady notices our book!
Bill Martin, Jr. is the acclaimed author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Michael Sampson is the author of The Football That Won and Star of the Circus. The Little Squeegy Bug is published by Winslow Press.