Sherri Nov 9 Jo Anna Dressler Kloster is a veteran elementary teacher, an author, a volunteer with the River Bend Community Organic Garden, and a Humane Policy Volunteer Leader with the Humane Society of the United States. Her middle-grade novel, LILY UNLEASHED, is a coming-of-age story. It focuses on an underdog whose love inspires one girl to speak up for this puppy mill rescue and all the other dogs locked in puppy mill cages. Ms. Kloster attends animal welfare events with her educational table and her book to inform others on how to end the puppy-mill-to-pet-store-pipeline. Her message: Adopt don’t shop for puppies at pet stores. Wonderful dogs await you at your local shelters, rescues, and with reputable breeders. Sherri: Welcome Jo Anna. It is so nice to have you visit my virtual café. As a dog owner, I know this book is a labor of love. Why don’t you share what inspired this book?
Jo Anna: My family had just adopted a small white puppy mill rescue dog. We had no idea what a puppy mill was. I started reading about them online and was appalled. During this time, Cagney started exhibiting behaviors I was reading that many puppy mill survivors have. So, during writer’s workshop, as I modeled the writing process for my students, I started writing about a topic I was working with every day: Cagney’s behaviors. All the while this tiny Maltese quickly became my shadow and my Velcro boy. He never left my side. And over time Cagney became my heart dog. I have never been so loved by another living creature. My husband is okay with this, too. Well, the more I read about the inhumane treatment of dogs at puppy mills, being locked in cages 24/7, the more I fell in love with this little dog that endured such cruel treatment. Never being touched, never leaving his cage, never playing or walking on grass. His experience of living in such harsh conditions inspired me to write a book to teach kids why you don’t want to buy pet store puppies because it condemns their parents to lives locked in cages pumping out litter after litter.
Sherri: Your book is written for a younger audience, but it is a message that everyone needs to hear. Why did you choose to write a middle-grade story?
Jo Anna: Funny you should ask. My goal was to simply write a good story. And then I realized how much kids want to make a difference and feel they have the power to be the change they want to see in the world. I could not find a book that talked about the problem of pet store puppies and the inhumane treatment of puppy mills. So I decided to write one, and make it a middle-grade novel. Though, I’ve had as many adults read Lily Unleashed and felt they learned a lot. It certainly kept their attention. So I guess I achieved my goal. Sherri: What can a fictional story do that preaching the truth cannot? Why is this the best medium to get your message out?Jo Anna: That’s a great question. In this fictional story, I am able to flesh out the problem and a solution wrapped in characters that, hopefully, face challenges to overcome that the reader can identify with. This fictional story allows me to add more drama and problems that will grab the reader.
Sherri: What was the hardest thing you faced when publishing this story?
Jo Anna: I’d say the hardest thing was not sounding too preachy. I had to step into the shoes of a twelve-year-old again. And it was actually fun. Getting lost in that world. But I had to ask myself all along this story…how would 12-year-old Lily say this? Or how would Renzo handle that situation?
Sherri: Do you have plans to write another story? What are you working on now?
Jo Anna: I am thinking about writing a sequel – on another issue about animal welfare. Possibly the problem of people not spaying or neutering their pets and how that contributes to overcrowding at animal shelters. Or possibly the topic of factory farming and the treatment of pigs, chickens, and dairy cows and how they are treated.
Sherri: Jo Anna, thank you for writing this story and joining us at Creekside Café. If you all enjoyed this interview and would like to get Jo Anna’s book and talk to her in person, you can find her at the Book Festival, Sunday, November 20th, 1 to 4 pm at the New Bern Farmers Market.
Jo Anna Dressler Kloster has written a heart-wrenching and compelling middle-grade novel which addresses the ever-present angst and problems of being on the cusp of teendom, such as finding oneself feeling physically attracted to a close friend, or understanding the changes her former best friend is dealing with.
The main character, Lily Grabowski, who loves her English class and her extraordinary teacher, Ms. Stadler, is dreading discussing a story she wrote for a class assignment because it’s about her beloved German Shepard agility dog who died just after winning their last agility competition. She thinks it’s her fault the dog died. But she ends up finding a new dog that needs her love. Unfortunately, the dog is from a puppy mill and has severe emotional trauma issues. With the love and support Lily gives the dog she names Cagney both learn to grow stronger and more confident.
The book is well written and quite compelling, showing plenty of growth for all the characters in the story, both two and four-legged. Even the bit players in the story show compassion and emotional change, with much grace and charm. There are pithy study questions at the end of the book to help teachers further discuss the topics with their students.
The story takes place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Ms. Kloster and her husband lived for many years. They now live in the much warmer climate of New Bern, NC, though they still root for the Green Packers football team.
BIBLIO: 2022, Empty Cages Press, Ages 8 to 12, $13.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction
What prompted you to incorporate a story about Puppy Mill dogs into your coming-of-age story? Answer:The story was always about dealing with the residual behaviors that my puppy mill survivor, Cagney, had. This story was completely inspired by Cagney. Over time his behaviors became more challenging including extreme separation anxiety and being very protective of me and of our property. I started writing about Cagney during Writer’s Workshop with my elementary-age students. In every writing class I had ever taken, I was always told to write about what I know. So that’s what I did. And the students had so many questions and concerns about Cagney and this thing called “puppy mills.” I decided a book needed to be written to help them understand why puppy mills exist (to feed the pet stores that sell puppies) and what we can do to help end this pipeline and cruel industry of factory-farming of dog. As far as the storyline goes, that was all made up. Yet, so much is based on my life and experiences. I needed to create a book, a vehicle, that would inspire young people to speak up for these voiceless dogs and victims of greed.
Tell us the process of writing this book. Answer:I don’t know if I had a process. I did extensive reading of middle-grade novels to find ones I loved and then I dissected them to see what the author did that drew me in and made me like the book. Some of my favorites are Kate DiCamillo and Barbara O Connor as well as Sheila Turnage. I love humor and animals, especially dogs, so I read lots of books about dogs. I also read lots of research about puppy mills and about how living in horrid conditions at the mills affects dogs emotionally. I also took lots of writing classes, found coaches online, as well as critique groups, to guide me and offer suggestions. My home library has a collection of books devoted to the writing process and how to create conflict and storylines that pull the reader in. I guess you could say I am self-taught and earned a seat-of-the-pants writing degree from the school of many mistakes.
3. How long did it take you to finally get it published? Answer: Ten years! I guess I’m a slow learner. Or a late-bloomer, just like Lily. But I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to writing. I worked 12-14 hour days as an elementary teacher who planned a lot of special projects that took lots of time. So, each summer I’d spend hours working on my manuscript. When it was all said and done, I had written six full revisions. According to Newberry Award-winning writer Sheila Turnage, that’s about right. So, I feel like I’m in good company. I actually enjoyed seeing the story evolve and finding ways to create greater challenges for my characters.
4. Did you have other writers look at it to tell you what was good about the book and what needed fixing? Answer: Absolutely! When I was living in Wisconsin, I belonged to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and had several critique sessions with editors and accomplished writers. And when I retired the state chapter of SCBWI for North Carolina directed me to a local critique group that had room. And my husband, Patrick, was my first and last editor. Poor guy was subjected to multiple revision readings of each chapter. He was there every step of the way.
5. Why did you decide to go the “Indie” route instead of the “Trade Publisher” route? Answer: I actually submitted the manuscript to quite a few trade publishers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed control over this story. It has a purpose: to educate young readers about puppy mills and to inspire them to action. I wasn’t ready to release it to someone who would start changing it – to what they think it should be and possibly dilute the message or change the story. And also, to be gentle, it’s not one of the topics that seem to be “hot” in the market these days. This was my baby, I knew what it needed to do, so I became incorporated as Empty Cages Press LLC and published it myself. Now it’s all rolled into a campaign, Empty Cages Press, whose goal is to educate others “until every puppy mill is closed.”
6. Is your style of teaching similar to that of the main character, Lily’s favorite teacher, Ms. Stadler, who is very inspiring to anyone reading about her? Answer:Yes, Ms. Stadler and I would get along well. This is one area that is very close to home. I was a teacher for twenty-five years. And spent lots of time learning how to be a better teacher. So, yes, I had the chimes in my room. We did lots of group work. And I used lots of music and lots of humor that my students seemed to like. I was a marshmallow when it came to discipline just like Ms. Stadler. I get that from my mom.
7. What do/did you teach and are you still teaching here in New Bern? Answer: I started as a Special Education resource room teacher, then split my day as resource room teacher and Reading Recovery teacher after getting certified for that. This reading program is amazing and has nonreading first graders actually reading inside of twenty weeks with solid skills to last their lifetime. Then I moved into the classroom as a general education teacher moving among first to fifth grades. Finally, I ended my career as a teacher in the gifted and talented department working with grades K to 6th. Presently, I am an ESL tutor working at our local high school with students who are classified as refugees. It’s very rewarding.
8. Campaigning to get rid of Puppy Mills has become a passion of yours because of your dog Cagney. Answer: Tell us a bit about Cagney and how you came to get him. That’s an interesting story. Some close friends had recently acquired a dog from a mostly reputable breeder. It was a Maltese which we had never heard of. We fell in love with Bogey. And then this couple adopted a tiny seven-pound puppy-mill-rescue named Cooper. He had been used as a breeder male. He was quite timid and insecure – and didn’t take to new people. Well, the Smiths needed doggie sitters one weekend. We watched Bogey and Cooper and had a great time. In fact, Cooper really took a shine to Patrick. Well, when the Smiths saw how well Cooper did with us, they shared that good news with Mary Palmer, the president of the North Central Maltese Rescue that saved Cooper when she called to see how the little guy was doing. You know where this is going. So the next day, in our email inbox was a picture of the brightest shining face of a tiny Maltese named Cagney. And the rest is history, as they say.
9. Tell us what you did to socialize him and how successful were you. Answer: We tried doggie training classes at our local PetSmart. Cags was always the smallest dog there and usually the most timid. I also had people come to the door and play the game Lily plays with Cagney, the Go to your bed game when the doorbell would ring. It was somewhat successful at first. But you must be consistent which is not easy for me. And, of course, the biggest mistake I made was babying him….just like the way Lily refers to herself when she gives treats to Cagney after he barks at someone. I guess there are just some dogs that will always be hesitant with strangers or be protective when people come to their home. Cags was that way.
10. What can other people do to help get rid of Puppy Mills? Answer:STOP BUYING PUPPIES FROM PET STORES. That’s the first and foremost thing you can do. Dry up the demand. And tell others why they shouldn’t purchase puppies from pet stores. Also, people can write editorials to newspapers, and post this info on their social media. It’s the only way. And then our elected officials will hear this rumble and be more receptive to requests to ban the sale of puppies at pet stores.
Lily Unleashed is available at Next Chapter Books, 320 S. Front Street, New Bern, NC 28560, https://nextchapternc.com.
Amazon Books. I had a problem just adding the link to the page here, so just look it up at: https://amazonbooks.com
Have you ever had to move to a new neighborhood, or change schools, or be set in any kind of new environment? I don’t know about you, but I find it scary and stressful. How do you deal with changes? I get a bit on the manic side and hide in bluster. So, I picked three stories that put at least one of the characters in a situation of intense change.
The first book is a bit fanciful, but the protagonist is believable and the story is amusing.
Clayton Stone, Facing Off
Clayton Stone is a thirteen-year-old orphan living with his grandmother, Gran, who recruits him into the Special Services in Clayton Stone, At Your Service, where he solves a kidnapping. This time he must change his identity and transfer to an elite private school to protect the president’s son. To make matters worse, his new school is playing against his old school in a playoff game to see which team goes to the Lacrosse Championship game. Things don’t go swimmingly for Clayton, who has to remember he is now Max Carrington. He keeps over reacting to circumstances in his new school, but he does finally make friends with First Son, Kyle Hampton. Together, with the help of two other kids, they figure out who is threatening Kyle, though, in the end, it turns out the bad guys are after another student. The story is well-written and has plenty of surprises, in addition to humor, especially all the disguises Gran uses. Resourceful teachers will find several topics of discussions in their classrooms. Loyalty, sportsmanship, patience and thinking through dilemmas are all good discussion topics.
BIBLIO: 2016, Holiday House, Ages 8 to 13, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
The second book is set on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, but not in Honolulu. The reader gets a sense of the island without the glitz.
Kaui Hart Hemmings
In the middle of her junior year of high school, Lea Lane moves from San Francisco
back to Hawaii where her actress mother is in a new TV show. Having spent her early childhood in Kailua, on Oahu Island near Honolulu, she knows the area and has kept in touch with Danny, a neighbor boy. She is enrolled in a posh private school, thanks to her long-absent father, or so she’s been told. The house her mother has rented for them is shoddy and in a not-so-nice neighborhood, but now they’ve been invited to use the guest cottage of an estate owned by long-standing friends of Lea’s mother. In fact, Mr. West was Lea’s mom’s boyfriend for a brief time, before he introduced her to the fellow who got her pregnant. Lea feels awkward about the arrangement until she gets to know the West kids who are about her age. As with all lives, things get complicated and Lea has to sort out what her true desires are. The story is well told and intricate and has a good ending. Lea grows a lot during the story. The down side of the book is the easy acceptance the author has with letting the juvenile characters be promiscuous and happily get drunk and/or high. A little more regret and the parents being a bit less lax in showing their children how to behave would have been nice. Lea, at least, shows some remorse for having succumbed to the booze and drugs.
You must read the third book with the spirit of letting your imagination run wild. There are lots of magical, mythical creatures parading across the pages. If you can’t allow yourself to believe in Unicorns and other such creatures, don’t bother with this book. I loved it, because, at all most 76 years of age, I still believe in Unicorns and Griffins.
Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training
Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Illustrated by Maggie Stiefvater
Pip Bartlett is spending the summer with her Aunt Emma at the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures. She loves talking with the animals, though no-one else realizes she understands what the animals are saying. Aunt Emma and her daughter, Callie, and Pip are going to the Triple Trident magical animal show and their neighbor, Tomas, is going with them. Tomas is allergic to just about everything, but that doesn’t stop him from going places. Callie, being a prissy teenager, is less than thrilled with going. But the fun really ramps up when their friend Mr. Henshaw’s Show Unicorn gets a case of jangling nerves and won’t settle down for anyone. That is until Pip takes the Unicorn, Regent Maximus, into a paddock filled with baby unicorns. He begins to calm down as he tells the young ones all the trials and terrors that await them. They become his adoring entourage. It’s a cute story and will certainly get the reader giggling. Frequently, a page in the book is taken up by a description of some magical creature, with an amusing drawing. The glimmerbeast subspecies called a rockshine, which turns invisible when frightened, is the first illustration. It looks rather like a deranged sheep. The story progresses with lots of mishaps to Regent Maximus and other creatures, but in the end, Regent Maximus wins the Triple Trident championship. Even though the creatures are all mythical, the story can be used as a way discuss animal anatomy and ways to calm scared creatures.
BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc. Ages 8 to 12, $9.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
Enjoy the post and let me know what’s going on with you. Thanks, Sarah
The weather may still be warm in your neck of the woods, but we are in November already. Which means winter is on the way. I thought you might like a little hint of what can happen in the cold months. I’m not a big fan of the cold, it makes my hands and feet hurt, but looking out at a snowy day when you know you can stay warm by the fire, is a thing of beauty. I love the quiet, gentle to feel of snow falling around me. And how sparkly clean the sky is after a storm. Anyway, hope you enjoy the books I’ve chosen.
Charlie Cobb lives in Harmony, New Hampshire, which becomes less harmonious after a massive solar flare knocks all electrical connections. Not just the lights are affected, but cars, generators and anything with some kind of electrical impulse is rendered useless. It happens during a spectacular showing of the aurora borealis which all 857 residents watch from a snowy and beyond cold baseball field. The assumption at first is that the power will come back on in a matter of hours, well maybe days, or perhaps weeks. People cooperate at first, but soon the camaraderie is lost and survivalist crazies try to take over. The town elects the part-time volunteer police officer and full-time school janitor, Mr. Kingman, to keep order and run the town. The longer the power outage lasts, the more Charlie’s sister worries their mother will run out of her insulin pills. The only way to get help is for Charlie to borrow his friend’s cross-country skis and head down the mountain to the nearest large town, Concord. He has to sneak out because his mother banned him from skiing after his father died in a skiing accident. What is a twenty-minute car ride takes Charlie two days skiing and he has to ward off very hungry coyotes that smell the venison jerky he’s surviving on. He does get help from an elderly couple after rescuing the husband from under his collapsed wood pile. Concord is in chaos when Charlie finally gets there, but he does find help and the medicine his mom needs. This book is a good jumping off point for many discussions on making a better world, survival and astrophysics, among other things. It is a compelling read.
BIBLIO: 2016, The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $??.
Having grown up seeing well done drawings in books—think of the original drawings in Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows—cutesy Disney style illustrations irritate me. But this book does have merit to it.
Winter’s Flurry Adventure
Elise Allen and Halle Stanford
Illustrated by Paige Pooler
This the second of four stories in a series created to tie in with the TV “Enchanted Sisters” series developed by Mike Moon of the Jim Henson Company. Winter lives in a snowy realm with Fluffy the Polar Bear as her constant companion and best friend until Fluffy gets jealous of a baby fox and runs off. Winter calls her sisters, Spring, Summer and Autumn, to help get the bear back. In their efforts to find Fluffy, the girls go into the “Weeds’” territory where everything is dark and dirty. Eventually they find the beloved bear happily playing with some of the Weeds. Fluffy pays no attention to Winter, but he’s been telling the boys about her. After saving a moat monster, the four sisters figure out a way to entice Fluffy back to Winter’s realm where their mother, Mother Nature, joins them. Winter apologizes to Fluffy for making him feel unloved and the bear and fox become friends. The drawings are ever so cutesy, but the messages of caring about one’s friends and this planet we live on, give the book some merit.
The last book in this week’s blog is, in some ways, a sad book, though the reader is endeared to the main character. I thought it was a good read.
Patricia Reilly Giff
Siria, named by her mother for the bright star in the Canis Major constellation, lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building in one of New York City’s boroughs. She treasurers her memories of her deceased mother and dotes on her father. Pop is a firefighter and Siria worries he will get hurt or killed on the job. She feels she must follow him to nighttime fires near their apartment. Then she stumbles across several suspicious fires in the neighborhood and starts her own investigation to find the culprit. At first she assumes it’s her best friend, Douglas, because he has a green jacket that matches the scrap of fabric she finds at a fire scene. She keeps feeling the presence of someone lurking around the various scenes and she cautiously befriends a stray dog with a matted coat that shows up around the fires also. Douglas is angry with her for mistrusting him, but she learns her evidence against him is flawed. She does find the fire starter eventually, who turns out to be a runaway from Pennsylvania. She doesn’t turn him into the authorities because the fires were accidental as he tried to keep warm. Her father is hurt on the job, but survives and his injuries heal quickly. Her friends, Douglas and Laila, build her a star-gazing shelter on their apartment building’s roof as a present for her twelfth birthday. Along the way Siria learns to trust the people she loves and to believe in her own strengths. Ms. Giff has a lovely way of endearing her reader to her protagonists. This is, in some ways, a simple telling of Siria’s story, but in some ways complex. The reader will have much to ponder.
BIBLIO: 2014, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children’s Books/Random House LLC/ Penguin Random House Company, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.
After a well-fought battle to concur lung problems, Linda Martin Andersen’s beloved husband Scotty “shuffled off this mortal coil” and is now breathing easily. So, sad as the topic may be, I thought I would talk about three stellar books written on the subject of dealing with death. I do hope you readers and your families are doing well.
The first book is a well-deserved reprinting of Lois Lowry’s book, based in part on the death of her own sister.
A Summer to Die
Sometimes reading or rereading a well told story from years ago is so much better than reading a new story. This book is indeed such a joy. Meg and her sister, Molly, move from their comfortable home in town where each has her own bedroom to a small cottage in the country where they must share a bedroom so their dad can finish the book he’s writing. Neither girl is happy with the move at first, but then pretty Molly finds a boyfriend at her school and Meg meets an old man, Will Banks, down the road who helps her find her way. The family dynamic changes when Molly gets seriously ill and has to spend time in a hospital. When she comes back, Molly is not the same and Meg doesn’t know why. In the meantime Meg begins to take her photography more seriously, encouraged by Will Banks, who gives her his still good, German camera that he bought in WWII. Will owns the three houses on his farm: the cabin he lives in; the cottage he rents to Meg’s family; and the large house he grew up in. Unfortunately, his only living relative wants to sell the farm for a profit, saying Will can live his life out there. When Will sells the large house to a nice young couple, Maria and Ben, his nephew threatens to sue him. Will is key to Meg’s dealing with Molly’s impending death. Plus, Maria and Ben want Meg to take pictures of the birth of their child. Though she and her parents move back to their house in town after Meg’s dad finishes his book, Meg does keep in touch with Will, visiting him when the blue gentian blooms. The book will make your heart sad and happy.
BIBLIO: 2016 (orig. 1977,) Houghton Mifflin Books for Children /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12, $8.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
This book has so much going for it; I struggled to relate all the nuances. And, of course, having horses be a big part of the story certainly made me more enthusiastic. I could envision the Cornwall area of England with much clarity and sympathized with not just the protagonists, but the lesser players.
One Silver Summer
Alexander is a dreading the party downstairs on his secondary school’s ballroom floor. He knows he’s going to be the center to attention, because, as future heir to the English throne, he always is. But now his parents are divorcing and the news is spreading all over the British Isles, actually, the world. Worst of all he learned of the pending divorce not through his parents, but a rapacious, gossip-mongering reporter. All he wants to do is to escape to his grandmother’s house in Cornwall and hide. However, when he does, he discovers a girl there who seems to be hiding also. But Alex is so used to strangers, especially pretty young girls, wanted something from him—like be his queen—he is quite suspicious of the newcomer to his village. And finding her trespassing on his grandmother, the Countess of Tremayne’s, estate makes him even more suspicious. Saskia, a.k.a. Sass, recently orphaned, is now living in the village with her uncle and recovering from her mother’s awful death in Brooklyn, NY. Alex is attracted to her anyway, because she seems so innocent and appears to be ignorant of who he is. Sass thinks he’s the stable boy because he’s always out riding horses or cleaning up after them. He teaches her to ride and they spend more and more time together. Sass meets Alex’s grandmother, but doesn’t know who she is or that she and Alex are related. The plot is nicely convoluted and both Sass and Alex grow emotionally. Though there’s a bit of a fairy tale quality, it’s more about understanding oneself. It is a delightful read with a lovely feel for the Cornwall countryside.
And what can be more heart wrenching than reading about a child realizing how soon she’s going to be an orphan? (Sorry, but from my perspective of 75 years, even a teenager is a child. I have trouble thinking of my 50s something children as anything but my children.)
Erin Bailey’s father dies in a plane crash when she is six, leaving her afraid of the dark. Now, ten years later, her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. What’s a teenager to do when she sees her future as an orphan? Especially since she tests positive for the BRCA gene mutation? To make her more alone, she and her best friend aren’t as tight anymore because her friend has her first serious boyfriend. Erin meets a young woman, Ashley, in an online BRCA chat group who gives Erin courage and hope, and she decides to learn to fly. Of course she doesn’t want to upset her mother, so she keeps lots of secrets. Then she really messes up when she “borrows” her instructor’s plane to fly from Georgia to Florida to go visit Ashley, who has secrets. Things get messier, as any good book should, before they get better, but even though her mother does die just before Erin’s graduation from high school, she has taught her daughter how to understand this mutant gene and lots more about life. The book is nicely written and gives a great deal of information about dealing with breast cancer, including encouraging girls when to get tested and whom to confide in. The love story woven into the narrative isn’t too shabby either. There’s plenty of food for classroom discussion in the book, including why the BRCA gene mutation should be of concern to men.