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Friday, 26 January 2018

Interview: Kate DiCamillo & Harry Bliss on Good Rosie!

Rosie is a good dog and a faithful companion to her owner, George. She likes taking walks with George and looking at the clouds together. But the closest she comes to another dog is when she encounters her reflection in her empty dog bowl, and sometimes that makes Rosie feel lonely.

One day George decides to take Rosie to the dog park, but the park is full of dogs that Rosie doesn’t know, which makes her feel lonelier than ever. So when big, loud Maurice and small, yippy Fifi bound over and want to play, Rosie’s not sure how to respond. Is there a trick to making friends? And if so, can they all figure it out together?

This acclaimed author-illustrator duo creates a new take on the joys of finding your pack. Full of humour and pathos, Good Rosie! is a must-have book for dog lovers and, as Kate says, about 'meeting your people' out later this year. Join us today for this fascinating and entertaining conversation with Rosie's creators, Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss.

The genesis for this book is a little unusual. Can you tell us about how the collaboration started?

Harry: Kate and I had worked on a picture book previously, and some years later I’d wanted to work with Kate on a book of dog poems, inspired by a poem she’d written for another book that I’d made an image for: “Snow, Aldo.”

Kate: That painting is hanging on my living room wall. I’m looking at it as I type these words. Ever since then Harry and I have wanted to do a dog book together. And about four years ago we were both in South Dakota for a festival, and I said, “When are we going to do that dog book?”  

Harry: Time passed and I kept nagging her, sort of, not really, but every six months or so I’d think to myself, “Hey, I wonder why Kate hasn’t written a dog manuscript yet?” Then one afternoon I got Good Rosie! and I was off and running.

Can you discuss why the graphic storybook format with the panels that progress through the story works so well for this particular book?

Kate: Harry is probably better suited to answer this question than I am. All I know is that we both wanted kind of a Charles Schulz feel to things — that heartbroken, wise, hopeful quality. And once you start thinking about Charles Schulz, you start to think in panels. Plus, I like how the panels contain things, make them feel safer, more approachable. 

Harry: I’m a huge fan of the comics, and I wanted this story to move in a very specific way. The space between each panel allows the reader to use their imagination to fill in their own narrative, which is essential to the comic form. Words and images together activate lobes of the brain in the deciphering of the narrative, but when you break down a traditional picture book into comics, an additional layer is then added. It’s actually been proven that various lobes are essentially more “fired up” when the comic format is employed. I can’t speak to why I chose this form for Rosie. Perhaps it’s my way of revisiting my comic book–reading childhood. Plus, it’s just fun to spend time in these boxes. . . .

Harry and Penny the Poodle
There are a lot of ways into this story, a lot of layers for children and adults alike about having new experiences and meeting new friends. Did you see any themes emerge once you stepped back from your work and took it all in together?

Kate: I never think about messages when I’m writing, and it’s only afterward (when the book is done) that I can start to figure out (with other people’s help) what a book is about. I think that maybe Good Rosie! is about how we all need to find our people (or our dogs) and that those friendships are necessary and maddening and wondrous.

Harry: I will say that after finishing Rosie, I like the way these three dogs find friendship. It’s not always easy letting your guard down, letting someone into your world of insecurities, and I feel this book touches on that in a very intimate and “real” way.

What do you think having a pet brings to our lives?
Kate: All I know is that I can’t imagine life without a dog. They constantly remind me of the art of being well-and-truly present, and they also show me how to be joyful, how to concentrate on joy.

Harry: I’m an animal person. I’d throw myself in front of a car to save my annoying dog, Penny. I tell my shrink that when Penny dies, I’ll be a wreck for at least six months. What do animals bring to our lives? Empathy.

Kate and Ramona
Can you tell us a little about your own dogs?

Kate: Well, right now I am on borrowed time. Ramona is on her back with her feet in the air, in front of the fireplace. Any minute now she will insist on me getting off the couch and taking her out into the world. Into the joyful present — which smells like squirrels and snow.

Harry: My dog is a scruffy mini poodle, twelve years old and absolutely wonderful. Her paws smell like corn chips and her breath is like a trash can, but she has me tied around her flea collar 24-7.

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