|Jill Frieze Prado|
I first met Jill at the Westside SCBWI Schmooze. At this summer’s SCBWI Conference, I saw Jill again and she showed me her book Astronaut the Library Dog – A Classic Tale of a Storybook-Lovin’ Pooch. Her boxer Astro was the inspiration for Jill’s book. “He’ll be 12 years old in September.” She raised him from a pup.
Last January, Jill pitched her manuscript to eight agents. One agent – heretofore referred to as Agent Anne – wanted to see the manuscript.
After the initial contact from Agent Anne - the first agent to reply - Jill bought champagne and celebrated with her husband. “I inscribed and hung the champagne cork in my studio, on a lamp for inspiration. It goes to show that when researching agents, if you do enough study, you’ll connect with someone and they’ll give you the time of day.” Agent Anne was from a large agency that represented YA, MG and picture books. She was listed in the SCBWI survey book. Jill’s research criteria included blog interviews, agent profiles and ultimately hinged on her gut feeling when looking at a photo of the agent for the first time. From her photo, Jill sensed that Agent Anne was approachable, open.
After more communications via email - “It’s a remarkable correspondence in that she always replied within 24-48 hours and provided specific feedback and direction.” Jill said - Agent Anne finally decided that she was not the right agent for Jill’s manuscript.
So Jill decided to self-publish Astronaut the Library Dog as a result of the Whittier Public Library’s offer to debut her book. “I thought long and hard about it. The pitfalls, the cost. Did I have enough knowledge and skill to enable me to engage fully in the process? I value the robust editorial process and wanted that for the book.” But Jill took the library offer. “It was an imminent opportunity I simply could not waste.”
“I told Anne about the library’s offer to debut my book. I explained to her that I would self-publish the story and simultaneously continue down the traditional path to getting published She wished me good luck. After the debut in July, I told Anne about how successful it was. Then, she asks to look at the book. I sent her the book. Anne said, “The book’s adorable.”
When I asked Jill’s about her book debut at the Whittier Library, she told me about the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program. According to their website, “The mission of the R.E.A.D.® program is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.”
“Once I volunteered, I studied children’s books. I watched to see how children react to stories.” Jill auditioned her dog Astro for the “Read to the Dogs”, weekly early literary program. Astro had to attend a school for special training and pass a test.
“He had to walk by a hot dog, a juicy ballpark frank and not eat it. ‘Leave it’ was his command. ‘Leave it’.” About eight weeks of basic to intermediate dog training is required. Training includes intensive instruction using hand signals and verbal commands. Therapy dogs must have no problems with children, other dogs, strange noises, and crowds of people they do not know. “Aggression of any kind is not allowed. And they are not allowed to pull at the leash when walking with their handler.” Part of the training regimen was specifically for Jill. She was tested to see if she was a capable handler. “I passed the test. I’m officially a good alpha dog!”
I visited Jill and Astro at the Whittier Library. In a reading room, a librarian set out books on a book cart. The books were all dog books. Sometimes a cat book appears like Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner. Children registered with Cindy Kruger, a librarian, who sat behind a table. After registering, the children picked a book from the cart and gathered around Astro or one of the other dogs. All children read simultaneously.
“Sometimes whole families show up. Kids can bring their own books. I’ve seen reluctant readers who can’t wait to get to the library and read to Astro.”
Jill is now the point person for the Whittier Reading to Dogs program, and advises potential volunteers. Every year, the library holds a Christmas party for the therapy dogs with presents, cookies and speeches.
When Jill became a mother of her adopted daughter, Michelle, “I knew I would write and create stories for her. The book is for her.”
|Hannah-Pup (Front) & Sadie (Rear)|
I’d like to thank Jill and Astro for agreeing to this interview. For further information about Jill and Astronaut the Library Dog or the Reading Education Assistance Dogs, contact Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org