For Akiak I travelled to many places in Alaska and made friends with many dog mushers. I also saw a lot of moose.


I drew constantly while in Alaska. The mushers, the dogs, the landscape, and I also tried to imagine how it all would look as a page in a book. Here's an example of a typical working sketchbook page. I drew this picture of some students at a school in the village of Koyuk.


Most of all, AKIAK is a book about never giving up. I needed to find just the right dog to create that feeling. I also needed a dog that looked slightly different than the rest of the team, so that you could always spot the main character on the page. I interviewed many dogs until I found just the right one. Then I did a lot of drawings of her to get my character just right.


I needed the right people to play the characters in the story, too. The people that you see in the book are all my friends. They usually like to be in my books. Usually. When I am working on a page for my book I do hundreds of little drawings that artists call thumbnail sketches. When I find one that looks like it will work I draw it larger and paste it into a prototype book, called a dummy. Then I ask friends if they want to pose and be in my book. They are happy to do it ( I think that's because we usually have a big posing party) until the book comes out and someone sees that THEY are the one drawn with a face full of snow. Then I have some explaining to do.


The mushers I met were all very helpful and friendly. I visited some at their homes and they showed me their kennels. Others took the time to tell me what it was like to run the Iditarod. And some even took me for rides on their sleds. So when it came time to create the human characters for the book, I tried to make up people that were like the mushers I met. Here are some sketches of different characters I thought I might use.


Here's a cool guy with an AKIAK t-shirt!


Here are some AKIAK facts:
The dog Akiak is actually named after a village in Alaska. I drew it on the map below. My homesteader friend lives in Healy. The Iditarod race runs from Anchorage to Nome- over 1,000 miles!

When I first started working on Akiak the story was quite different. Mick was going to be named Dusty. I was going to tell the story from the point of view of the musher. But once I got around all those wonderful dogs, I knew this had to be a DOG story.


It takes me about eight months to make a book. Sometimes things change from the time you begin a story to the day you complete it. At one point, my publisher wanted me to make the title of this book PAWMUT. Pawmut!! Yikes!! Not MY hero! It took me a long time to convince them that AKIAK was a good title. They said, "But nobody is going to know what an Akiak is!" I said, "They will!"
Also, sometimes the idea for a page will change. Here is the way I originally planned to do the artwork for the page on which Akiak escapes from the musher's cabin. I decided it was a bit too slapstick.


The title page was different, too.

When I first started writing the story, I wasn't sure if Mick should be a woman or a man. Here's how Mick would have looked if the musher was a man.


Of course, the ending would have been different, too. Here's a look at another version of the ending.


When you are a out in the coutryside you have to keep your eyes open. You never know what you may see. Far off in the distance in this picture is a sled dog team.


I was lucky enough to make a lot of friends in Alaska and I was often invited to visit their dog kennels.


Why do you suppose this dog is howling?


Because it is dinner time, of course!


Somebody better tell this guy that it is time to eat.


Good news!!!!! Akiak has won some awards!


Akiak has won New York's Irma S.& James H. Black Award, Vermont's Red Clover Award and now Washington State's Children's Choice Award. These awards are chosen by the readers of each state. Thanks a lot for selecting my book!

Akiak has won The Virginia Young Reader Award ! Hooray!

Akiak has now won Indiana's 2001 Young Hoosier award! Thanks, everybody!!