Q & A with Shawn K. Stout: A TINY PIECE OF SKY

Shawn K Stout A TINY PIECE OF SKY BOOK COVERToday I welcome fellow VCFA alumna and dearest friend, Shawn K. Stout to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a canine story for kids or young adults.

I have been looking forward to Shawn’s A TINY PIECE OF SKY’s launch date of January 19, 2016 for a long time now. Middle grade (ages 9-12; grades 4-7) and historical fiction readers will not be disappointed. See the reviews below for advance praise.

Shawn, who is your key dog character and what kind of dog is he/she? Tell us a little more about him/her.

Bismarck, a German shepherd.

In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Bismarck is the family dog of Hermann and Mildred Baum, and their three daughters, Elizabeth, Joan, and Frankie. Hermann found Bismarck along a road on one of his business trips and brought him home to surprise Mildred. There was something about the dog’s eyes–their almost human quality–that convinced Hermann to save Bismarck. That dog, as Hermann liked to say, was smarter than most people; not only did he listen to every word that was spoken to him, but he seemed to understand. Bismarck was a loyal companion to the Baums and even helped at the family’s restaurant, delivering inventory.


Beck Restaurant

The story of A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events, and Bismarck is based on a real dog. My grandparents, Albert and Mildred Beck owned two restaurants in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s, and Bismarck, their German shepherd, would carry bags of potatoes or other items in his teeth through the alleyways between restaurants.

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

World War II is coming in Europe. At least that’s what Frankie Baum heard on the radio. But from her small town in Maryland, in the wilting summer heat of 1939, the war is a world away.

But when some people in town start accusing her father of being a German spy, all of a sudden the war arrives at Frankie’s feet and she can think of nothing else.


Beck’s Restaurant Bar Staff

Some awesome reviews include:

“At turns hilarious, at turns heartbreaking, Shawn Stout’s story shows us the damage that a whisper campaign can do to a family and a community, and at the same time shows us, each of us, a way to find our hearts. Frankie Baum is a hero from a distant time and yet a hero for all times, the kind of hero who never gets old. I loved this book from the very beginning to the very end.”—Kathi Appelt, author of the National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book The Underneath

“Through warm, funny characters Shawn Stout builds a riveting bridge from the past that sheds light on today. Wholly memorable.” – Rita Williams-Garcia, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award for P.S. Be Eleven

“Shawn Stout’s Frankie Baum is that rare creation: a character so real, so true, we don’t just feel we know her—we are her. Irrepressible Frankie meets issues like prejudice and loyalty head on, in a story both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. She may be #3 in her family, but she’ll be #1 in the hearts of all who read this book.”—Tricia Springstubb, author of What Happened on Fox Street

“Stout uses an archly chummy direct address at several points, successfully and humorously breaking up tension in this cleareyed look at bad behavior by society….Successfully warmhearted and child-centered.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Through Frankie’s thoughtful insights, Stout addresses injustices such as racism and xenophobia without turning didactic…and the conclusion is a realistic mix of bittersweet and heartwarming.”—Publishers Weekly

“This is a solid, engaging tale of historical fiction.”—Booklist


Beck’s Restaurant Menu

AOB: What inspired you to write this story?

This story is inspired by the lives of my grandparents in the 1930s. My grandfather, Albert A. Beck, the son of German parents, was a restaurant owner and businessman in Hagerstown, Maryland. Amidst the post-WWI anti-German hysteria, he was accused of being a Nazi spy, and there was an organized boycott of his restaurant.

I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about her family’s restaurant, about the rumors of espionage, about the boycott, and about Bismarck, their dog.

Many decades later, after my grandmother died, we were cleaning out her apartment and found letters dated 1939 from local civic organizations, which voiced their support for my grandfather and his restaurant, denouncing the accusations that he was a German spy. I held onto those letters and knew that one day I would write about his story.


The author with her dog, Zed.

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

I’d never before written a story that was based on real people, not to mention family members. For me, the biggest challenge was walking the line between fictionalizing the characters and their situations but at the same time capturing the true spirit of the times and what they experienced.

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

I’ve written two middle grade series, the Not-So-Ordinary Girl series (published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) and the Penelope Crumb series (published by Philomel/Penguin Random House).

Unfortunately neither of these series features a dog, which now makes me really wish they did. What was I thinking?


Beck’s Restaurant Staff

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

I’m working on a new middle grade novel now, but it’s still too early to say what it’s about. I can tell you that there’s a girl, an unkindness of ravens, and some magic.

AOB: Maybe there’s time to bring in a dog character? What else would you like us to know about you or your story, A TINY PIECE OF SKY?

Let’s see…oh, the letters in the book from the civic organizations that voice support for Hermann Baum in the wake of the boycott of his restaurant. These are the actual letters that were sent to my grandfather—I just changed the names and addresses.


Author Photo by Erin Summerill

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

I think I would have to say A Secret Garden, because it was the first book that I read over and over again, that I wanted to be a part of, and the first book that made me wish I could be a writer.

AOB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot. And show up every day to write, whether or not any words come to you, and whether or not they are rubbish. Just show up.

AOB: Click on the links to below to connect or learn more about Shawn K. Stout. Teachers be sure to look for Shawn’s Teacher Guide created by Deb Gonzales.

Web page



Thank you Shawn K. Stout for joining us at Dog Reads and for sharing photos from your family archives! I have placed an order for A TINY PIECE OF SKY and can’t wait to read it. Good luck, Shawn! I always enjoy your writing and wonderful sense of humor. Your books teach me so much about writing humor for kids.


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