The tale of a moose searching for a mouse on the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene entered the imaginations of local children five years ago and has grown into a small enterprise supporting the city’s library.
“Mudgy & Millie,” by Susan Nipp and illustrator Chuck Reasoner, has sold nearly 20,000 copies and raised $90,000 for the Coeur d’Alene Public Library Foundation.
To complement the children’s book, the city established a walking trail from Tubbs Hill through downtown to Independence Point featuring life-size bronze statues of the title characters. Fans could buy Mudgy and Millie T-shirts and toys.
Nipp, who studied music and education at Whitworth College and taught elementary and high school students, wrote a song about the popular critters. She visited all elementary schools in Coeur d’Alene and read the story to students.
In the past year, a donated pickup truck converted into the “Mudgymobile,” wrapped in images from the book, began appearing in local parades.
“I was pretty naïve about how far it could go,” Nipp said. “It just kept snowballing and growing in ways I hadn’t expected.”
The 69-year-old author, who grew up in Spokane, has enjoyed much higher sales figures in her career. As co-creator of the Wee Sing series of musical education materials for children, she and her business partner have sold more than 65 million books, audios, videos and digital apps worldwide.
But the homegrown success of Mudgy Moose and Millie Mouse is a special accomplishment for Nipp, who wanted to teach children about their town while also supporting the library. Since the book debuted in September 2008, she has experienced many fulfilling moments of children discovering her story.
“I saw a little girl reading the book to her little sister sitting by a (Mudgy) statue, and I’m thinking, look at all the levels that are happening there: that relationship, the literacy happening, loving Mudgy and Millie,” Nipp said. “And of course little tiny kids think they’re real.”
The 2 ¼-mile trail with five whimsical waypoints brings the story to life with bronze works by acclaimed artist Terry Lee. Families make the same trek as the characters do in the book.
“It is fun when I drive down the street and I see tourists taking pictures or little kids climbing all over them or parents with big grins as they’re hiking down the trails,” Nipp said.
The book was originally published by Eastern Washington University Press, but after the college pulled the plug on its publishing house in June 2010, Nipp persuaded the owners of downtown toy store Figpickles to assume that role.
“They’re getting it reprinted – in fact, we’re up for a reprint right now,” she said. “They have been marvelous. I mean, this is not what they do, but they stepped up to the plate and knew it was important.”
She and Reasoner signed over their book royalties to the library foundation, which supports a Mudgy and Millie outreach program and raises additional funds selling the book and plush animals at community events. The $90,000 in proceeds have gone into a variety of programs, services and equipment provided by the foundation, Executive Director Ruth Pratt said.
Nipp often is asked about the possibility of a sequel. “I actually wrote two more stories,” she said, declining to elaborate on the plots. “Actually, we were even thinking about a television series with Mudgy and Millie.”
After further discussion with friends in publishing, she reconsidered the next step.
“The dilemma is do we keep just the one book and that becomes very special for the community, or do we expand it?” she said. “We even talked about doing an app. I just want to do what’s right for the project, versus jumping into the fray of the new publishing and online world.”
Even if Mudgy and Millie do wander into the digital landscape, the magic that comes from print books will remain unmatched for Nipp.
“I do have my foot in both worlds, and yet I am still such a believer of putting that child on your lap and holding this hardcover book in your hand and turning the pages together,” she said. “And I know that that doesn’t happen as much anymore, and I have to still embrace the new things that are coming along. … I think there’s so many people who still love that concept of sitting with that child with that book, and hopefully that will never go away.”