Q & A with Barbara O’Connor: HOW TO STEAL A DOG

bk_stea2I’d like to welcome Barbara O’Connor today at Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who have written a dog book for kids.

AOB: What is the title of your book? Pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group? Illustrator?

How to Steal a Dog; Farrar, Straus, Giroux/Frances Foster; 2007; Ages 8-12; realistic fiction

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 Jack Russell terrior named Willy. When I first wrote the manuscript, the dog was just a shaggy little black mutt. But the publisher found a photo of a Jack Russell that they wanted to use for the cover, so I changed the description of the dog in the manuscript.

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

Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation.When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she has to do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected.

OConnorAOB: Reviews or blurbs you wish to share:

*ALA Book Links Lasting Connections 2007
Bank Street College Best Books of the Year 2007
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 2008
International Reading Assoc Notable Books for a Global Society 2008
NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies 2008
Parents Choice Recommendation 2007 
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2007

Winner of Indiana, Kansas and South Carolina Children’s Book Awards

AOB: What inspired you to write this story?

*All my books start with the title and the first line, very often without knowledge of the story. That was the case with this book. The first line is: The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.

I have no idea why the main character of Georgina presented herself to me as being homeless, but I took that on as a challenge and, of course, it served as the foundation for the storyline.

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

*The biggest challenge was definitely portraying homelessness in a realistic, yet sensitive way. Part of dealing with that was simply being a human being – that is, imagining myself as a little girl living in a car. Where would I keep my stuff? How would I do my homework? How would I bathe and wash my hair? How would it affect my friendships and activities?

photo06_thumbBut I also needed for the situation to be believable. After I finished the first draft, I researched rural homelessness. I was surprised to learn that the majority of the homeless in rural areas are single, working women with children. And it was eye-opening to see the statistics on the number of homeless, school-aged children in rural areas. I also learned that many of those homeless do not seek help from outsiders, family members or social services. I had, then, portrayed Georgina’s mother in a realistic fashion: a single mother working two jobs but still unable to provide shelter for her children.

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

*I adore dogs so I almost always put one or two of them in my books. None of my other books features a dog as prominently as How to Steal a Dog, but they all have them. My most recent novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s, is a multiple viewpoint story. One of the viewpoints is “the little brown dog.”

The dog, Boo, plays a small role in The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, as do the dogs in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

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

*No dogs in my next project. It’s still in the very early stages, so I can’t say too much about it (because I don’t know too much about it). But I can say that I’m trying a slightly different format by incorporating short stories into the body of the manuscript.

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

*Since How to Steal a Dog was published in 2007, I’ve heard from many teachers who have told me about homeless students in their classrooms and/or how much the story generated important discussions about homelessness. The book was even featured on the Nightly News with Brian Williams as a book that resonated with students in the same tough situation as Georgina. When I wrote her story, I never could have imagined that the economy would take such a downturn and that so many young readers would find themselves relating to her situation so much. I hope the book helps children understand the plight of homelessness and how much it affects all of us, maybe even the student sitting next to you in school.

photo03_thumbAOB: Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

*I give Missing May by Cynthia Rylant credit for changing the course of my writing career. I was floundering a bit, trying to find my unique voice. When I read Missing May, I realized how much I connected to her voice and how much her voice was tied to setting. It was obvious that Rylant knew and loved those mountains of West Virginia. That’s when I knew that I wanted to set my stories in the South, where I grew up, and where my heart’s home still is.

AOB: Where can readers go to find out more information about you and/or your books?


Thank you for joining us today at Dog Reads, Barbara O’Connor.


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