I have loved listening to the kids do these author interviews! They are so much fun. Just real people talking. Real authors, real kids, and all the funny tangents that a person could never predict.
I'm delighted to share a conference-call-style conversation we recently had with Sara Henderson. A couple of years ago Sara wrote a great series of "I Can Read" books about a little dog--her little dog--named Howie. I had the pleasure of illustrating them. After the first four books were finished up, we exchanged a few brief emails, but this is the first time we've ever spoken together. And it was a hoot - Thanks Sara!
(Portrait of Mrs. Henderson by Gracie)
Dad: Before we get to the interview, who can tell our readers about the "Howie" books?
Lily (age 6): Howie is a little doggie who gets into lots of messes. His fur is white and curly and he's really cute! A kid named Emma is his owner, and everyone always says, "Emma! Your dog is getting into trouble!"
Dad: Does Howie try to get into trouble?
Lily: He just wants to have fun.
Isaac (age 11): Or wants a hug. Or wants to play. Or wants to get out of a tea party.
Gracie (age 9): He's a puppy. It's his job to make messes. It's how God makes puppies.
Dad: What did we learn about Howie when we visited Mrs. Henderson's website? Did she just make Howie up out of her imagination?
Gracie: Howie is a real dog.
Lily: And he lives with the creator.
Gracie: Yeah, he lives with Mrs. Henderson.
Dad: Anything else you want to say about the books?
Gracie: The books have easy words. They are beginner readers. And each book has a verse at the beginning and a lesson about God at the end.
Lily: And the books turned into Spanish.
Dad: Yep, they later came out with bilingual additions as well. But they changed Howie's name to "Fido!"
Gracie: So if anyone out there can read Espan-u-el, you are welcome to enjoy the Howie books also.
Gracie: Yeah. That's how you say "Spanish" in Spanish.
Gracie: Yeah. Español.
Dad: Thanks guys! And now it's time for our interview with Mrs. Henderson!
Sara Henderson: Hi everybody!
Dad: We're excited -- we've been waiting all day for this.
Gracie: Woohoo! Woohoo!
Sara Henderson: Is that Lily or Gracie?
Dad: That's Gracie. If you hear a goofball, it's probably Gracie.
Sara Henderson: Then she is just like Howie.
Gracie: Ha Ha HA! Wait. Is that supposed to be a compliment?
Sara Henderson: Yes, it is...
Gracie: Can we talk to Howie?
Sara Henderson: Well, Howie doesn't really talk. Howie whines a lot.
Gracie: Can we whine to Howie?
Sara Henderson: Ha ha ha... Howie only does that when he wants to, not on command. He was just right here... Now he is probably in the other room sneaking into something he shouldn't get into.
Gracie: In real life, does Howie do all the things that he does in the books?
Sara Henderson: That's a great question. Howie has been to one tea party, and he absolutely hated it.
Gracie: Ha ha ha!
Sara Henderson: My granddaughters dressed him up, and he had a feather boa, and they tried to put a hat on him, and he shook the hat off, and he put his legs on the tea table. He did not like it at all. When Howie started tearing things up, we took him out of there.
Isaac: Was there something that inspired the grocery store book?
Sara Henderson: He's never been in a grocery store, but he goes into the pet store. Pet stores let dogs come in if they are on a leash. And Howie runs around like a crazy man! So I thought: What if Howie was in a people store? And off a leash? Oh my word! He knocks stuff over in the pet store - I can't imagine what he would do in a grocery store.
Gracie: In the shopping book, he eats this whole tub of candy corn!
Sara Henderson: Oh, if he could, Howie would eat so much candy. But candy is not good for dogs. He has gotten into Christmas candy before, and then he threw up everywhere.
Lily: I just remembered something! About Christmas!
Gracie: That same thing happened to Lily on Christmas!
Sara Henderson: Oh no!
Lily: But it was cranberry tea.
Gracie: She threw up all over everything.
Dad: You guys are like Howie, huh?
Gracie: It was gross!
Dad: That probably wouldn't make a very good Howie book though.
Sara Henderson: Let's see... "Howie Throws Up." No, that doesn't sound like a good title...
Gracie: "Howie at the Vet!"
Sara Henderson: I do have a whole list of ideas for more Howie books, and one of them is "Howie Goes to the Vet."
Sara Henderson: Howie doesn't like the vet anymore. He used to, but he had surgery last year, so now he doesn't like the vet.
Gracie: I once had surgery. I cracked a hole in my head.
Sara Henderson: You had a hole in your head?
Dad: Well, now... it wasn't surgery. And not a hole in your head. Gracie can be a bit dramatic.
Sara Henderson: I don't know... I like that story.
Dad: She can embellish a bit. She made a small slice in her scalp and had to get staples.
Gracie: I had gotten this new dollhouse, and there was a space in the middle of it. I was really little then, and I could just squeeze my body through and put my arms out the windows.
Sara Henderson: Like Alice in Wonderland... Ha ha... Cool!
Gracie: I tipped over and smashed my head on our side table. I screamed, and Daddy rushed me to the doctors.
Sara Henderson: Well, Howie had to have staples once too.
Gracie: Me and Howie are more alike than I thought.
Isaac: How did we get talking about this anyway?
Sara Henderson: This is kind of fun actually! It's like being in school... like chatting with the kids during kindergarten lunch duty!
Dad: We are going to have to put a warning label above this interview! It's getting pretty graphic. We've got blood... we've got throwing up...
Sara Henderson: Hey, that's fun stuff to talk about. Isaac, have you had any injuries?
Dad: Mmm... he had his tonsils out.
Gracie: He also had a mole removed!
Sara Henderson: Ha ha hah ha haa....
Lily: And it was picture day at church.
Sara Henderson: Oh no, on picture day!
Dad: We've talked an awful lot about YOU kids in this interview so far...
Sara Henderson: Oh, but I'm interested! Kids are my thing, you know.
Gracie: We can tell.
Lily: Do you like hanging out with kids?
Sara Henderson: I taught Kindergarten for 10 years, and I taught 2nd grade for 6 years, and right now I also teach 6th graders. When I was teaching Kindergarten, some of the kids had trouble learning to read. So I would write stories for them to help them, and that's where the Howie books came from.
Dad: So Mrs. Henderson's students got to hear these stories before all the rest of us!
Sara Henderson: Interestingly, when I read them the published books, they remembered the stories we used in class, and they said, "What happened to the real ones?"
Gracie: What happened to the real what?
Dad: Her first drafts were probably different from the published versions. Editors make suggestions, so I'm sure there were changes from her first drafts.
Isaac: Just like you have to keep re-drawing your sketches, Dad?
Dad: Yep. Changes happen on the art side of bookmaking too.
Gracie: Do you remember how the first version went? Can you tell it to us?
Sara Henderson: I do remember. The stories are very similar--they just use some different words. They originally had rhyming choruses almost like a song. When I first wrote the stories, the publisher said, "We love them! Now... can you rewrite them without any rhyme at all?" So I rewrote them and took all the rhyme out. Then they said, "Well, we want you to put some of the rhyme back in." So I wrote them again, and I put some of the rhyme back in. And then they said, "Well... we were hoping you would put the rhyme in this place and not that place." So I rewrote them again, and I put the rhyme in this place and not that place." And then we still had to change it more times.
Dad: Yeah guys, lots of work can be involved in crafting a story.
Sara Henderson: Rewriting is very important. In my school we have a Writer's Workshop unit, and students do a lot of their own rewriting. They are not fond of it, so I talk to them about rewriting the Howie books. I explain what a long process it can be and how important it is.
Gracie: I know that you are a principal now too!
Sara Henderson: Yes, that's right!
Gracie: Since you are a principal, and you are also a book writer, how do you find the time to write your books when you are always in the principal's office?
Sara Henderson: I am always in the principal's office. You're right. This is very sad, but it is hard to find time to write. When I was working on the Howie books I wrote on the weekends. Usually most weekends. I haven't worked on any of my own writing lately because I have been writing curriculum for my school for the past year.
Lily: Do you have any ideas for more Howie books?
Sara Henderson: Oh, I have lots of ideas!
Sara Henderson: I thought we should have Howie in every season. Because in the winter he is so crazy -- he goes on the top of the biggest snowbank, and falls through, and he can't get out, and I have to go outside and rescue him. Then he goes back, and he dives in head first, and I have to go back out and rescue him again.
Gracie: Hee hee ha!
Sara Henderson: I thought we could have a book about Howie in the winter, and Howie in the summer... all the different seasons.
Dad: Four more books right there.
Lily: What about the fall?
Sara Henderson: In the fall, Howie likes to run through all the leaves just like kids do. Only he gets full of burrs, and he doesn't like that.
Gracie: I once got burrs in my hair.
Isaac: Once I was walking, and then I looked down, and I was covered with burrs five inches up my legs.
Sara Henderson: Do you guys have a dog?
Lily: No. We don't have any pets. All our pets died.
Dad: And we have a pretty full house as it is.
Gracie: We don't need any pets.
Sara Henderson: Well, I was going to offer some cats to you...
Gracie: Never mind what I just said! I want a kitty!
Sara Henderson: Howie is the best kitten babysitter you ever saw. He lets them climb up him like a jungle gym. And our little kitten wraps herself around his leg, and he walks around the house with her just hanging on his leg.
Gracie: We do that with Daddy! We sit on his feet, grab his legs, and he walks around the house carrying us. And he does dances and it's awesome.
Dad: Then I guess I'm like Howie too.
Gracie: I have a question. What is your favorite book?
Sara Henderson: I like Beverly Cleary's books... Ramona...
Gracie: Ramona and Beezus?!
Sara Henderson: When I read those books to my students, they always loved Ramona because she did all the naughty things they would have liked to have done.
Gracie: We like those books too!
Sara Henderson: Howie is the Ramona of the dog world! The publisher was reluctant to have him doing so many naughty things in the books. But for me that is part of his charm--he never means to be naughty. Just like Ramona. When I explained how he was just like Ramona, they got it and left the parts in where he makes messes. Can you imagine how the books would have been without them?
Isaac: Which is your favorite Howie book?
Sara Henderson: My favorite is the "Shopping" one.
Gracie: Me too!
Sara Henderson: The one that I thought was least exciting was "Howie Finds a Hug," but I think that one is selling the most! I find that surprising.
Dad: We have a 4-year old named Elijah, and "Howie Finds a Hug" is definitely his favorite. He brings it to me over and over. But he won't let me read the part where Howie is sad -- he tries to flip it to the happy page before I'm done. He feels really, strongly, emotionally connected to Howie!
Gracie: I have a question. Why did you pick my Dad to illustrate your books?
Sara Henderson: Well, if I had known about your dad I would have picked him. But I didn't pick him -- the publisher did. Didn't your dad do a nice job drawing Howie?
Sara Henderson: I thought the pictures looked great. I didn't have any idea what Howie would look like when he was drawn by the artist. And when I got my first copies of the book, I was so excited to see how your dad made Howie look! He looks just how he acts.
Dad: When I first heard about the project, I didn't know Howie was any particular breed. As you know, there's nothing in the text that says he's a Bichon.
Sara Henderson: When did you find out?
Dad: I sent puppy samples to Zondervan, the publisher... 3 different drawings, 3 different styles, 3 different dogs. They liked the samples and told me, "Actually the author had a Bichon in mind, can you work up one of those?" At that point we were on the other side of the country on vacation, and I didn't have my computer or scanner. But I borrowed enough stuff that I could send a few sketches back, and I got the assignment.
Sara Henderson: Well, I thought they were fabulous. They look just like Howie did when he was a puppy. That's very cool to me. Howie is a cute boy.
Dad: Well thanks!
Sara Henderson: But do you know what kids? And you can't tell Howie this... Bichons are not very smart. They are very friendly, but they are kind of doofy.
Gracie: And cute!
Sara Henderson: Very cute. Kids love him. He's very, very sweet. He's just not a dog that can learn a lot of tricks.
Gracie: So he can't jump through flaming hoops?
Sara Henderson: No... Ha ha ha! He can't! He tried to jump through the Christmas tree once.
Gracie: Did that work?
Sara Henderson: No.
Isaac: Did you ever think that your books would be turned into Spanish?
Sara Henderson: You know what I can't figure out... If I went and lived in a Spanish speaking country, I would have my same name. Why did they change Howie's name to "Fido"?
Isaac: Maybe Howie's name means something else in Spanish.
Sara Henderson: I thought about that. I asked a friend of mine who runs an orphanage down in Mexico, and she couldn't think of anything.
Dad: We thought that change was funny too.
Sara Henderson: But no, Isaac, I didn't imagine the books being turned into Spanish. Although, do you know what I did think they might be turned into someday... a movie... a video game... a great big Howie balloon in the Thanksgiving parade floating above New York city...
Dad: Dreaming big! Let's hope so! Well, what do you guys want to say to Mrs. Henderson?
Sara Henderson: It was a great pleasure to talk to all of you. You are just wonderful. I'd like to meet you in person someday.
Dad: Hopefully we can do that!
Isaac: That would be cool.
Gracie: Yeah! Thank-you for talking!
Sara Henderson: You are so welcome.
Author: Sara Henderson
Illustrator: Aaron Zenz
Published, 2008: Zondervan
Like 'em? Please find them
Time for a Giveaway! We are happy to give one of our readers a set of the 4 Howie books, signed by both author and illustrator. To be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment on this post. On Feb 14th we'll randomly select a winning name -- and that person can choose whether they want the original Howie 4-pack or the bilingual Spanish/English 4-pack. Good luck!
As a closing treat, here are a few photos Mrs. Henderson sent us of the real Howie!