‘Wheedle’ author comes to Lynnwood bookshop

By Andrea Miller Enterprise features editor

If you grew up in western Washington in the 1970s, this snippet of poetry might seem familiar to you: “There’s a Wheedle on the Needle, I know just what you’re thinking, but if you look up late at night, you’ll see his red nose blinking…”

Yes, Stephen Cosgrove’s “Wheedle on the Needle” marks its 35th anniversary this year and to celebrate, Seattle’s Sasquatch Books is releasing a special anniversary hardcover edition. Fans are invited to meet Cosgrove himself in a special appearance at the Lynnwood Barnes &Noble at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12.

In 1974 Stephen Cosgrove founded Serendipity Press in Seattle, after a trip to the bookstore with his young daughter failed to turn up what he was looking for: “…a fun-to-read story that contained a subtle message of some sort,” Cosgrove said. “What I found instead was a plethora of expensive hardcover books that had little of the content that I was looking for.”

So when Cosgrove began writing his own stories and a major New York publisher offered him a contract, he was dismayed to discover that the publisher intended for the stories to be released as first edition hardcovers — the same expensive format that had first inspired him to begin writing.

“Within three months Serendipity Press was born, with me acting as publisher, editor, shipping clerk, and janitor,” Cosgrove said. “I have to admit I was a better janitor than an editor, but in time I learned how to deal with my only author, me.”

Framed by the colorful illustrations of local artist Robin James, Serendipity Press’ began to distribute its distinctive softcover books with such titles as “The Dream Tree,” “Serendipity” and “the Muffin Dragon.”

But it was “Wheedle on the Needle” that made a special impression on local young readers in 1974. “Many, many years ago, before explorers sailed to the Northwest, there lived a large, happy creature called the Wheedle…” begins the story. For those who need their memory gently jostled, the story centers on how the Wheedle’s peaceful existence is disturbed by the arrival of people to Seattle and the sounds they make, particularly whistling — and how he finds peace and quiet again.

By 1991 more than four million copies had been sold, and it was translated into five languages — no small feat for an independent book publisher based in rainy Seattle.

The character’s popularity took on a life of its own following publication, and for the next 20 years the furry orange Wheedle served at different times as mascot for the Space Needle, the Sounder soccer team, the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team and KOMO-TV.

Sasquatch’s new hardcover edition restores the book to its original format — a national publisher’s 2002 reprint removed much of the quaintly Seattle content, including the Space Needle on the cover.