Posts Tagged dogs

Stella: Interview with McCall Hoyle

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, and one of the Epilepsy Foundation’s goals for this month is to get more people talking about epilepsy. So, with that goal in mind, I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with award-winning author McCall Hoyle about her upcoming book STELLA and her writing process.


Please tell us a little bit about STELLA.

STELLA is a hopeful story about a retired working beagle who must find the courage to overcome her fears and use her special nose to save a girl’s life.

The story is told from the beagle, Stella’s, point of view. I love stories like A DOG’S PURPOSE and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN that are told from an animal’s point of view.

I can’t wait for readers to experience life through a Stella’s eyes, ears, and, especially, her nose.

 

 

 

You started your career as an author writing Young Adult (THE THING WITH FEATHERS and MEET THE SKY). What got you interested in writing Middle Grade? How does writing it differ from writing YA?

Mostly, I just want to write the story that is calling to me at the moment. Someday, I might write an adult novel. Thankfully, I have an agent who nurtures my creativity and encourages me to write whatever is calling to me at the moment.

Plus, I really wanted to write something that my son and sixth-grade students could enjoy. And of course, I just love middle grade fiction.

I feel like writing for middle grade is a lot about discovering where you belong in your family and in a smaller “world”. To me YA feels more like an exploration of where you belong in the world at large.

Many of the themes I come back to in everything I write involve family and those relationships, so middle grade feels like a good fit.

 

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

I was suffering a serious case of writer’s block after the release of my second YA novel and couldn’t motivate myself to write anything. My YA novels weren’t appealing to my fifth-grade son, so I decided to write something specifically for him with zero intention of pursuing publication.

We both love dogs, and I’m an amateur dog trainer. Plus, our little beagle Sophie was getting on up in years. She was mostly deaf and blind, but she made up for these weaknesses with her super sniffer. Up until her final days, she was playing scent games and loving them.

So I wrote Stella one chapter at a time for my son and as a tribute to Sophie. I read the story aloud to my son and husband one chapter at a time. Anyone who’s taught elementary or middle school knows that kids are super honest. They don’t pretend that they like something just because you’re their mom or their teacher. My son loved Stella!

So I got my nerve up to tell my agent that I had this middle grade manuscript narrated from a dog’s point of view that I wanted her to read. I expected some pushback, but she never missed a bit and read it quickly. She told me she cried, which coming from her is a huge compliment.

Then one thing lead to another, and Stella is going to be a real book. And I couldn’t be more excited to share the book of my heart with the world.


November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Both THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA deal directly with epilepsy. What would you like our readers to know about epilepsy?

It’s not so much about what I want readers to know about epilepsy as it is that I want to remind readers that we cannot tell what is going on inside of a person just by the way they look on the outside. Epilepsy is a frequently invisible and misunderstood neurological disorder.

Both the THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA include girls that deal with epilepsy in their own ways. Emilie in THE THING WITH FEATHERS has a golden retriever who is her best friend and a trained seizure response dog. Stella is not a trained seizure response dog, but because of her close connection to her girl, Cloe, she learns to pick up on the chemical changes taking place in Cloe’s body.

As a dog lover, I am fascinated by this special connection between humans and dogs and will never tire of writing about it.

You refer to one of my all time favorite quotes in STELLA:  Eleanor Roosevelt’s  “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Can you tell us why you included this particular quote in STELLA and what it means to you?

I wrote a biographical report about Eleanor Roosevelt when I was in middle school, which was several  decades ago. I’ve always been attracted to real life stories of intelligent female leaders. The First Lady’s words have sort of been a mantra for me most of my life.

You don’t think you can finish a marathon. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You can’t quit your job in finance, go back to school and become a teacher. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You don’t think you can write and publish a book. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

I taught high school for several years and was frequently surprised by what teenagers thought they could not do. Often, a well-meaning adult had unintentionally spoken words that lead to these doubts. If just one young person reads STELLA and internalizes Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, all the hard work that went into writing the book will be worth it.

 

We at Mixed Up Files love teachers and librarians, and I know you do too. Could you tell our readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your reading or writing life?

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, sat on the floor and read aloud to us even though we were perfectly capable of reading to ourselves, and she was probably too old to sit comfortably on the floor. She made reading seem fun and made us feel like a community of readers.

Stories brought us all together–no matter how different our home lives were. It was a good feeling that stuck with me.

 

I know you are a dog lover (like me). Would you tell our readers about your favorite dog(s).

Oh my goodness! That might truly be the toughest author interview question ever and the first question I’m not sure I can answer. I really like smart, eager-to-please dogs, whether they’re purebred golden retrievers or the rescued mixed-breed that adopted my family when I was eight. These are the dogs that make you feel like a good dog trainer and good about yourself.

But then sometimes, I’m drawn to the challenge of a dog that seems too fearful or too aggressive to learn. The same philosophy that applies to my classroom teaching applies to my dog training. All kids can learn. All dogs can learn. And it’s our job as teachers and dog trainers to facilitate the learning.

Can I say, “I like all dogs?”

 

McCall Hoyle lives in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with her husband, children, and an odd assortment of pets. She is a middle school teacher and librarian. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, she’s probably playing with or training one of her many dogs. You can learn more about her at mccallhoyle.com

 

 

 

STELLA will be available in bookstores everywhere on March 2, 2021. In the meantime,

Head over to Goodreads for a chance to win a copy of STELLA.

And, be sure to pre-order a copy of STELLA from your favorite independent bookstore.

 

American Dog: Brave: An Interview with Author Jennifer Li Shotz

I’m excited to have had the chance to interview Jennifer Li Shotz, author of the bestseller Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. This book was made into the 2015 movie Max. Jennifer has written many other dog books, as well as a new series titled American Dog. Two of those books, Brave and Poppy, are coming out on April 7 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers).

Before I begin my interview, here is a brief description of American Dog: Brave:

Brave is a stray dog surviving on the streets after a hurricane in San Antonio, Texas. He’s skittish and starving, but when he encounters 12-year-old Dylan, everything changes. Dylan is having a tough time himself and feels like he and Brave can help each other—if Brave doesn’t destroy his mom’s new couch or ruin Dylan’s friendships first.

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer. I enjoyed reading American Dog: Brave. I am a dog person myself, so I especially loved the story. Being the author to so many books featuring dogs, I’d love to know your connection. Did you grow up having dogs? Why such an interest?

Dog lovers, unite! Though I just want to start by saying that I’m also very much a cat person—I don’t discriminate. Cute and fluffy is cute and fluffy. My son is super allergic to cats, though, so we’re a dogs-only household.

Believe it or not, I only had dogs for a very brief period in my childhood—maybe a year or so—but it was during a really tough time when my parents first separated. I was about 7 years old I think. The dogs’ names were Mork and Mindy (look them up, kids—nanu nanu!), and they were the light of my life. I still remember lying on the floor with Mork, who was a big yellow Lab-retriever mix. I’d put my head on his belly and tell him all kinds of things, like whether I was feeling sad that day or the latest divorce updates, as if he were my oldest friend in the world. In response, he’d blast me on the cheek with some sweet puppy breath, and our BFF status was sealed. Those moments of feeling so connected to him and safe with him are what made me a dog lover for life.

Now my family and I have a 3-year-old rescue mutt named Vida. She was a stray in Puerto Rico who was brought to New York by an amazing organization. She’s the sweetest, goofiest, snugliest, and most unbelievably stubborn dog you’ll ever meet. She can open baby gates and our front gate with her snout, and she once stole an entire pork roast off the counter. Don’t tell her this, but I don’t mind her antics, because I know she’s a friend to my kids the way Mork and Mindy were to me.

I always find it interesting what ideas shape a story. You incorporated many interesting topics in your book: the stray dogs in Texas, the aftermath of a hurricane, the Blue Lacy, and ranchers. Were any of those jumping-off points for this story?

Any of those things could be interesting on their own, but I’m less interested in the thing itself and more curious about how a child experiences or sees it. That’s the jumping-off point for every story. Whether it’s epic or mundane, anything can stir up intense feelings for a young person.

So, let’s say it’s a big natural disaster, like a hurricane. How would an 11- or 12-year-old feel when the wind is louder than a freight train and the roof is rattling so hard it feels like it’s going to get sucked up into the air? How about after that event is over—does the world feel like a safe place anymore? Grownups are shaken too, of course, and in many ways kids are more resilient than we are, but the experience is very different and unique for them.

How would a young person feel encountering a sweet, sad stray dog on the street? A grownup might think, well, that dog is breaking my heart, but we don’t have room for it in the house, or I can’t afford the vet bills and the food, so I have to walk away. But a kid? No way—a kid’s whole being gets invested in that dog as soon as their eyes meet. That’s what drives my curiosity—and the story!

 

Great point (us writers are taking notes). I love how each book in the American Dog series is set in a different state. How do you pick which state to start with?

Every state has its own fascinating mix of geography, history, local identity and culture, and native or prominent dog breeds—we just had to pick someplace to start! Texas was an easy choice because 1) Texas is awesome, 2) there are so many different cultures and experiences and such rich history there, and 3) the Blue Lacy is a really cool dog that’s not very widely known. It seemed like a setting that could offer lots of storylines and ideas—and it was!

 

Which has been your favorite to write and why?

Hmmm, that’s a hard choice because I love them all, but I’ll go with American Dog: Poppy because I’m a native Californian and I love and miss my home state so much. Hopefully the book captures some of the essence of California life. Also: surfing dogs. What could be bad?

 

Which has been the most difficult to write and why?

Difficult isn’t quite the right word, but American Dog: Star, which comes out in the fall, was the most challenging of this new series. The main character is a boy with dyslexia, and it was so important to me to capture his experience in a way that felt real and true. These days there are definitely more opportunities for kids with learning or other issues to see themselves in a book or story, but they’re still somewhat rare, and it’s important to get it right.

 

Can you share with us some of the fun things you did or places you went for research for any of the books in this series?

Have you Googled “surfing dogs” lately? I’ll never get all those hours of my life back, but it was worth every second. Go try it now—trust me on this one.

 

Wow! Fascinating! Thank you, Jennifer for sharing so much about your new series. American Dog: Brave and American Dog: Poppy are both available on April 7.

JENNIFER LI SHOTZ is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine., about the coolest war dog ever. She is also the author of the Hero and Scout series. A senior editor for Scholastic Action magazine, she lives with her family and Puerto Rican rescue dog, Vida, in Brooklyn. For the occasional tweet, follow her @jenshotz.

With a Dog By My Side

Dogs I like” is one one of my book shelves on Goodreads, and I feel a tremendous delight each time I get to add a new book to the shelf. These books are not necessarily about dogs (although some certainly are); rather, these are the books where the author has included a dog in the story in a way that makes me think: Yeah, she really understands dogs. More importantly, the author includes a dog in a way that makes me feel: I like that dog.

For those readers who love not only dog stories, but stories where people love their dogs, this slide show features 10 middle grade books for readers who not only love dog stories, but also love stories about people who love their dogs.

Here’s a list of the titles featured above:

  • The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
  • The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson
  • Dash by Kirby Larson
  • A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  • Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Lara’s Gift by Annemarie O’Brien
  • How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor