Q & A with Margarita Engle: WHEN YOU WANDER

WhenYouWander_high res cvrLet’s welcome Margarita Engle to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written stories for kids with a key canine character.

WHEN YOU WANDER, A Search and Rescue Dog Story (Holt/Macmillan, April, 2013).  It is a picture book for young children, in the form of a single poem that tells a story from the point of view of a wilderness search and rescue dog trained to find lost hikers. It is illustrated by Mary Morgan.

AOB: Who is your key dog character and what kind of dog is he/she? Tell us a little more about him/her.

*The dog is a first person narrator, so he/she isn’t named, but is a very sweet, cute Golden Retriever, dedicated to finding lost people.

AOB: In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

*The search and rescue dog speaks to a child, explaining what the child should do if he/she gets lost in a forest—stop, stay in one place, and make friends with a tree, because the farther a lost person wanders, the harder it is for search and rescue dogs to follow their scent trail.  The poem/story begins with:  “I am a graduate of sniffing school!  I practice sniffing every day, just in case you ever go out in the woods, and lose your way.”

AOB: What inspired you to write this story?

*My husband is a volunteer search and rescue dog/trainer handler, with two dogs, Maggi and Chance.  I hide in forests in the Sierra Nevada mountains and other wild regions, at least once or twice a week, so that SAR dogs and handlers can practice finding a “lost” person.  They call me a volunteer “victim.”  It has been such a pleasure watching dogs with strong “play drives” transformed into hard-working heroes, because dogs don’t distinguish between play and work.  It’s all great fun to them.  Search and rescue is basically an extended hide-and-seek game.

AOB: What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

*I don’t usually find it natural to write in a sweet, cute style, but I felt that the subject of getting lost would be too frightening for young children, unless balanced by comforting images, both in the text and illustrations.

DSC07250AOB: What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones? AOB: What are these stories about?

*Most of my books are YA novels in verse about Cuban history.  My other picture book is SUMMER BIRDS, the Butterflies of Maria Merian, one of the earliest women scientists.

AOB: What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

*MOUNTAIN DOG is also about search and rescue dogs; it is a middle grade chapter book in verse, scheduled for publication by Holt/Macmillan in August, 2013.

AOB: What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

*The true inspiration for When You Wander came from a search and rescue training day, when I was standing around with my husband, and a bunch of other volunteers and SAR dogs.  Three little girls walked into our camp, headed straight for our Yellow Lab, Chance, and spoke to him, instead of to any of the people.  All three said, “We don’t know where we are!”  Then they burst into tears, and hugged Chance.  He comforted them.  They had wandered away from a big group camped in a nearby meadow, but by wandering in circles, they got farther and farther away from their own tent.  No one at their church camp even realized that they were lost.  Everyone thought someone else was watching them. I realized how important it is for children to learn basic wilderness safety, and how much easier it is for them to learn from animals, than from people.

AOB: Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

*When I was very little, my favorite picture book was The Ugly Duckling.  I loved the unexpected transformation.  My Cuban mother was still learning English at that time, so she also recited a lot of Spanish poetry, especially Versos Sencillos (Simple Verses) by José Martí.

IMG_0141They are poems written for adults, but some of them are easy for children to understand. The nature of poetry captivated me.  I loved the rhythms and rhymes.  It was like music.

Readers can go to Margarita Engle’s web page to find out more information about her and her books. You can also find her on Facebook.

Thank you Margarita for joining us today!



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