Charlie is on the road again in Down South, Way Out West, and Travelin' the Northeast. Travels With Charlie -- whose title was inspired by the John Steinbeck novel Travels With Charley -- uses a hide-and-seek format and a slew of "who knew?" facts to keep kids glued to their maps and ready to pack their bags for an adventure.
Travels With Charlie artist (and armchair traveller) Chuck Nitzberg says his books were as eye-opening for him as they are for his readers. "My research made me learn things about this country I had never imagined, like the crustacean beauty pageant in New Jersey or that Walton, New York is the scarecrow capitol of the world."
"I like to surprise my readers by showing them places they never knew about before. Or, I take a place that everyone knows and show them something that they might not have realized. We all know that peaches come from Georgia, but did you know that Coca-Cola was invented there too?"
Chuck got his start as an artist when he opened a Halloween store when he was 10, selling holiday crafts that he spent the whole summer making. He believed then, as he does now, that his art should have "a sense of play."
Chuck gave Charlie, whose playground is the entire United States, this same sense of fun. He says he enjoys drawing America through a dog's eyes. "What is more curious, happy-go-lucky, and active than a dog? In many ways, a dog is the perfect traveller."
When designing his maps, variety is key. "It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," he says. "I like the facts featured to be a mix of historical, like a battle site in the Revolutionary War, and quirky, like the water skiing pageant on Rock Island."
Chuck explains that Charlie, who is loosely based on his own childhood dog, is a "mixed breed 'Everydog.' I like to imagine that his human family adopted him from the BARC Animal Shelter in Williamsburg. When drawing him I like to think about, what would he pack in his suitcase? A toothbrush and some doggie biscuits? An extra dog collar and leash? A sweater and a photo of his family!"
"Charlie could be anyone's dog, a member of any child's family. Any kid should be able to relate to his excitement for travel and his love for learning."
The books' fun facts, like that Maine is the only state with a one-syllable name, or that seven U.S. Presidents were born in Ohio, give kids a better understanding of the American landscape and a keen curiosity for travel.
What's next for Charlie? "Maybe Charlie will go abroad," Chuck says. "I think Charlie would love Paris."