When I look back at my work, both published and unpublished, I see that animals turn up in about half of my novels or picture books. In my first published young adult novel, Secrets I Have Kept, a little Australian Blue Heeler named Chopin plays an important role in the story. Why did I use a blue heeler? At the time, our pet was … you guessed it … a blue heeler. He was a little stray that either wandered away from home or was thrown away by his owners. Whichever, he was then our dog. We get a lot of discarded animals in the country. Chopin adds a touch of humor as well as protection for his girl in the story.
Another ya novel, Rebel in Blue Jeans, is stuffed full of animals. Rebel lives on a ranch, so she has horses, dogs, and a cat, pretty much like I had once upon a time. Rebel’s mare and foal are loosely based on my little foal that the vet did not expect to live. Well, he did and is a part of my novel, though I make him healthy in the story because I hate thinking of how we almost lost him. Rebel also collects stray dogs and cats, much like I do. In the story she has two dogs and a Siamese cat, along with a wounded red-tailed hawk, along with her mare and foal.
My newest release, Life on Hold, has a black cat. Yep. Among the many stray cats I’ve fed through the years, one of them was a sweet little girl with lovely black fur. She hung around for a long time. She even had a litter of babies, just as black as she was. Sadly, they disappeared, probably caught by coyotes or dogs. The black cat in my story is in remembrance of little no name and her family.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog published my story “Traveler” about another blue heeler that showed up at our house one day. He’s pretty much a free spirit, but still hangs around for a handout. He sleeps at our son’s house then roams the neighborhood, making friends with everyone.
My first picture book, Frankie’s Perfect Home, is about a young armadillo. Now I don’t have an armadillo for a pet, but armadillos do live in our pasture. I’ve seen them and even snapped a picture or two. So, of course, I had to write about an armadillo. They are such fascinating creatures. We won’t mention the picture books about animals that are in various stages of writing or have not been published.
Yes, I’m a lover of animals, so it’s natural for me to include them in my stories. Some of my favorite books with animal characters are: all of the horse books by Marguerite Henry, Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, and I could go on and on. What are your favorite stories with animal characters?