Not Your Typical Dog Books for Kids: Media That Matters

dog bk crew paintMar. 23, 2015 “Dogs make the best teachers”…

Today is National Puppy Day, time to give a big “paws up” to our friends at A Puppy’s New Home, creating respect, social emotional learning, and diversity lessons embedded in this new book series preparing families in a ‘what to know before you go’ mindset on adopting animals into your home. Excellent message for this day, and always. 

Nov. 18, 2014 “What is WRONG with people?” I mumbled to myself after intercepting a flailing child at the dog park about to be nipped, while a distracted parent blathered on the phone.

At the adjacent baseball field, I had my second forehead smacking moment of adult cluelessness where I had to refrain from saying aloud, “Seriously, parents, what are you thinking?” as I called out to three kids and their dog chasing a flock of squawking and honking Canada Geese desperately trying to take flight away from their tormentors as they flapped toward busy whizzing traffic…Their caregiver was on the phone with one finger in the air giving the ‘just a sec’ hand-signal, and it felt like I’d been plopped into a Fellini film, complete with wings, an Operatic soundtrack, and a slow-motion disaster about to occur.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction”-T.S.Eliot

 

dog bk logoI ‘get it’ that some parents are multitasking and may not be “all there” but if you’re with kids at a dog park, the ocean, a campfire, or ANY mellow but unpredictable environs, preparation through education goes a long way to snag some time to yourself…AND have respect for nature and animals.

As much as I’m a huge ‘free range kids’ fan without helicopter hovering, I can’t seem to find common ground or even common sense out in the field of unsupervised peer parenting.

There’s a big difference between giving kids self-agency and skill sets to navigate neighborhoods and playgrounds safely, and turning them loose to wreak havoc on other sentient beings with zero respect for their role in the natural order.

Enter “A Puppy’s New Home”…a new Kickstarter creating Dog Books for Kids that not only serves as a primer for learning the language and behavior of dogs, but offers a practical subtext that applies to respect and compassion for ALL creatures great and small (including two-legged peers!)

Studies continually show the academic and school climate benefits of early social emotional learning with stories that create context and educate with empathy.

A Puppy’s New Home does all this and more looping in risk prevention research, the beginning stages of service learning, core character traits and basic geography and counting in each book about a dog’s care with interactive springboards to more robust opportunities to educate kids even further via their field guides on Dog Books for Kids.com.

dog bk map

Even if A Puppy’s New Home imparted just the basics of humane education, teaching kids boundaries, dog bite prevention, or what to expect from certain breeds and mixes to help families select the right ‘fit’ for their home and prevent ‘shelter returns’ I’d be sold on supporting this project…

…But they’ve shared their plans to delve deeper into nuanced material that has ‘crossover appeal’ with human life lessons.

From PTSD topics and bullying scenarios to ‘don’t touch my muzzle’ life lessons which could easily apply to adverse childhood experiences (and flip the script on ACES) “kidlit” that uses dogs as a device to impart touchier subjects would appeal to early childhood educators and psychologists FAR beyond the basic books about being a critter companion…

Then there’s the practical side of empowering kids to take responsibility with quizzes about dog care and communication that serve wonderfully as basic benchmarks for families to get a sense of readiness about bringing a new member into their home, much less the traits and needs of specific breeds, sizes, or shelter mixes from rescue orgs and SPCA adoption.

Yes, A Puppy’s New Home had me at ‘woof.’

 

On a mass media note, I’ll add that we’re seeing lots of mainstream mythbusting about certain breeds of dogs and their psychological impact on humans, from the new A&E Reality series “Dogs of War” to Animal Planet’s Pitbulls and Parolees that can also help educate about interaction, dog language and the human condition…

…But media ALSO plays a role in perpetuating if not reinforcing some of the “dumb and dumber” maneuvers that A Puppy’s New Home is trying to nip early on in the education cycle of young children. Example?

Time and again we see animals blamed for human behaviors that are imbecilic ‘don’ts’ in dog care.

Viral videos positioned as ‘cute’ such as this one, below with a pug, show the antics are CLEAR signs of dangerous dog language. (you can even HEAR the dog growling)

Humans may find videos like this ‘hilarious’…but it’s no laughing matter when the dog pays the price, sometimes with its own life.

Animals are often surrendered to shelters for ‘aggression’ by aghast parents who have repeatedly put their child in harm’s way!

Doggie Don’ts: Do NOT Disrespect Dog Language Like This!

 

Then there are the “media memes” using dogs as props in poses with Reality TV style humiliation from sparkle rainbow hair-dye to hats that block vision as they bump into things or jingle bell collars banging in their ear drums that they can’t take off.

Personally, I’d like to make empathy matter via show-n-tell, firsthand. I wish people would ‘walk in their paws’ and simulate the exact same scenarios without a sense of agency and see how it lands on them…Not saying you can’t have fun and be goofy, simply saying view it from the dog’s lens first for comfort and compassionate care. And know your OWN dog…well. (yes, I DID wear jingle bells around my neck to try it, drove me flippin’ bonkers!)

dog bk louie smallIn sum, A Puppy’s New Home, Dog Books for Kids helps bridge the media gap for early learners in humane education as a fun, fresh, teaching tool for prevention and intervention…It’s media that matters for us all.

They’ve got a tight deadline in “all or nothing” Kickstarter mode by Dec.8, 2014, so let’s make it happen for them and help them help others! (Update: Mar. 2015…They did it! Here’s where you can get the books)

It fits ‘triple win’ gifting criteria for being ‘in need’ (a time-sensitive Kickstarter) with a prosocial cause and a family fun deliverable (effective, educational, and enlightening) with an added ‘BOGO’ (buy one give one) bonus for a gift that keeps on giving. Not to mention if kids are ASKING for a dog…it’s the perfect hoop to jump through in preparatory planning.

They’re offering some amazing perks, especially this one for ‘bigger backers’ having a cameo “for you or your child or your dog” in the upcoming Max, the Golden Retriever book, which is an incredible value from a personalization standpoint, especially given the trend toward customization and high fees for simple computer generated books that drop in names. My own daughter has an unusual name, so always liked to ‘see it in print’ since it never showed up elsewhere, so that type of gift was a colossal ‘win’…

If you have the wherewithal to help in that category, now’s the time to shine. If not, there are plenty of ways to pay it forward that don’t require a dime, ‘sharing is caring’ as they say. Be a part of it all and help make it happen! Meanwhile:

Meet author A.J. Richards and illustrator Rayah James:

Shaping Youth: What’s the age target of the books and how will you bring in various storylines and sequels? It looks like Louie the Lab has many layers slated for spin-offs with the Dad portrayed as a working guide dog, and the Mom as a police officer; both working as service animals.

Are you bringing in therapy dog conversations about invisibility with disabilities like PTSD or are these more like ‘how to’ books with a narrative twist?

dog bk buck rangerAPNH Books: I think the books are best for 6 years to 11 years of age, written for a 3rd grade reading level. There are no limits to the storylines but we want to build a base first and get the information about different types of dogs out there, since families need to know which ones shed a lot, need more exercise, are known to dig, harder to house-train, things like that, plus make them aware of traits that we know the dogs are genetically bred to do…

We can take the series in multiple directions with over 167 breeds plus all the mixed breed shelter dog storylines about dogs who don’t know where they came from, lovable mutt stray stories about overcoming life circumstances…things kids can relate to.

And yes, we always thread through subtle intros to color and diversity, like with different types of labs (Louie’s cousin Ranger is a chocolate lab, Buck is a yellow lab, etc.) so we focus on what makes dogs alike (body language graphics in every book, consistency with reactions, etc.) as well as weave a storyline that is true to the temperament types and environmental differences of the dog character we’ve created.

Golden Retrievers for example, are known for often having things in their mouths, tennis balls, toys, carrying around stuffed animals and things like that, so we’ve built that into Max’s story. It’s a fine line creating educational content and storytelling that will teach and intrigue rather than create a nonfiction how-to book. All of the books will focus a lot on boundaries and on the character counts traits of mutual respect, building the message at the core that even when it feels ‘no one else will love you, the dog will’ while bringing in different personality quirks and real life scenarios through the dog’s character and environmental circumstances. (ADHD, abandonment, abuse, neglect, neediness, separation anxiety, getting in trouble with boredom that kind of thing)

We want families to fully understand what they’re getting into, so their pets are a joy not a struggle…It’s about education, honesty and being up front to find the best fit.

Shaping Youth: With all of the talk about gendered marketing, it seems like dogs could be neutral could you talk about the characterization of the dogs and your choices a bit? For those of us fatigued with ‘basketballs with eyelashes’ so to speak, what’s the thinking about knocking out ‘50% of the marketplace’ in terms of relating to any particular dog? (e.g. the “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign)

dog bk bellaAPNH Books: Again, it’s about the storyline and the character of the dog more than a marketplace decision. This is NOT about selling accessories or gendered marketing or retail value, it’s about heritage and origin. For example, The Yorkshire Terrier named “Lady” with the pearls represents her origins as a regal pet from British Royalty, we’re making sure it’s not limiting in any way, the boy might be accessorized in fancier ways too to signal wealth or high society, based on research we turn up but the stories are progressive and diversified.

I’ve had a lot of teachers tell me they do not allow gender role defining books in their classrooms for young readers. Luna the Beagle is more ambiguous, though there are subtle eyelashes to show it’s a girl, so again, it’s about characterization over stereotype. Princess the Bull Dog is named about a lazier dog who wants to be taken care of…that’s more about the dog’s personality in the story.

Shaping Youth: Tell me more about the specifics of dog bite prevention, body language and communication…Also, you both have backgrounds that add credibility to this project can you tell me specifics about what you each bring to the series?

dog bk body languageAPNH Books:-RJ-Illustrator I’m excited to teach my first dog bite prevention course in Texas next week! When 71% of dog bites come from a friend’s or neighbor’s dog (versus the 12% and 17% that come from family and stranger dogs) it’s clear where the issues lie. Dogs are given up constantly because of nipping and biting, when what is really needed is child and dog socializing. No dog should lose its home because a family didn’t have the conversation with their kids and neighborhood kids about proper interaction with dogs.

I’ve had the benefit of spending the last two years working with educators on language curriculum, so naturally I wanted to use what I learned to teach our readers about the language of dogs. I developed the dog bite prevention course when I was working on our English/Spanish poster about dog body language and biting, and realized that activities could be incorporated that would help make the lessons stick.

Through some light fun activities each child first learns dog anatomy, then dog body language, and finally through skits and role play that they get involved in, learn about all the most common scenarios that could lead to dogs biting. Each child will take home as many of the dog bite prevention coloring pages as they want so they can share with their friends. I hope to make more courses like this in the future that we can share at dog events and in classrooms or libraries, it’s a great deal of fun for me and I feel like I am making an even greater impact.

dog bk swimAPNH Books: Author-AJ From an early age, I began caring for numerous shelter pets and continued into adulthood. I earned a BA in American literature and a MA in public administration while working with at-risk youth for a Nebraska not-for-profit, Completely Kids and then continued to work in after school and children’s enrichment capacities including “special needs” like this swimming program with SnapKids so it makes sense to fold it all into these teachable moments and interactive field guides and quizzes. The books are fun without being intimidating and overwhelming…

Basically as I said in our bio on the site, we are an author and an artist on a mission. We came together to help keep dogs out of shelters and in their homes by creating educational guides for kids that teach youth how to care for specific canine breeds retrieved from expert research. Breeds interact with youth in each kid’s guide to help him or her understand specific breed behavior, health management, and their origins…but as you’ve said here, it’s much more than that.

We hope to work in the community with rescue organizations of each breed as well as the local shelters and potentially even the larger corporate pet store sponsors. For example we just met with Rocket Dog and the SF SPCA and are based in the east Bay of Oakland/Berkeley so will outreach to local after school at risk youth, especially since there are plenty of issues in the media surrounding dog fights around here.

Shaping Youth: Thanks for your time…As a self-perceived ‘mutt’ and a ‘global citizen’ with origins all over the map, I’m looking forward to your alliances with shelter dogs and hear you’ve got a book in the works specific to that theme.

APNH Books: Yes, we have Vesper coming up, who will be crowd-sourced via a photo contest to bring our supporters into the mix and get them excited about participating!

We really need to get the funding to step up the production faster and get some help with the load as we have SO many exciting elements in the works from translations to interactives, and can only write and draw so fast. Thank you for helping us get the word out…The first Kickstarter is our seed funding for the next round, as we are moving forward to produce them either way but can’t live on passion so could use a hand covering these costs we’ve already incurred!

Shaping Youth: My pleasure…As a self-funded passionista and dog lover, it’s a (dare I say it) pet project deserving full tilt support.

Good luck to you both…Very thankful for media and marketing that matters and proud to place it in the positive picks position for prosocial projects that make a difference!

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