Our Great Wheel Adventure

When I was about four or five years old, my parents gave me a copy of a slim softcover book called Wheedle on the Needle. The book tells the story of a fluffy creature with a blinking red nose who decamps to live atop the Space Needle to escape the incessant whistling of happy-go-lucky Northwesterners (not really the trait most often attributed to those from the Pacific Northwest, but no matter).

The book immediately became one of my favorites, and many of my days thereafter concluded with Wheedle on the Needle bedtime stories. Whenever we left home at night and spied the blinking red light at the top of the Needle, my sister and I immediately cried, “Look, it’s the Wheedle!” And to this day, that’s what I think when I see it. My ten-year-old and six-year-old, who were introduced to the book at an early age, also embrace the story of the sensitive Wheedle —snoring and blinking on top of the Needle all these years.

The Wheedle on the Needle was a moment of myth making that resonated far beyond the creation of that one humble book. For a short period, the Wheedle even became the mascot for the SuperSonics, Seattle’s basketball team (let’s talk no more about that).

The opportunities to be part of myth making in this way are rare and wonderful, and so when Girl Friday was approached this past year about taking on the challenge of creating a book around Seattle’s newest landmark, the Great Wheel, we didn’t hesitate.

In many ways, the Great Wheel has been incorporated into the Seattle skyline like a modern counterpoint to the Space Needle. For my kids, spying the lights of the Great Wheel off the Alaskan Way Viaduct as we speed by—guessing what meaning is behind that night’s color variation—is the 2015 version of my 1977 experience. Being part of creating the story around the Great Wheel felt right for all of us here at GFP.

But where to start? With the story, of course. Working closely with author and Great Wheel steward Kyle Griffith, editorial consultant Ben Grossblatt, and illustrator Ryan Hobson, my colleague Jenna Land Free and I began by exploring what the Great Wheel is and what it means: an already iconic landmark that enhances the Seattle skyline, but also a view point that provides riders a glimpse of the breadth of Western Washington, including the waters and islands of Puget Sound and the peaks of Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.

How does one convey all of that in one book? Kyle had an idea that we all immediately responded to—the Great Wheel would be told from the perspective of Seattle’s cutest brother and sister, who could take in the whole of Western Washington with just one (very slow!) rotation of the Wheel.

Once the story was plotted and the manuscript written, Ryan’s job was to take Kyle’s ideas and give them form and color: What did our two main characters, Gabe and Betty (named for Kyle’s Labrador retrievers, natch), look like? How old were they? What would they wear?

We also needed to determine the look and feel of the book. While a pamphlet-sized book might have worked for the Wheedle, for the Great Wheel we wanted something that felt substantial in our hands—a keepsake that a child might save for their own children. Hardcover was a necessity, as was a large trim size that allowed Ryan’s beautiful illustrations to be fully appreciated.

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Throughout the process, both Jenna and I consulted often with our in-house focus group (i.e., our children—Betty looks astonishingly like Jenna’s youngest and I can’t help but suspect she snuck Dakota’s picture over to Ryan), who helped us keep our audience in mind.

Once Ryan’s work was done and redone, it was time for our in-house designer, Paul Barrett, to bring the entire package together, pairing illustrations with text and creating a cover that would entice readers. As an added challenge, The Great Wheel Adventure would have two editions: one standard edition with an image of the smiling brother and sister in front of the Wheel to be sold at retail; the other with a die-cut cover and a photo sleeve on the inside facing page, which would allow Wheel riders to purchase a book with their custom photo inside and which would only be sold at the Wheel itself.

Finally, with all the specifications in order and ready-to-print files complete, it was off to Worzalla, a high-quality printer based in Wisconsin that uses domestically sourced paper for their gorgeous books.

Six weeks later, Kyle approved an advance copy of the book—everything looking exactly as we’d imagined it. Another week after that, we watched as two pallets bearing ten thousand copies of The Great Wheel Adventure were unloaded at a warehouse—and within hours Kyle watched as a family bought the first copy. That week we celebrated the birth of The Great Wheel Adventurewith bottles of champagne. As a celebratory gift, we gave Kyle and his wife, Jenn, a framed print from the book for the wall of the baby nursery they were working hard on. As luck would have it, just a few weeks after the birth of our book came the birth of their first baby. Quite apt, we thought.