Posts Tagged dogs

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Days: A Canine Collection of Reading

There’s a reason these sultry days of July and August are called “dog days of summer,” but it has nothing to do with your canine companion.

The phrase gets its name from long ago when people associated the hot weather with the star Sirius, the brightest in the sky. Sirius is part of the Canis Major (Large Dog) constellation. And because of this, it became known as the Dog Star.

In late summer, in the Northern Hemisphere, Sirius rises and sets with the sun. As a result, early stargazers believed the star’s heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of stifling weather from July to August.

Turns out they were wrong. The heat is actually the result of the Earth’s tilt. Still, what better way to celebrate these dog days than to take a look at books about man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

Below are a few that have been published in the last five years. (Dates are for first year of publication.)

For a look at some older dog books, click on this classic MUF post: No Dead Dogs

9780062122209A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean (2012)

Cally Fisher knows she can see her dead mother, but the only other living soul who does is a mysterious wolfhound who always seems to be there when her mom appears. How can Cally convince anyone that her mom is still with the family, or persuade her dad that the huge silver-gray dog belongs with them. With beautiful, spare writing and adorable animals, A Dog Called Homeless is perfect for readers of favorite middle-grade novels starring dogs, such as Because of Winn-Dixie and Shiloh.

9780544339125Dog Days: The Carver Chronicles, Book One by Karen English (2013)

It’s tough being the new kid at Carver Elementary. Gavin had lots of friends at his old school, but the kids here don’t even know that he’s pretty good at skateboarding, or how awesome he is at soccer. And when his classmate Richard comes over and the boys end up in trouble, not only does Gavin risk losing his one new friend, he has to take care of his great aunt Myrtle’s horrible little dog as punishment. To make matters worse, Gavin seems to have attracted the attention of the school bully. Will he be able to avoid getting pounded at the skate park? And how is he ever going to prove he’s cool with a yappy little Pomeranian wearing a pink bow at his side?

9780316043977Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors (2011)

Homer Pudding, an ordinary farm boy, has big dreams of following in the footsteps of his famous treasure-hunting uncle. But when Uncle Drake mysteriously disappears, Homer inherits two things: a lazy, droopy dog with no sense of smell, and a mystery. Why would his uncle call this clumsy dog his “most treasured possession?” And why did he put a gold coin on the dog’s collar? Join Homer, his sister Gwendolyn, and Dog on an adventure that will test their wits and courage as they leave their peaceful farm and head into a world where ruthless treasure hunters hide around every corner. Where they discover that Dog has a hidden talent and that treasure might be closer than they ever imagined. This is the first in a series of books about Homer and Dog.

9780545639149Rescue on the Oregon Trail: Ranger in Time #1 by Kate Messner (2015)

Ranger has been trained as a search-and-rescue dog, but can’t officially pass the test because he’s always getting distracted by squirrels during exercises. One day, he finds a mysterious first-aid kit in the garden and is transported to the year 1850, where he meets a young boy named Sam Abbott. Sam’s family is migrating west on the Oregon Trail, and soon after Ranger arrives, he helps the boy save his little sister. Ranger thinks his job is done, but the Oregon Trail can be dangerous, and the Abbotts need Ranger’s help more than they realize! See also: Danger in Ancient in Rome: Ranger in Time #2, also by Kate Messner.

9780545554510Lucky Dog: Twelve Tales of Rescued Dogs (2014)

This collection is full of heartwarming and hilarious stories about the Pawley Rescue Center, where rescued dogs find their way into hearts and homes. You’ll meet Foxtrot, a feisty Pomeranian who can’t bear the thought of leaving her best friend. And Beatrice, whose bark is definitely worse than her bite. And then there’s Pumpkin, one of the 101 Chihuahuas who turn life at the center upside down. Lucky Dog features sweet and silly stories about playful pups and the kids who love them by some of your favorite authors: Randi Barrow, Marlane Kennedy, Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, Kirby Larson, C. Alexander London, Leslie Margolis, Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens, Ellen Miles, Michael Northrop, Teddy Slater, Tui T. Sutherland, and Allan Woodrow.

9780545643313Woof (A Bowser and Birdie Novel) by Spencer Quinn (2015)

There is trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp — Bowser can smell it. Bowser is a very handsome and only slightly slobbery dog, and he can smell lots of things. Like bacon. And rawhide chews! And the sweat on humans when they’re lying. Birdie Gaux, the girl Bowser lives with, also knows something is wrong. It’s not just that her grammy’s stuffed prize marlin has been stolen. It’s the weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. It’s the truck that seems to be following Birdie and the bad feeling on the back of her neck. When Birdie and Bowser start digging into the mystery, not even Bowser’s powerful sniffer can smell just how menacing the threat is. And when the danger comes straight for Birdie, Bowser knows it up to him to sic ’em.

9780545416382Duke by Kirby Larson (2013)

With World War II raging and his father fighting overseas in Europe, eleven-year-old Hobie Hanson is determined to do his part to help his family and his country, even if it means giving up his beloved German shepherd, Duke. Hoping to help end the war and bring his dad home faster, Hobie decides to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, an organization that urges Americans to “loan” their pets to the military to act as sentries, mine sniffers, and patrol dogs. Hobie immediately regrets his decision and tries everything he can to get Duke back, even jeopardizing his friendship with the new boy at school. But when his father is taken prisoner by the Germans, Hobie realizes he must let Duke go and reach deep within himself to be brave. Will Hobie ever see Duke, or his father, again?

9781599906904Girl’s Best Friend (A Maggie Brooklyn Mystery) by Leslie Margolis (2010)

Dogs are disappearing in her neighborhood, and Maggie Brooklyn Sinclair knows all about it. After all, she has a semi-secret after-school gig as a professional (ok, amateur) dog-walker. Maggie hates to see a pup in trouble, so she’s even willing to help her ex-best friend Ivy recover her rescue-dog, Kermit. Kermit’s being held for ransom, and Maggie has noticed some suspicious behavior lately. But she never suspected her crush Milo could be involved.

9780374380083Boy’s Best Friend by Kate Banks and Rupert Sheldrake (2015)

Eleven-year-old George has a dog, Bart, who seems to know everything about him—from when he is feeling sad to when he will arrive home from school. George’s new neighbor and classmate, Lester, also has a dog, Bill Gates, and Lester thinks he is the smartest animal in the world. When their teacher assigns a school science project about animal behavior, George and Lester decide to conduct an experiment based on the world-famous Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments about dogs. George even has an email exchange with Dr. Sheldrake to help him with the project—and he and Lester soon find out that, through a few simple experiments, kids can make scientific discoveries, too. This middle-grade dogs story is inspired by Rupert Sheldrake’s bestselling adult book, Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.

9781419714818Dog Beach Unleashed: The Seagate Summers Book Two by Lisa Greenwald (2015)

Remy, Micayla, Bennett, and the C Twins are back on Seagate Island for another summer of beach traditions, new and old. A new tradition: keeping Remy’s dog-sitting business going. Remy loves seeing her dog friends (and her real friends, too), but the doldrums start to sink in when it turns into the rainiest summer on record, with evacuation constantly threatening to ruin the world’s most perfect vacation spot. Tempers are short and dogs are bored. What can one 12-year-old do to create summer magic when the summer doesn’t seem to be showing up? See also: Welcome to Dog Beach: The Seagate Summers Book One, also by Lisa Greenwald.

9780545416351Dash by Kirby Larson (2014)

Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home—or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they’ve lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?

9780544088931Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World by Nancy F. Castaldo (2014)

Anyone who has ever spent time with a dog knows that dogs love sniffing! They sniff out hidden food, dirty socks, and the visitor who comes to the door.  But some dogs work with police officers, soldiers and even scientists to put their “sniffers” to work. Sniffer dogs make use of the amazing biology behind their noses to protect people from bombs, catch criminals smuggling drugs, or help researchers locate a hard to find snail in a forest.
In Sniffer Dogs you will meet many dogs and their handlers and learn all about their jobs. Some of these dogs are raised from birth to detect blood sugar levels in their owners.  Others are rescued from animal shelters and their boisterous personalities help make them excellent sniffer dogs. Featuring a balance between science and social science, Sniffer Dogs will appeal to dog lovers and science lovers alike.

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the New Jersey Shore, will be out in May 2016 from S&S/Aladdin. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/