Author Chantelle Saumier has just released two books about her husky-shepherd rescue dog, Vinnie. Because I’m the owner of a mixed-breed rescue dog myself and a huge sucker for a good dog story, I was keen to interview Chantelle about the adorable Vinnie and her writing adventures so far.
CK: I know that by day you teach primary school in Langley, B.C., and have done for over sixteen years, but now you’ve also written two children’s books, Vinnie! Star of the Show and Vinnie! The Hurricane based on the antics of your real-life dog (also named Vinnie). How long have you been writing and what got you started as a writer?
CS: For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed writing. By nature I am a creative person, and writing has been one of the outlets I have used to express my creativity. However, after university I took a hiatus. It wasn’t until a few years into my teaching career that I got the creative writing bug again. What sparked it was seeing the pure joy in the eyes of my students as I read them a story. The timelessness of that moment, the smiles on their faces and their total engagement, made me want to be a part of creating that experience for them. When I had my own children, this feeling only multiplied and I knew I just had to do it.
CK: You told me once that your dog Vinnie sleeps with his legs straight up in the air, as does the fictional Vinnie. How alike are the real-life Vinnie and his fictional counterpart? Which one is naughtier? What’s the worst thing your dog’s ever done?
CS: My dog, Vinnie, and his “fictional” counterpart, are really one and the same. This is why I knew I had to make some children’s stories about his antics. The things he does seem so unbelievable and silly, yet at the same time are very relatable to those who have dogs of their own. Vinnie has two sides to his personality. On one hand, he is super loving, very sweet, and always craving attention. On the other hand, he makes poor, impulsive choices that end up causing destruction of some kind. Not only has he wiped out the entire living room, but he’s also destroyed about eight pairs of my favourite shoes! Let’s just say that Vinnie, like all of us, is evolving and slowly learning from his mistakes.
CK: Your family figures in the books, but Vinnie is, as the title of the first book indicates, the real star. How does the real-life Vinnie feel about now being in the limelight? Is he at all embarrassed by any of his bad behaviour?
CS: Vinnie, as the first book relays, loves attention! It’s a fact! So he is soaking it up. He is pretty oblivious as to why he’s getting it, but that’s okay, he’ll take it! As for being embarrassed about his bad behaviour, he is. Vinnie knows exactly what he’s done when he’s done it because he gives us three distinct signs. He lowers his head, twitches his tail, and stares up at us with a certain look in his eyes. It’s the look that leads to the question, “Vinnie! What did you do?”
CK: Have any of your students read the books yet, and if so, how have they reacted to them?
CS: My 2012/2013 Grade 1 students from R.C.Garnett Elementary have read the books. I decided to use my journey throughout this process as a learning opportunity for them as well. I wanted my students to learn about the different stages of publication, and I also wanted them to really see that writing is life-long and can go wherever we want it to go. Therefore, they saw all the stages of development from first draft manuscript, to basic illustrations, to revision stages, and finally, publication. My students were my biggest cheerleaders! They were so excited about the books and laughed throughout the reading of the stories no matter what stage they were in. They were able to make connections between Vinnie and their own dogs, which is so important in the development of early childhood literacy. In fact, it was their enthusiasm towards the stories that kept me on track and helped me to really believe in myself. Thank you Division 14!!
CK: Without giving too many juicy details away, what do you expect might happen to Vinnie in subsequent books?
CS: Vinnie will continue to be naughty and will continue to destroy things, but he also learns a few new tricks along the way. Stay tuned to find out what those are.
CK: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to publish a children’s book?
CS: Whether your dream is to publish a children’s book, or something else completely unrelated, my advice to you would be just make it happen. Push all your worries and fears aside and make it happen. Push away negative chatter from yourself and others and follow your heart. I strongly believe that we were born to live our dreams, and when we do, unexpected things, unimaginable things, fall into place before our very eyes.
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