Monday, September 24, 2012


My new book, The Dogs of Winter, comes out one week from 
today. I thought I'd give everyone a taste of the book my letting you read here the first chapter:

 Chapter 1: Dreams

I dream of dogs. I dream of warm, soft backs pressed against mine, their deep musky smell a comfort on long, bitter nights. I dream of wet tongues, flashing teeth, warm noses, and knowing eyes, watching. Always watching.
Sometimes I dream we are running, the dogs and I, through empty streets and deserted parks. We run for the joy and freedom    in it, never tiring, never hungry. And then, great wings unfold from their backs, spreading wide and lifting the dogs above me. I cry out, begging them to come back, to take pity on this earth-bound boy.
It has been many years since I lived with the dogs, but still I dream. I do not dream of the long winter nights on the streets of Russia; seldom do I dream of the things that drove me from my home. My dreams begin and end with the dogs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Invisible Ones: the street children of Russia

In my last post about the real-life inspirations behind my new book, The Dogs of Winter, I introduced you to those smart, adaptable street dogs of Russia.

Today, I want to tell you about the street children of Russia, one of whom was Ivan Mishukov, the child who inspired my story. Like the dogs, they too were abandoned by their families because they required more of everything--food, drink, shelter, and love--than the adults could give.

Within just a few short years after the fall of the Soviet Union, there were tens of thousands of children living on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. By 1996, the year Ivan Mishukov was abandoned at age four, there were an estimated 80,000 children and teens trying to survive on the streets. Most of these children were known as "social orphans" because they had at least one parent still living.

Living in an abandoned building
An article on the BBC in 2002 does a much better job than I can describing the plight of these children:

"Slouched against the station wall, Dima takes a defiant drag on his cigarette.
His fingernails are encrusted with dirt, his oversized red anorak grubby and torn. He is now 13, and has been living rough in Moscow for four months.
"My stepfather's an alcoholic. He used to shout at me and hit me. So I left. Now I live here, at the station. I sleep on central heating pipes, or on a train. The police sometimes pick us up, but they always let us out again."

Russia is perhaps the only country in the world where a policeman, when he sees a child in the street, tries not to notice him

Boris Altshuler
Rights of the Child
Leningrad station, like most in Moscow, is dotted with tiny figures like Dima. They wander among the crowds begging money, or loiter near cafes angling for leftovers.
In the darker recesses, boys - some are just five or six years old - bury their noses in plastic bags, sniffing glue.

Officials here estimate there are as many as 50,000 children living on the streets of the Russian capital, begging, stealing and sometimes selling themselves to get by.
That is more than were left homeless and orphaned after World War II.
Today though, the majority of them have at least one living parent. While they have turned, in most cases, to drink or violence, the authorities have turned away.

Unless the authorities address the root causes of poverty and misery in Russia, thousands of children will continue to choose the hardships of life on the street over life at home."

Street child sniffing glue
Since the years Ivan lived on the streets and even since 2002, there has been improvement for the homeless children of Russia. As of 2006, the Russian government had committed almost 6 billion rubles to federal and child homeless and crime prevention act. There has also been a 100% increase in the number of orphanages and shelters for these children. Still, the numbers are disheartening.

Some have said that my book is "too dark" and gritty. I felt very strongly when I worked on Ivan's story that it would be disrespectful not only him but to all the street children if I "Disneyfied" their world just to satisfy an American audience. I am so very grateful to my editor, Arthur A. Levine, for supporting my decision to tell Ivan's story with honesty and compassion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Joanne Levy and Zoe!

Joanne Levy
Okay, full disclosure: I suck at titles. Really, I do! The only one of my books that has the title I came up with is The Ring. And even that's not so creative, now is it? So when we get in new books at the library, the two things I notice right away are the title and the jacket art.

Which brings me to this week's Fido and Friend spotlight author, Joanne Levy. When her debut middle-grade novel came into the library, I was immdiatly grabbed by both the jacket art and the title! I mean, how clever is Small Medium at Large? Very. Epsecially when you read the book. I don't know who came up with that title, but it rocks.

And who knew the dead could be so annoying? Lilah Bloom, the main character in Small Medium at Large know this all too well. To say she found out the hard way is an understatement. You see, after she was struck by lightning (at a perfectly lovely wedding), Lilah discovered she had a new talent: she could hear dead people. And not only were there a lot of them, but they were not what one would expect. A prissy fashion designer? An attention-seeking clown? And her own (deceased) Bubby Dora, every bit as opinionated and prone to meddling in the afterlife as she was when she was alive. Being in seventh grade is no picnic, and dealing with all these dead people isn't making Lilah's life any easier. This is a seriously funny and charming book!

Joanne lives in Ontario with her husband and their furry and feathered friends, including Zoe the Dog. Let's meet them in today's Fido and Friend in Five:

1. How did you and Zoe find each other?
Kia and Chester the Cat
Zoe and Mousy
We sadly had to put down our husky/shepherd mix, Kia, due to illness and thought we were going to wait a bit before getting another dog. I had thought when we did decide to get another dog—there was never a question of ‘if’, it was only a question of ‘when’—we’d maybe get something a little smaller, but my husband wanted a Lab. We lasted 2 weeks before we were contacting breeders for a Labrador Retriever puppy. We’d always rescued dogs in the past, but Kia had been such a huge challenge with her severe separation anxiety and very destructive behavior, that we wanted a puppy this time. Sadly, none were available, so we started looking at online classifieds to broaden our search. We happened upon an ad for a five month old black Lab pup whose family was having issues integrating her into their home—seemed their first dog wasn’t getting along with the puppy. Within hours, we visited and fell in love with Zoe and we took her home that very day. We’ve had her for a year and a half now and she’s such a joy every day.

2. What makes Zoe's tail wag?
I LOVE this photo!
Everything! She’s such a happy and loving dog. Nothing makes her happier than her morning rambles with us, though. She loves to run and if you have a ball to throw for her, she’ll retrieve it endlessly. She also loves chasing our cats, but we’re trying to discourage that!

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?
Oh wow. That’s tough! I’ve always been a dog-lover and remember reading about dogs, from my favorite Clifford picture book to Marmaduke comic strips (and I still absolutely want a Great Dane) to White Fang. As an adult, my reading is much less animal-focused, but I do remember enjoying Marley and Me a lot, although I remember thinking that my Kia would have given Marley a run for his money in the race to be the worst behaved dog! As for a favorite story—I can’t say I have one in particular, but I’m in awe of service dogs of all kinds, and tear up every time I see a canine in service, their life’s work being enabling the life and independence of their human. I have been giving serious thought to train Zoe to be a therapy dog so she can participate in a program like this one:

4. If Zoe could change just one thing about you, what would that be? Zoe would really like us to quit our jobs so we could be with her more. I’d really like that, too.

5. In five words, tell us what Zoe means to you: Our goofy, loyal brown-eyed girl.

Thanks so very much to Joanne and Zoey for visiting Fido and Friend in Five! Find out more about Joanne and her most excellent Small Medium at Large on Joanne's website!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Street Dogs of Russia

My new book, The Dogs of Winter, is the story of, among other things, the amazing intelligence, adaptability, and compassion of dogs.

Moscow street dogs in ally
When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990's, anything that had to be fed and required money was tossed out onto the streets. This included children and dogs. Within a few years, the number of homeless dogs (and probably cats too) exploded into the tens of thousands.

These dogs learned many ways to adapt in order to survive. I have lots scenes in my book that some readers may find hard to believe--scenes where the dogs trick people into dropping their food, scenes where the dogs observe traffic signals, and most particularly, the scenes in the book showing the dogs using the metro system to navigate Moscow. I can just hear readers saying, "Oh come on. No dog is that smart!" But these dogs are. Below are excerpts from an article that appeared on ABC News in March of 2010 titled "Stray Dogs Master Complex Moscow Subway System." Read on and be amazed!

Riding the subways in Moscow
"Some of Moscow's stray dogs have figured out how to use the city's immense and complex subway system, getting on and off at their regular stops. The human commuters around them are so accustomed to it that they rarely seem to notice. As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Russia's capital city. They can be found everywhere, from markets to construction sites to underground passageways, scrounging for food and trying to survive. Taking the subway is just one of many tactics the strays have come up with for surviving in the manmade wilderness around them.

Moscow's strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin. He and Poyarkov report the strays have developed a variety of techniques for hunting food in the wild metropolis.

One of many feral packs

Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.

Another trick the researchers report seeing is the bark-and-grab: a dog will suddenly jump up behind a person in the street who is holding some snack, enough of a surprise that the food gets dropped for the grabbing.

"In Moscow there are all sorts of stray dogs, but... there are no stupid dogs," Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a biologist who has studied Moscow's strays for 30 years, told ABC News."

Monday, September 10, 2012


Daisy loves audiobooks!
As you may know, my book A Dog's Way Home, came out on audiobook this summer. I am so excited about this because I am a passionate audiobook listener! I think I was more excited when Listening Library bought the audio rights to the book than when the film option rights were sold! Listening Library (Random House) always does such an amazing job with their productions. They produced all the the audio versions of the Harry Potter books plus many more. The readers, Emily Eiden and Chuck Carrington, have done a beautiful job of interpreting Abby and Tam.

Listening Library was generous enough to give me quite a few author copies of the book on CD. I'd like to share these with ten school libraries. The first ten teachers or librarians to email me will receive an audio version of A Dog's Way Home--and I'll pay the postage! Go to my homepage and you'll get right to my email. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Clare Vanderpool, Jack, and Millie!

One of the things I really enjoy about going to the big annual SCBWI conference in L.A is hearing the keynote speakers. As a passionate reader and long-time librarian, I love hearing authors talk about their books. At this year's conference, Patricia MacLachlan charmed us with stories about her precocious grandchildren, Ruta Sepetys had us on the edges of our seats, Dan Gutman had us laughing our heads off, Karen Cushman held us in the palm of her hand. 

And then there was Clare Vanderpool, author of the Newbery award-winning Moon Over Manifest. Clare strode out on to the stage with her long legs, gorgeous hair, and 200 watt smile, and managed to make us laugh, cry, and feel like she was our new best friend. She charmed us with stories about her husband, parents, and kids. She even showed us a little video of her daughters hanging out at home, doing the funny things kids that age do. And the girls were funny and charming (like their mom) but what caught my attention was the cute little dog who wandered into the video. My tail went straight up: Clare Vanderpool has a dog! Maybe, just maybe, she'd be on Fido and Friend in Five! Oh, but she's a Newbery Award winner, I thought, plus she has a new book coming out. She won't want to be on my little blog. But like other Newbery winners and honorees who've been on Fido and Friend--Patricia MacLachlan, Gary Schmidt, Marion Dane Bauer, Cynthia Lord, and others--Clare was most gracious with her time. 

Clare's debut novel, Moon Over Manifest, kind of came out of nowhere and won the coveted Newbery Award for 2011. I say it came out of nowhere because, as a geeky librarian, I track a lot of the talk on line about who the frontrunners are for awards like the Newbery, Caldecott, and Prinz. Not too many people had mentioned Moon Over Manifest because it had just been published that fall. A lot of us in the library world were initially surprised when it was announced that Clare's book had won the Newbery;then we were equally glad it had when we read it. Such a funny, wise, charming, and beautiful book! And I personally think it has a great cover. 

Clare has a new book coming out in January with an equally great cover. The book is called Navigating Early. I'm particularly interested in this book because it takes place on the Appalachian Trail--not only a part of the world I love but also a storied trail my stepson hiked in its entirety. 

Clare and her family share their lives in Wichita, Kansas with two adorable dogs, Jack and Millie. Let's meet them on today's Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and your dogs find each other?
   I had been wanting a dog for a long time, but we'd already had the overwhelming of having a baby and getting a new puppy in the same week. Eventually, the puppy got pretty big and a very nice neighbor lady gave her a new home. So, we decided we'd wait on another dog until all the kids were potty trained. When our youngest was two and out of diapers, I began looking for a dog. We eventually found two! A fox terrier named Millie and then a chihuahua named Jack.

2. What makes Jack and Millie's tales wag?
    Lots of attention! And actually, they make each other's tails wag. They are very good buddies, and one does not like being separated from the other for very long.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?
Millie and Jack
    Call of the Wild and White Fang.

 4. If Jack and Millie could change just one thing about you, what would that be?
    They would probably prefer that my entire day revolved around taking long walks and long naps with them. Some days that doesn't sound like a bad idea!
5. In five words, tell us what Jack and Millie mean to you:
  Always coming home to a friendly face.

Thanks so much to the amazing Clare Vanderpool for taking the time out to share Millie and Jack's story with us! Be sure to check out Clare's website to find out all kinds
of fun information and to keep track of her new book. I can't wait to read it!