Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Lauren Tarshis and Roy!

On Lauren Tarshis's website, she tells this inspiring story:  "Back in fourth grade, I was in the lowest reading group in my class. I tried to read Charlotte's Web about ten times, and never made it past chapter 2. I didn't know it at the time, but I had some kind of learning disability that made it hard for me to keep all the words straight in my brain. If you had known me in fourth grade, you would have said, "She is the least likely person in our class to grow up to write a book."  And yet, she did. Lauren is the author of the multi-award winning Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree and its sequel, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love--both picks for Oprah's Best Books for Girls. Yes, Lauren got the Oprah Bump! Lauren also writes the wildly popular I Survived...series for Scholastic. The latest one, I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake, just came out in March. I'm telling you, I'm constantly re-ordering these for my library. For ten years, Lauren has been the editor for Scholastic's Storyworks magazine, a really fun literature magazine for kids in 4th-6th grade. So as you can see, Lauren's early struggles with reading didn't hold her back!

I had the great good fortune to work with Lauren last summer when she asked me to write an original short story for Storyworks. I was nervous, excited, honored and terrified! I wasn't at all sure I could write a short story. I am, after all, a Southerner. The words "short" and "story" are never used together in our story-telling world.  But Lauren was a dream to work with. In the course of our conversations about the story that would become "Squeak Twice for Yes," Lauren revealed she had just gotten a puppy. A puppy! I hounded Lauren for months: "Is Roy ready for a Fido and Friend in Five spotlight? Is he, huh, is he?" Finally, Roy was ready.
Love at first sight

1. How did you and Roy find each other?  I had a miniature poodle growing up. He lived to be 18. When we were ready to get a dog, we decided on a poodle. After much research, we found a breeder in Pennsylvania. The scene was poodle mayhem--and there he was, a tiny black puff with sparkling eyes. It was love at first sight!

2.  What makes Roy's tail wag?  EVERYTHING makes his tail wag--all of us, any sound (especially barking), any dog, any item left on the floor and thus obviously meant for HIM. He has a zest for life.
Squeak Twice for Yes

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story? Of course, you know the answer to to the question of my favorite dog story: it's Squeak Twice for Yes!

4. If Roy could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  If Roy could change just one thing about me, he would have me take him everywhere--to work, into the shower, to Broadway shows, everywhere.

Perpetual motion and joy
5. In five words, tell us what Roy means to you: He's joy in perpetual motion.

Thanks to Lauren and Roy for visiting Fido and Friends
in Five! Be sure to check out Lauren's website for more
information about her and her upcoming books.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Anne Nesbet and Soushka!

Anne Nesbet
Anne Nesbet cracks me up. Truly. She says things on her website like, "I was not a very adorable child," and "I am younger than the average dragon and older than most poodles." Speaking of her Border Collie, she writes on her website that the dog, "never met a former tree she did not want to sink her teeth into," and that the wooden furniture in her house, "live in fear. Have you ever seen a table tremble? Ours does." When I emailed Anne and asked if she and her wood-loving Border Collie, Soushka, would be interested in the Fido and Friend spotlight, she assured me she'd love to participate, and "Soushka is interested too if pine cones, tennis balls, or groups of dogs to run circles around because they look a little like sheep, are involved." See what I mean?

This funny and highly imaginative woman just debuted her first novel, The Cabinet of Earths, which Kirkus Reviews described as "a charmingly creepy European vacation for fans of chillers and thrillers." And, as you can see, it has a delicious cover. It's about 13 year-old Maya and her family who move from California to Paris. Once there, Maya and her younger brother, James, discover a hypnotically alluring cabinet, peculiar branches in their family tree, and a very creepy underground society.

Like me, Anne loves to hike the hills with her dog and think about the story she's working on. She also has a very special (to me, anyway) Super Power: she can read while she's walking! Let's meet Anne Nesbet and her Soushka in today's Fido and Friend in Five:

Soushka in her happy place
1. How did you and Soushka find each other?  Imagine the movie version: woman and dog, in slow motion, running to greet each other through green grass and daisies? Well, that's not how it happened. I was flying home from a conference in Italy and called form the airport in New York to say I was back in the country, and one of my kids answers, "in fifteen minutes, Daddy's taking us to get a PUPPY!!!!" In short, Soushka more or less came into my life over my dead (or at least absent) body. My life has changed deeply since her appearance, and the changes are almost, you know, something you could write a book about: what happens to a determinedly non-dog person when her life has to re-center itself around...a puppy!

2. What makes Soushka's tail wag?  She's a Border Collie, so she has a very beautiful tail, but (being who she is) her most joyous moments are not necessarily tail-wagging ones. She seems to me most herself when she's out on the green-grass hills of the local Marina, running great glad arcs around other people's dogs. Actual tail-wagging happens when she sees dogs or people coming. As soon as they are within view (even if very far away), she flops down on her belly and waits. And then, when they get close enough to appreciate, the tail goes wag wag wag back and forth, while she's still politely belly-flopped.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  When I was a kid, I was absolutely enthralled by all those old Albert Terhune books about collies (Lad, a Dog, Gray Dawn, and many others!). How those books came into our house, I don't know. But for all of second or third grade, I went everywhere with an entourage of invisible collies. I think one was named Silver. They were unutterably gorgeous (though invisible) and, if I recall correctly, had magical powers, and of course, were completely secret. (See? She cracks me up!)

4. If Soushka could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  That's the easiest question! She would wave her magic dog-wand and turn me into someone who sees the true beauty of tennis balls, especially muddy, slightly ragged ones. And who wants to do nothing else but throw them and throw them and throw them, eight hours a day. She is really offended by my non-appreciation of tennis balls.

Soushka and her Girl
5. Tell us in five words what Soushka means to you:  Long walks in the hills!

Okay, I just had to ask this additional question of Anne:

6. How did Soushka get her name?  Soushka is Russian, and it means a super-dry pretzel-like biscuit thing. She got the name by accident. We couldn't decide on a name, and then the puppy class teacher put her foot down and said we had to decide right that moment on SOMETHING, and my husband had been calling her "Soushka" that day as a joke, so there it was. She is a brown Border Collie, and actual sushki are tannish-brown, but that's the only similarity I can think of...

LOL! Thanks to Anne and the deliciously pretzel-like Soushka for delighting us on Fido and Friend in Five. Be sure to visit Anne's wonderfully quirky self on her website and visit her blog.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday to A Dog's Way Home!

This month is one year since A Dog's Way Home started its journey into the wide world. I'd been wanting to write a Happy Birthday blog post to honor the anniversary, but what to say? I thought, well I could talk about the fact that its sold in three countries: Germany, Poland, and Russia. And that film option rights have been sold, and that it will be coming out in audio and paperback this summer. And all those are things to celebrate.

But the other day, I got this email from Debbie in Alabama. She told me about one of her twin daughters who is a passionate reader, reading A Dog's Way Home and how much her daughter loved it. She loved it so much she said she thought her mom should read it. And not only that, she felt pretty sure she'd read it to her daughter. Not to mention she did an awesome school report on it so she could share it with her whole class.

And I thought, this is the best way to celebrate Abby and Tam's journey out into the world. This is why I wrote the book. This is all I could ever wish for.
Debbie writes:

Laura and Tam
A few weeks ago I took both girls to our local Books-A-Million to choose their books. Lately Laura has been into all the "girl" books such as the ones written by Wendy Maas. This time as I was sitting on the floor in the children's section of Books-A-Million, I suggested she read something along a different line. While she was still looking in the "girl" books section, I idly came across your book on a bottom shelf. I showed it to Laura suggesting she give it a try. Reluctantly, she put her girl book back on the shelf and started flipping through "A Dog's Way Home". She said, "Okay, Mom. I'll give it a try."
Laura's Super Project!
She completed the book today and let me tell you, she did not put that book down until she finished! Each and every night she would get in bed at least 20 minutes early just to read. Any free time she had was spent on the screened deck in the glider with a blanket wrapped around her, her cat in her lap, reading her book. Every day she would tell me what was going on with Tam and Abby. When she finally finished the book around noon today, she came downstairs holding it near her heart like a dear friend. She said, "Mom, you remember telling me a few weeks ago about the book you were reading? That it was so good you didn't want it to end? Well now I know exactly how you felt! This is the best book I've ever read in my whole life.  I didn't want it to end! I'm going to keep it and read to my child someday." Then she wrote her name and the date on the inside of the book.
A sad Abby
Tam, lost and alone
For her book report presentation, she chose to do watercolors of three scenes/settings in the book. She did a watercolor of Tam lost in the woods, of Abby crying in her bedroom after losing Tam and of the coyote whose leg was caught in a trap that Tam befriended.  She had to write a five to seven sentence paragraph describing the scene then mount everything on poster board. It turned out beautifully.
The little coyote
As a mother of young, impressionable daughters, it is so refreshing to see my girls pick up a book and fall completely in love with the story. Needless to say, I have your book beside me in bed right now and will start reading it myself tonight. After I read it, Natalie will probably read it, too. Who knows? Maybe my husband will want to jump in there, too! J

In a world of computers, ipads, cell phones, electronic gaming and the many other areas of electronics, thank you so much for writing a book that made my daughter want to read before choosing any of the afore mentioned things. May the world be blessed with more authors like you.  

"Tam is a much loved shetland sheepdog..."
Happy birthday, A Dog's Way Home!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Monica Carnesi and Constance!

Two years ago, Monica Carnesi was driving to work, listening to her favorite NPR station, when she heard a story that would change her life. The reporter told the story of a little dog, lost and stranded far out to sea on an ice flow. No one knew how the dog had gotten on this chunk of ice on the Vistula River in Poland and drifted out to the Baltic Sea. No one knew how to save the little dog from a terrible fate, they just knew they must. This past January, author and illustrator, Carnesi published an absolutely beautiful and endearing picture book account of the dog's plight and rescue in her debut book, Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin). Horn Book gave the book a starred review describing the watercolor artwork as "simple yet dramatic." I would add heartwarming and haunting.

Like yours truly, Monica is a librarian! She works at the Philadelphia Free Library. Like me, she also hopes to one day quit her "day job" and just focus on her art and her writing. We both love "Bark" magazine and beagles. My first dog ever in my life was a beagle named Puck. So it only seemed right that Monica and her beloved rescue beagle, Constance, would be in the Fido and Friend in Five spotlight!

"Please take me home"
1. How did you and Constance find each other? My husband, Mark, gets the credit for finding our beagle girl. We had just moved to a dog-friendly building and were ready to adopt a dog. At some point, our nephew, Alex, suggested we get a beagle. We thought that was a great idea, so Mark immediately started looking into rescue organizations. He found BREW Beagles, a terrific rescue organization run by very dedicated volunteers. We know very little about Connie's past--when we adopted her in September of 2003, they estimated her age at 6 to 8 years old, so she's probably 15 now. We aren't even sure who gave her the name Constance. She was found by BREW volunteers at a shelter in Virginia, underweight and scared. BREW removed her from the shelter and placed her in a great foster home (God bless fosters), where she lived for about two months. We drove down from Philadelphia to meet her and fell in love right away. She's been a constant source of happiness ever since!

Doing what a beagle does best
2. What makes Connie's tail wag?  Going for a "pack walk"! In case you're wondering, that's when Mark, Connie and I go for a walk together. Connie loves going for walks with me, she loves going for walks with Mark. But going for a walk with both of us together (the whole "pack") is without a doubt her all-time favorite thing to do. Her tail wags, she practically bounces all the way to the elevator, and gives us the sweetest smile.

"Just in case..."
3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Since I write and illustrate picture books, I'm going to name my favorite picture book about dogs. Not an easy task since I love so many, but Fred Stays with Me, written by Nancy Coffelt and illustrated by Tricia Tusa is simply wonderful! Nancy's lovely story about a girl, her divorced parents, and her dog Fred, is beautifully illustrated by Tricia, and captures perfectly not only the bond between a child and her dog, but also the amazing gifts dogs give us: companionship, support, constancy, and love.

4. If Constance could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  Something I myself would love to change: my allergy to cats. Connie would love to have a cat friend. As I said, we know very little about her past, but we're convinced she grew up with a cat. Constance LOVES cats. She is rarely playful with other dogs and can be a bit aloof when meeting them on the street or in the park. But her whole demeanor changes when she sees a cat: she gets into her play position and starts wagging her tail. Our local pet supply store fosters cats for adoption. Once they had an adorable little white kitten named Sugar. Connie and Sugar would actually play "hide-and-seek" all over the store. I kid you not!

5. In five words, tell us what Connie means to you:  Constance fills me with hope.

Thanks so much, Connie and Monica! Hugs to you both! Be sure to check out Monica's website and blog to find out more about her and her art.