ST. GEORGE — Debbie Houghton got the idea for her new children’s book series after starting a tradition of virtual storytime with her grandchildren.
Houghton, a second grade teacher at Three Falls Elementary School, was spending more time at home with fewer opportunities to see her grandkids after the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020.
“I started reading a story a day, recording it and then sending it out to my grandkids,” she said. “Then I started doing it for my class as well. When I started to run out of stories, my grandkids were really sad. And then, when we started to be able to go back outside, I thought, ‘We have got to get kids moving. We need them to want to do fun things.”
As an idea began to form in Houghton’s mind, she reached out to her daughter and son-in-law, Ashley and Justin Harmon, for their help in creating a book series. Their goal was to combine scenic photography, original artwork and poetic storytelling to celebrate the outdoors and encourage children to get outside.
Together, the trio has already written and illustrated two new books, “Dilbert the Duck Visits Zion National Park” and “Dilbert the Duck Visits Bryce Canyon National Park,” both of which are available for preorder for $25 each.
The books’ mixed media approach uses Houghton’s writing alongside Justin Harmon’s drawings, all placed in real-world locales photographed by Ashley Harmon. The series is set to release on Sept. 1, and is best suited for early readers ages 5-8, though children as old as 12 can still enjoy the series, Ashley Harmon said.
An adventuring duck named Dilbert is the central character of the new series. At the very beginning of the first book, he sets out from his home in a wholly illustrated setting to explore America’s national parks with his companion, Succulent.
“I chose a duck because I thought that he would be totally different and unique,” Houghton said. “I kind of feel like Dilbert’s a little like me: a little bit wobbly and a little bit shy. We’re kind of in the same boat.”
As for Dilbert’s traveling buddy, Succulent, the inspiration for that character came from Justin and Ashley Harmon.
“Something always felt right about him having a silent companion who kind of acted like the ball in Castaway,” Justin Harmon said. “If he’s (Dilbert) going to be isolated, there’s probably something he would talk to. I just started drawing this little sidekick buddy, and then Ashley looked at it and said, ‘Is that a succulent?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I guess it is.’”
The Harmons have their own photography business specializing in wedding photos and national parks. Houghton has been teaching in the Washington County school district for over two decades, and she just started another year at her elementary school in Hurricane.
Plans for future books include installments featuring Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Houghton has also written two math books and turned them over to the Harmons for further revisions and contributions.
While the books may inspire children to visit the individual national parks and to learn more about each one, Ashley Harmon said the main goal of the series is to instill confidence and courage in young readers.
“We want to teach kids to be brave, to adventure and to grow in love for the outdoors – especially our national parks,” she said. “Because I think if we never teach the kids to love them they won’t take care of them.”
More information about the new book series as well as tips for exploring the local national parks can be found at the Dilbert the Duck website. Questions and inquiries can be emailed to [email protected].
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