Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hazel Mitchell's (and Toby's) Five Favorite Dog Stories

Welcome HAZEL MITCHELL and her very famous poodle pooch TOBY to the Cottage! Toby is the star of Hazel's upcoming book, Toby (Candlewick 2016).

We're sitting down to a cup of Yorkshire tea and biscuits (dog biscuits, for Toby), and Hazel is going to tell us all about her FIVE FAVORITE DOG STORIES.

While we get the kettle on, tell us about the books you've brought today, Hazel...

We often hear people say 'at least the kids read the books when they've seen the movie/tv/video game,' but, you know, I think it's been the same for as long as visual media has been around (which is longer than you think if you count cave paintings which led to oral story telling traditions). The first real dog story that stole my heart (and the rest of the world’s) was Lassie Come Home. And yes, of course, I saw the movie first (made in 1943 and starring Roddy McDowall) probably at the Saturday morning cinema I used to go to in my home town of Scarborough in Yorkshire. I loved dogs but was not able to have one at home. How I adored Lassie, her faithfulness, intelligence and sweet face! I’m sure she inspired me to own collies later in life. Lassie went on to be a huge media empire. The original book was expanded from a short story in the Saturday Evening Post by Eric Knight, published in 1940 with illustrations by Marguerite Kirmse. As well as loving the story I feel two other strong connections to Eric Knight; the book was repped by my agency, Curtis Brown, and he was a Yorkshireman!
-
Excuse me if there is a British bias in the books I’ve chosen - I grew up in England so British books fill a large part of my soul. Dog and horse stories were favourites as a child. Especially if there was adventure and mystery involved. This next choice isn’t strictly about a dog, but the dog in the series (Timmy) is an important character. Enid Blyton wrote hundreds and hundreds of book in the mid last century, adored by children everywhere, but particularly by British kids. They’re considered very un-politically correct in our time, but back then they reflected the period. The stories still stand up and children love them. Blyton wrote several different series and The Famous Five is one of the most popular. It’s never been out of print and the latest covers were created by Quentin Blake. The stories concern four children--Julian, Ann, Dick, George--and Timmy the dog. George is a tomboy and a bit of a loner. I related to her completely – and her dog, who understood her every move. The adventures always involved smugglers and gangs and remote, scary settings with a friendly Uncle there to call on when needed. Timmy the dog is always instrumental in helping to solve the mystery and save the day. I love the cover for Five go to Demon’s Rock published in 1961 illustrated by Eileen A. Soper. Timmy is always front and centre on the covers! I know that the illustrations in this series had a lasting influence on my own work.

Snoopy! Cartoons, books, annuals, merchandising. I loved all things Snoopy! I still love Snoopy! Charles M. Schulz’ brilliant Peanuts strip cartoons are part of our social history. What a maverick this dog is. Fantasizing about flying around on his dog house, always having a smart solution and his love/hate relationship with Woodstock, the irreverent way he treats Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus and his blanket. It makes me laugh just thinking about him. What would Peanuts have been without Snoopy? I devoured all the new comic strip books as they came out, but my favorite pages were the ones that just featured Snoopy. Certainly the simplicity of the drawings and endlessly entertaining antics of the Peanuts gang had an influence on my art. I try to remember that less is more when drawing, but I don’t always succeed!
If you’re from the UK you will no doubt remember Fred Bassett. Another strip cartoon created first in 1963 by Scottish Cartoonist Alex Graham in the Daily Mail newspaper. Here again is a much loved pooch I first saw on children’s television back in the 70’s. He had the TV slot just before the 6 o’clock news when everyone was sitting down eating their tea and watching tele. (This slot was much coveted and created many national cartoon successes, including Paddington Bear, I believe). Fred Basset was syndicated around the world. Worldy-wise, reflecting adult attitudes, he lived in a safe surburban world with his  two middle-aged owners. (Not a child in sight).  Most appealing was Fred’s sense of humour. A bit of a snob, he liked the ‘better things in life’. I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand a lot of the wry jokes as a child, but Fred, bumbling and having to put up with the ways of adults, always rising to the occasion, appealed to children. He had a bunch of doggie friends and together they got into and out of all kinds of sticky situations, always with a great punch line. I had a whole stack of Fred Basset cartoon books that I’d  read and re-read until eventually, dog-eared, they must have been retired to the charity shop. I wish I had kept them!

Greyfriars Bobby - another story I discovered through movies, no doubt I saw the Disney movie once again at the Saturday morning cinema (in between Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello), munching crisps and sweets and surrounded by a couple of other hundred kids! Greyfriars Bobby is a dog who belonged to John Gray, a nightwatchman in Edinburgh, Scotland. When Gray died Bobby slept on the nightwatchman’s  grave every night for 14 years, waiting for him. A statue was subsequently erected to Bobby in Edinburgh. Whether this is true or not is debatable. It seems to be an urban myth with stories of such ‘graveyard dogs’ abounding around the world. Whatever the truth is, Bobby’s engrained in the British psyche as an example of a dog’s faithful nature and his love and loyalty for man. To a young girl who badly wanted a dog, the story hit home. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The power of a story to touch the heart and stir emotions, to recognize something in ourselves. I’m getting a little teary sitting here writing about it!  This cover is from Greyfriars Bobby (1912) by Eleanor Atkinson, one of many, many books written about Bobby.

Thank you, Hazel and Toby! These books are marvelous, and the stories behind them are equally fascinating. Please come back and share more books and tea (and biscuits) with us soon!

"Woof!" Toby says, he'd love to.

Toby is Hazel Mitchell’s debut book as author/illustrator and will be published in Fall 2016 by Candlewick Press. She has always loved dogs! Right now she has one poodle, Toby, who she rescued in 2014 and a cat called Sleep. Originally from England she now lives and works in Central Maine.

She has illustrated many other books including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, 1,2,3 by the Sea and How to Talk to an Autistic Kid. Her work has garnered several awards including a Foreword Review Gold Medal, Bronze Award from Society of Illustrator’s of Los Angeles, Learning Magazine Teachers’ Choice Award and has been mentioned in Bank Street’s Best of Children’s Books,  Charlotte/Mecklenburg Library and Chicago Library best book Lists. Find out more about Hazel online at www.hazelmitchell.com tweet @hazelgmitchell or on FB at /HazelMitchellBooks.



9 comments:

  1. Thanks for letting me and Toby visit! Just want to say 'Famous Five' series is about FOUR children and a dog, not FIVE children. Although, dogs are children too (says Toby - WOOF!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. And so are pigs. (Wait, that didn't sound the way I meant it.) he cottagers consider me one of he family. ;)

      Delete
  2. Great to see Hazel's book here. Toby is so cute and Hazel's illustrations are brilliant. All This and Snoopy, Too looks irresistible! Thanks for sharing. :) ~ Jess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on both counts, Jess. Although I do wish Hazel would do a story with a pig in it (hint-hint), I enjoy all of her books! She is so talented. --Mr. P.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Jess and WOOF from Toby!

      Delete
  3. Can't wait for TOBY's debut. Any chance he will attend the book launch? WOOF!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cathy! We'll have to wait and see how he progresses!

      Delete
  4. Hazel, I just love your art and this was so much fun to read :) I wasn't familiar with 3 of the books, but LASSIE COME HOME is so well known (never read it), I had to know that, and I love Snoopy and the Peanuts gang! I'm thinking that's a pic of the cover of your book, all worn and loved :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you! I wish that was my book, alas, no. But someone loved it!

    ReplyDelete