Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Randi Barrow and Manuel!

Randi Barrow
Randi Barrow and I have a surprising number of things in common: 1) we both have gender-neutral names 2) we both write for Scholastic 3) we both write about and are inspired by dogs 4) both of us have books that take place in Russia and 5) we both have characters in our books that take place in Russia named Ivan and 6) our Ivan boys do whatever it takes to survive, often with the help of their canine friends. If all this doesn't make us related in some way, I don't know what would. Oh, and we both had loads of research to do for our book. I wonder if she enjoyed it as much as I did?

Randi is the author of the amazing and riveting Saving Zasha, and its newly released prequel, Finding Zasha. I'd read Saving Zasha when it first came out, as I was finishing up revisions on The Dogs of Winter, reading any middle grade book I could get my hands on set in Russia. I loved the book and was so excited when I read she had a prequel to it coming out!

Let's do this in chronological (rather than publication) order. Finding Zasha is the story of 12-year-old Ivan, trapped with his mother during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. I didn't know until I read this book just how devestating the German siege of the city was. Millions died! To survive, Ivan's mother sends him away to a little-known uncle in the outer reaches. How Ivan meets and falls in love with a German Shepherd dog being trained to hunt Russians like himself is the crux of this story, and it's a heart-warmer. Saving Zasha is set in Russia in 1945 at the end of World War II. Both books are full of all kinds of interesting facts and insight into life in Russia during and after the war. And, I might add, are beautifully written.

I asked Randi in an email exchange if she always knew she'd write the story before Saving Zasha. She wrote, "I didn't have a prequel in mind and neither did my publisher. I just knew I wanted to write more, using the history I'd learned (in writing the first book) and incorporate some new characters. The interesting and fun part was trying to tie it all together."

Randi familiar with the hardships kids can face. She was an adoption attorney for twenty years before she became a writer. She wrote a book based on her experiences called Somebody's Child: Stories from the Private Files of an Adoption Attorney.

These days, Randi lives and writes in Los Angeles with her husband and her most handsome boy, Manuel. Let's meet them in todays Fido and Friend in Five!

The most handsome boy
1. How did you and Manuel find each other?  A neighborhood dog I loved very much died. A friend slipped a brochure from a no-kill shelter into our mailbox, knowing how sad I'd be. That was all the encouragement I needed. Within hours, I was there, telling the woman at the shelter that we hoped for a "small, sweet, quiet" dog (I laugh when I read that now.) She said, "Let me introduce you to Manuel!" He was emaciated, looked a little sad, and shy, but there was something about him that made me know he was the one. My husband had to work that day. Thank goodness he trusted me or we might have missed out on meeting our Manuel!

Manuel loves words
2. What makes Manuel's tail wag?  Words make his tail wag. Words like Go, and Walk, and Treat, and Holly. Holly is a mini-pincher who lives down the street. She manages to escape her house with some regularity and comes to visit Manuel. Whenever she arrives, there is an explosion of sound, as if the world's biggest emergency is at hand! After they start to play--after Holly reminds him who's boss--he is one happy dog.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  As corny as it sounds, it's probably Lassie Come-Home, by Eric Knight (OMG, another thing we have in common!!!). And I like the 1943 movie with Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor even better than the book. That Lassie has to be sold so that the family can eat...does it get more heartbreaking? Watching that magnificent dog swim in the cold Highland waters, escape from robbers and dog-catchers, or arrive half-dead at the old people's cottage, is spellbinding. At leas to me!

4. If Manuel could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  He would unchain me from my desk, from the telephone, from errands, and other mundane chores and never let me leave his side. Maybe he has a point.

5. In five words, tell us what Manuel means to you:  Happiness, joy, love, tolerance, perfection.

Many thanks to Randi and Manuel for sharing their story on today's Fido and Friend in Five. To find out more about Randi and her books, be sure to check out her website. Happy tails!

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