Welcome back to the blog, Maria! It’s always such a pleasure to chat with you about your beautiful books. The title of this new book, Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness really made me smile. How perfect! Anyone that knows about you understands your deep love of dogs and fans of your books will also know of your talent for synthesizing information into wonderfully bite-sized bits.
As I read this book, I found myself falling in step with each page and each request to slow down and be like a dog. Beyond the fun and playfulness in the pages, I truly think the suggestions are helpful. This fast-paced, high-tech world needs reminders like this to just BE and the prompts on each page make it so easy, especially for children.
I continue to pull out your book Be a Tree with my elementary science students when we are studying trees and the book does double duty, reminding us of the importance of trees and asking us to be like them in various ways. The kids love to stretch up and put down “roots.” It’s a great way to underscore the interconnectedness of living things and our ability (if we’re open to it) to stay grounded in the natural world. Being a Dog shares some similarities with Be a Tree, but the books have totally different vibes. Being a Dog, in my opinion, is more playful. How can it not be with such an adorable character? Plus, the theme of mindfulness is clear and so relatable from the lens of a dog. I marvel at how well you nailed both of these books 🙂
On to the questions…
You mention in your bio about your adorable rescue dog Maple staying by your side when you write. I imagine you turned to Maple for some canine observations while writing Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness. Is that true? Did you take her outside with a notepad in hand? Or was it more casual and organic than that?
Actually, we hadn’t yet adopted Maple when I wrote this manuscript in early 2020 (right as the pandemic was starting). It was inspired by our previous rescue dog, Becca. She had died in November 2019, and I was terribly depressed and really missed her. I just needed to be sad and to grieve for a while, but when I was finally able to write again the words flowed out.
Writing Being a Dog was a way of re-connecting with Becca, and experiencing the joyful times with her since she was such an integral part of our family. I still miss her every day—she lives on in all of my dog books. I particularly love that the book opens with this image, since every time Becca greeted us at the door, she had one of her dog toys in her mouth.
I enjoy walking in the woods behind our house with Maple, and sitting in this evergreen grove for some mindful be-ing—at least until she spots a squirrel, chipmunk or some deer!
Children are going to absolutely fall in love with your words and Pete Oswald’s illustrations in this book. What was your collaboration with Pete like for this book? Did he take it and run with it? Or did you offer some input and insights? It’s always interesting to hear how authors and illustrators come together to make a book.
Thanks so much, Jennifer! As a picture book author, I always try to leave space for illustrators to add their visual voice. I worked with my editor, Nancy Inteli, to shape the manuscript, then Pete made magic in the art. We did some back and forth tweaks and re-arranging here and there to make the text and images flow as best as possible. It’s always a delight to see my words come to life in the art, and Pete’s art is pawfectly joyful.
I absolutely adore the interactive back matter in Being a Dog. How did you (brilliantly) decide to break it up into seasons and senses?
To be mindful and present, we really have to be in tune with our bodies through our senses. I loved the idea of organizing a mindful nature walk oriented around what we might see, hear, taste, smell and touch throughout the different seasons, especially since I live in New England where the seasons can be very distinct. There are so many unique, season-specific things to notice—cornflower blue autumn skies, the crunching of snow underfoot, the scent of lilacs…
I also love the little signposts in the back matter that explain a dog’s sensory experience. Little factoids like humans have a mere 6 million smell receptors while dogs have over 300 million—pretty amazing!
Thank you so much, Maria! Congrats on another fabulous book!
And thank you for featuring Being a Dog on your blog, Jennifer!
Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.
For more information about Maria, visit her website at https://mariagianferrari.com/
To enter the giveaway for a copy of Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness, CLICK HERE!
Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness takes readers into the world of mindfulness that our four-legged friends come to so naturally, with a reminder that the very best things in life are not only shared—but lived, felt, and experienced.
Kirkus review: “A cute mindfulness primer that will especially appeal to dog lovers.”