Eleven years ago after five years of commuting, sometimes an hour and a half twice a day in the winter months, from my home to my school library, I decided a change was in order. Xena, my chocolate Labrador, after more than four years, had grown accustomed to long five mile walks along country roads and seasonal daily swims in the lake across the street. We had a postage stamp lot with the back yard fenced in for her safety and my sanity.
Now after nearly fifteen years together, I would like to think we communicate fairly well. (I am highly trainable.) Then, though, having no input in my choice of a new home, she chose to speak her mind in another way. Every single time we were outside she raced out of the yard. It was a common sight to see me chasing after her. I think she liked this new game. A thirty-foot training leash firmly attached to her harness solved the problem. Truth be told, we have a lot to learn about how dogs connect the dots.
It’s fun to wonder about how dogs view the world. Today I’m pleased to host children’s author Victoria J. Coe and help reveal the cover of her debut novel, Fenway and Hattie (Putnam/Penguin, 2/9/2016) which is told from a dog’s perspective. But first, we invite you to listen in on our chat about writing, her book, and of course, dogs!
Victoria, what can you tell me about Fenway and Hattie? What kind of reader will enjoy this book?
Hi, Margie (and Xena)! Thanks for hosting me and my cover on your wonderful blog!
Fenway and Hattie is a novel for kids ages 8-12 about a dog and his girl who move from the city to the suburbs – where they face lots of changes, individually and as a pair. Oh, and the story’s told only from Fenway’s point of view!
And since Fenway’s a dog, he only understands things that a dog would understand. So in many ways he’s an unreliable narrator. Sometimes the reader has to figure out what’s really going on! Hopefully, that will make the book a fun read not only for kids but for teachers and parents, too.
And let me also share the jacket copy from the publisher:
Fenway and his beloved short human, Hattie, are the perfect pair. She loves romping in the Dog Park, playing fetch, and eating delicious snacks as much as he does.
But when they move from the city to the suburbs, there's bad news. While Fenway’s hard at work deterring intruders and battling a slippery floor, Hattie starts changing. She hangs out in a squirrely treehouse. She plays ball without him. What could be happening?
Crushed and confused, Fenway sets out on a mission. He's going to get his Hattie back and nothing will stop him---not the Wicked Floor, not the dreaded Gate, not even a giant squirrel!
Get a dog's-eye view of the world in this hilarious and heartfelt story about two best friends who learn that big changes aren't always easy, but sometimes trying new things can get you everything you want.
From reading your website pages, I see books were a big part of your life as a child and when you had children of your own. How did you catch the writing bug?
You’re right, Margie! I’ve been passionate about kids’ books all my life and I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Several years ago I decided to really go for it. I hired long-time children’s editor Deborah Brodie to work with me one-on-one. That year was intense. But it was also a transformative experience! And while at the time I never imagined writing about an animal, everything Deborah taught me – how to develop characters, story craft, little tips and tricks to keep writing, and so much more – went directly into my writing Fenway and Hattie. Sadly, Deborah passed away shortly afterward and never got to read the book.
I know from your daily tweets you currently have a canine companion. How much influence did he have on the story spark and the voice of Fenway in this book?
Oh, great question! A few years back my family went through a big move and our dog Kipper was afraid we’d leave him behind. Like we actually wouldn’t bring him with us! And on top of that, the move was really hard. While going through the chaos, he and I walked and walked and I processed my feelings about the move. Right away I started to think about a character – a dog - who struggled through a big move. Everywhere Kipper and I went, I’d watch him check out new, different things and I’d wonder what was going through his mind. That’s where the story spark came from.
What prompted you to select the names for the characters, Fenway and Hattie?
Hattie just popped into my head, but Fenway was more deliberate. I pictured my story set in Boston and Fenway is such a Boston name! It seems every other dog we meet is named after one of our local sports heroes.
How are both characters "heard" in this story? Does the point of view shift?
That’s another great question, Margie! Both Fenway and Hattie have complete story arcs and develop emotionally, but we only get to hear Fenway’s side of the story. And you definitely cannot take his story at face value!
I can't wait to meet Fenway and Hattie. What can you tell us about their distinctive personalities?
Fenway is excitable, energetic, and very, very determined. He is a dog who never gives up! And while sometimes he acts tough on the outside, he’s insecure on the inside. Like he thinks it’s his job to protect Hattie, when really he’s the one who needs her to protect him.
On the outside, Hattie’s an active girl who likes to jump rope with her friends at school and run around the Dog Park with Fenway. But on the inside, she’s still growing into herself. She’s a bit insecure, too.
The American Kennel Club, as of the end of last year, recognized 184 different breeds. Why is Fenway a Jack Russell terrier?
Oh, you’re asking all the best questions today! Fenway is a Jack Russell terrier because I am a Jack Russell terrier! Seriously! Have you ever taken one of those personality tests to see which animal you are? Every time I come out as a JRT. What can I say?
It does make it easy for me to channel Fenway. I just pour my heart out onto the page and there he is!
Whoops! I think I hear excited barking from the other room. Now I'm hearing the soft pad of paws on the rugs. I think my furry friend is as anxious as I am to see this cover.
I don't know about you but I am getting a clear picture of a dog who knows what he wants and will do anything to get it. The expression on Fenway’s face lets us know we are in for paw-sitively loads of comic situations. And speaking of paws, look at the tiny brown-colored paw front and center. This dog promises to be unique in more ways than one.
You might be right about that, Margie! I’m really excited about the cover because it’s bright and bold and crisp and expressive. And the whole emphasis is on Fenway and his irrepressible character. Just like the book!
Xena and I can hardly wait to read Fenway and Hattie!
Thank you, Victoria J. Coe for stopping by today to talk with me about your debut book to be released on February 9, 2016 by Putnam/Penguin. If readers want to know more about you they can visit your website linked here. A thoroughly relevant (and fun) classroom guide will be available soon. Readers will enjoy following Victoria on Twitter @victoriajcoe. Her Instagram account can be viewed here.