Today launches two new books for me.
How the Stories Started. For years, I’ve taught writing. I teach everything from kindergarteners to advanced novelist, gifted-and-talented kids to reluctant writers. I’ve developed techniques for helping people write stronger and they usually involve either revising or prewriting. In schools, it’s hard to get kids to revise; they see it as torture to copy out a perfectly good essay again. Too often, it’s an exercise in handwriting instead of real revision. So, I started flipping the process and putting more emphasis on prewriting. A rich prewriting environment gives a student a better chance at a good first draft (which is often the only draft). A single prewriting activity isn’t enough; instead, you want a rich environment with multiple ways of thinking, discussing and drafting about a topic.
Everything I’ve learned about teaching writing an opinion essay to kids is instilled in these two books in just 500 words (Dog) and 750 words (Cat). Cousins discuss the type of dog/cat they want for their family. They use about ten criteria (and another 5-6 criteria are suggested in the back matter) to decide what breed of dog/cat is best. Then, they write an opinion essay. And because all writing should have a real world effect and be successful, they get the dog/cat of their dreams.
Characters. I knew that I wanted to write something helpful to teachers about writing essay; however, first and foremost (as always) I wanted to write a fun STORY. The relationship between cousins Dennis and Mellie was important to develop. Each has a different family life, so their priorities on a pet differed drastically. Creating interesting characters helped ground the information in a story.
Research. Do you research topics for a fictional story? It was crucial for these two stories that I had the facts right about the dogs and cats. The American Kennel Club (AKC) regularly publishes information on the most popular breeds of dogs for a particular year. I used the latest data from 2013 and decided to feature the top 20 breeds of dogs: in order of popularity – Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers, Poodles, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Siberian Huskies, Shih Tzu, Great Danes, Miniature Schnauzers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pomeranians, Australian Shepherds.
Then, it was a juggling act to slot each breed into a criteria for deciding for/against a breed. I used the Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector Tool as a beginning point, and filled in with research on each breed. Many dogs are friendly; some dogs are better at being a guard dog than others. Each criteria needed a matched pair, one dog included by the criteria and one breed excluded by the criteria. It was impossible to satisfy every breed enthusiast, but the AKC went through the manuscript and approved the way the breeds were described.
For the Cat Lovers. I was pleased with the story and sent it around to a couple editors. One was very interested, but eventually rejected the story, saying, “A dog story just isn’t for me. I’m just a cat lover.” That weekend, I wrote the companion book, I WANT A CAT: My Opinion Essay. It went through a similar process using the Animal Planet Cat Breed Selector Tool, and generous input from Joan Miller, Chair of the Cat Fancier’s Association Outreach & Education efforts.
The CFA statistics say these are the top 20 cat breeds, in order of popularity: Persian, Exotic, Maine Coon Cat. Ragdoll, British Shorthair, Abyssinian, American Shorthair, Sphynx, Siamese, Devon Rex, Norwegian Forest Cat, Oriental, Scottish Fold, Cornish Rex, Birman, Burmese, Tonkinese, Siberian, Russian Blue, Egyptian Mau
I was unfamiliar with some of the breeds, so Miller’s input was invaluable–thanks, Joan!
Illustrator: Ewa O’Neill
These are debut picture books by European illustrator, Ewa O’Neill. She’s got an eye for color and design! A dog-lover, she studied the twenty dog breeds and twenty cat breeds to create active, interesting collection of pets.
Free on Kindle for 5 Days
Amazon allows certain promotional events and I’m happy to say that I WANT A DOG: My Opinion Essay will be a free Kindle book from February 8-12. Get it during these five days and spread the word to your friends.
Free on KOBO and Apple: I WANT A DOG and I WANT A CAT will be free for your iPad or Kobo reader on February 13-17. Check the iBookstore and KoboStore then. Sorry, a Nook version is not available. You can also find ebook copies at MimsHouse.com – Dog and MimsHouse.com – Cat.
Both books are available in paperback and hardcover.
Coming Fall, 2015: My Crazy Dog: My Narrative Essay