Monday, December 17, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Sheila O'Connor and Rollo!

Keeping Safe 
Sheila O'Connor
In case you've ever wondered, I do occassionally read fiction written for adults--even adult fiction books that have nothing to do with dogs. I just recently finished Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Flight Behavior, and I'm listening to the audiobook of Gone Girl, a book everybody is talking about. What these books have done for me is reaffirmed why I really prefer to read books written for kids and teens. Why? Because I get sick of reading about infidelity, deceit, murder, and betrayal. I really don't enjoy reading fiction populated with characters I loathe, where there's not a single character I even remotely like. Or, as in the case of Flight Behavior, I feel beat over the head with a "messege." Yes, yes, I know not all adult fiction is like this, and yes, I've read some fine books. But once you're spoiled by authors like Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, Gary Schmidt and many, many more who write such beautiful, funny, heartfelt novels, well, it's hard to go back.

Sparrow Road
Sheila O'Connor is one such author. Her novels are poetic and populated with people--sometimes flawed people--trying to do their best. I've had the great pleasure to read two of her middle grade novels, Sparrow Road and her new book, Keeping Safe the Stars. Sparrow Road, which received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, is populated with a rich assortment of characters all trying to find their best selves and their dreams. Like her new book, Keeping Safe the Stars, it is a book that celebrates the human connection and the universality of emotion. Her coming of age novel, Where No Gods Came, won the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Award for Literary Fiction.

Sheila's poems, essays, and stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines. She also teaches fiction in the MFA program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota and serves as editor of Water-Stone Review. 

Let's meet this charming duo in today's Fido and Friend in Five:

Saved by love
Heart to heart
1. How did you and Rollo find each other?  It was late fall, our beloved dog Buddy had recently died, and my twenty-year-old daughter saw a photo of some rescue puppies at a shelter three hours north of our house. Although I made her promise we wouldn't necessarily adopt one, of course I began to soften the minute I held Rollo to my heart (isn't that a beautiful way of putting it?). He was so calm, so full of gentle love, with these giant soulful eyes. The shelter was a dismal place, dirty and overcrowded with cages stacked on top of one another, and the pack of puppies looked desperate to be loved. I just couldn't leave him there. Fifteen minutes later, I wrote a check and signed the papers. The three of us drove home through a pounding rainstorm, Rollo in my daugher's lap. She held him while he slept, and while he suffered serious bouts of car sickness. By the time we made it back to Minneapolis, my daughter, the car, our brand new pup--everything was a mess! The first few months were rough. Rollo had a host of illnesses, stomach problems, infections, endless vet visits, and mounting bills. Every couple of days, we had to cook his food--giant pots of chicken, sweet potatoes, ect. It was real work, but his big, kind heart kept us in the game. And happily, he's strong and healthy now. If a sick dog can be saved by love, then Rollo was. He was adored by all: my son, my daughter, my husband. Everyone wanted to be near him, to hold him, and to love him. In his first nights home, my son put a mattress on the kitchen floor so he could hold him in his sleep. My daughter brought an endless stream of toys for Rollo to destroy. He was the center of our family's joy; he helped us recover from the great grief of losing Buddy.

Racing to the top!
2. What makes Rollo's tail wag?  Rollo is a happy spirit; it's rare his tail doesn't wag. He loves visitors of all kinds, long romps in the park, racing to the top of Browndale Hill, the sight of any dog who wants to romp and race. But perhaps his greatest love is children. He has a mad love for small beings, and will mourn for hours when there are children playing in the park across the street without him. The sound of a child's laugh will cause him to leap up from a nap and run to the window, wagging with hope. His other great happiness is the return of our own children, both grown now and living elsewhere. He can't contain his happiness when those kids who loved him first finally come home.

3. What's your all time favorite dog story?  We had a family vote on this; we had so many dog books we loved. But our all-time favorite is a picture book we read and re-read and re-read when the kids were young: Theodor and Mr. Balbini by Petra Mathers. Those two characters are completely real to us, and we still find occasions to reference Mr. Balbini's sadness when Theodore longs for a life beyond "routine."

High Five!
4. If Rollo could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  If Rollo were in charge, I'd read less books, write less books, spend less time in a chair grading student papers. Frankly, he finds books to be a bore. All that reading looks like wasted time to him. The minute he sees me settling in to work, he drops a ball or Frisbee in my lap. I think he'd like me to retire.

5. In five words, tell us what Rollo means to you:  Joy without end, love forever.

Cold noses, warm hearts
Want to find out what Sheila's favorite food is, or what the stupidest thing is she ever did as a kid? Be sure to visit her lovely website! Thanks Rollo and Sheila!

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