I first “met” Roxanna Elden when she emailed me asking if I could review her newest children’s book called “Rudy’s New Human.” Usually to these kinds of requests, I offer a generic response along the lines of “Thanks for considering me, but I don’t write reviews on my blog.”
I have in the past, maybe once or twice and only for friends. But mostly I don’t write reviews because I don’t like reading reviews and writing them often feels so disingenuous and sale-sy. But then with “Rudy’s New Human,” I made an exception because I liked the very cute doggie in the promo Roxanna sent me and also because after watching said promo, I worried my children would be disappointed in me if I said “no” to a cute (and funny) book about a dog’s tough time after a new baby. “But it’s a doggie, mommy! You said “no” to a doggie?” So I said “yes” and read the book to my girls and they read it to me and decided I actually like this book.
“Rudy’s New Human,” is told from the perspective a dog, but the story is, I think, universal. True to the normal drama that ensues with a new baby, it’s hard in the beginning for Rudy to adjust because everything’s changed. He feels displaced, left out, neglected. But by the end, the “new human” warms to Rudy, the parents find more time in their busy schedules and brains to remember their dog, and there’s a happy ending. This story of disappointment then acceptance and then love is often told in children’s books intended for growing families but it bears repeating, often, in differing variations (here, with a pet) because it’s true. But like most things in parenting, it only becomes true when it happens to you.
My kids and I enjoyed the story told in “Rudy’s New Human.” We also liked the book’s text and illustrations that were simple enough to be enjoyed by young and older children. As a parent, I liked that the family featured in the book appears multi-ethnic because I know this matters. So it’s a good book.
If you’re a parent with an older child and a baby on the way, consider “Rudy’s New Human.” It’s now for sale, here, on Amazon.
Along with giving me the book to read for this review, Roxanna was so very kind to answer some writer questions I had for her on the children’s book process, her foray from educational writing to children’s fiction, and more. My questions and her answers are below:
1. You have an interesting background in education and as a writer. You’ve written a widely acclaimed book, “See Me After Class,” for educators, you offer writing workshops, and have, with “Rudy’s New Human,” entered the children’s book market. If you could say there’s a theme to your work, what would it be?
This is such a great question – it’s something no interviewer has asked, but something I think about a lot. Here’s my best answer: If there is a theme to my work it’s probably something like, “Don’t believe the hype. But believe this might be worth it, anyway.” I believe people are better off taking on life’s challenges with realistic expectations and allowing themselves to be pleasantly surprised. For teachers, there is this tremendous public narrative about beating the odds to make a difference. The day-to-day reality for new teachers can contrast with this in a way that makes the job even more overwhelming. On a similar note, I think adults sometimes oversell the fun of becoming a big sister or brother. Change can be hard for kids, and getting upstaged as the baby of the family is a big change. According to family legend, I was absolutely awful for the first ten years of my younger sister’s life. Now, though, she’s my best friend.
2. What inspired your writing of “Rudy’s New Human?”
The inspiration came from watching my dog, Rudy, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. Like a lot of dogs, Rudy was the “baby” of our family before we had kids. Ever since, he’s had to deal with all kinds of indignities – pulled ears, missed walks, and lots of interruptions to his couch naps. And, of course, he has had to learn to share the spotlight. A little after my first child was born, I was suffering pangs of “pet parent guilt,” and called my friend, Ginger.
She already had two kids at the time, and noted the similarities between Rudy’s situation and what older siblings go through when a baby comes along. She also just happens to be one of the Chicago-land area’s top illustrators. By the end of that conversation we had a book in the works – and by the time the book came out, I had a second child and got to see firsthand that Ginger was right!
3. What was your process like on the road to publishing the book? What advice would you give new writers who are interested in writing children’s books?
As Ginger and I worked on the book, we kicked ideas back and forth in both text and visual form until we came up with a final product. My description or text might spark an idea for Ginger, or she might send a picture that gave me an idea for a line in the book. Then we worked with our editors at Sky Pony Press, Jenny Pierson and Julie Matysik, who had experience with children’s books and taught us that young children read books differently than adults do. Adults form a mental picture of the action as they read the words. Kids mostly look at the pictures while someone reads the words aloud to them, so the picture has to tell part of the story. Ginger and I learned this the hard way. There was a page in the book where we had put an exclamation point over Rudy’s head to show he was surprised. In the first round of comments, the editors pointed out that punctuation marks don’t mean anything to kids who can’t read yet.
4. What is the best writer’s advice/tip you’ve ever received?
Treat writing as a job. Do the task you’ve set for the day whether or not you feel inspired. Focus on the next step you have to take rather than the long, uncertain road ahead. This is combined advice from Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk, both of which I highly recommend for all writers.
5. What’s next on your writer horizons?
Rudy has a sequel in the works – he can’t talk about it yet, but he promises that it’s going to be a real “treat.”
Thanks, Roxanna, for your wonderful answers and job well done on your book! Readers, I hope you will check out “Rudy’s New Human.” It’s currently available on Amazon, here. Also, for more updates on Roxanna and to receive free online versions of her workshops, among other things, join her email list by signing up here.