Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Peg Kehret

A friend of mine and I like to collect cat books. What follows is a review of three books from her collection and one from mine. Two of the books are about homeless cats, a topic dear to my heart. The other two books are simply fun reads.

Little Bo is the first of quartet about Bonnie Boadicea, a spunky and curious little kitten, and co-written by Julie Andrews and her daughter. Little Bo is the youngest of six kittens born to champion Persian but abandoned ten days before Christmas. The Persian’s owner asks her butler to sell the kittens. When that proves difficult, he decides to throw them in a lake, and the kittens escape before that dastardly deed can be performed. I love the full-page paintings which open each chapter, and the charming spot illustrations of the kittens. Just as much I enjoy the story of sweet Bo, who seems to be the only survivor of her siblings. The structured side of me would have preferred Andrews to jump straight into Bo’s story OR to have followed the adventures of her siblings too. That little nitpicking aside, the story is a throw back to days of children’s literary anthologies. It’s full of strong-will characters, unique settings, and adventure. I’m delighted to know there are four books about Little Bo!

Trapped is the third in a trilogy, all written in 2008, about Pete the Cat. Pete is a highly unusual cat that likes to help his owner Alex solve mysteries. In this volume, Pete helps Alex track down the man responsible for illegal trapping. As in every good crime story, Pete ends up putting his life in danger to find evidence. Pete also likes to help author, Peg Kehret, tell his story. The viewpoint switches between Pete the Cat and his owner Alex. As a fan of Peg Kehret, I have read many of her books. One thing I dislike about her fiction is the villains are always one-dimensional. Case in point, in Trapped, the bad guy not only traps illegally, but he also is slovenly in appearance, drives reckless, and isn’t above threatening violence to animals and people. Sure, these people exist, but sometimes people who hurt animals are nice in every other way. Despite my wishing the Kehret would create more complex villains, I enjoy her main characters and the obvious passion of Kehret for animals. Kehret is a long-time volunteer at The Humane Society and often uses animals in her stories.

Animal rescue is hot right now. Ellen Miles ought to know. She made a name for herself with the Puppy Place and Kitty Corner series. In both series, a family fosters a homeless animal and helps find it a forever home. Along the way, readers learn lots of tips about the behavior of dogs and cats. They also realize the plight of shelter animals and maybe even find themselves wanting to give a home to an animal in need. Domino is a title in the Kitty Corner series. Siblings Michael and Mia would like to have a cat of their own, but for now they foster. And their latest foster is a kitten found on a ski slope. The less than 100-page chapter book switches viewpoints between the siblings and Domino, and makes for light-reading. Although the books are formulaic, they’re also cute and true to a kids’ world, and could turn reluctant readers into avid ones.

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof is by Annie Schmidt. It’s my favorite of the four chapter books, because the main character is a shy reporter. Tibbles is so timid that he spends his time reporting about cats and nature, instead of about people. He’s at risk of losing his job, when he meets a lady who can talk to cats because was once had been one. She tells him all the gossip around town, including some secret news, and he writes it all up for the paper. Suddenly he is a star. And she has a home. Except nothing can ever stay perfect. There is a bad guy, a quirky neighbor, a pregnant cat, and…. Next thing you know Tibbles has not only lost his job but also been evicted. To find out how things are all righted, read The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie Schmidt, who is considered the Queen of Dutch Literature. She’s won several awards, including the Hans Christian Anderson, and is included in the canon of Dutch history taught to all school children.

This review is dedicated to Marlo, who regularly surprises me with packages full of all things cat. There might be a toy, a movie, or a book. If you want to read more about her story, follow this link: Bonded Together by CKD.

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Polio. Writer. Rescue. These three words describe life-changing experiences of children’s author Peg Kehret. While recently reviewing one of her books, I discovered that Kehret had written a series of memoirs and that all of them were available at my local library. Having greatly enjoyed reading her narratives, I now want to introduce them to you.

SmallStepsGrowing up in Minnesota, Kehret had a happy life except for a bout in 1949 at age twelve with polio. She writes about this life-changing experience in Small Steps: The Year I got Polio. Kehret’s ordeal began on a Friday early in September, as she eagerly waited for her school’s Homecoming Parade. She felt her muscles twitch, then her legs buckled, and she fainted. By 4:00, start time of the parade, Kehret had a temperature of 102 and the doctor was being called. What started out as simple muscle spasms soon developed into a full-blown case of polio. Kehret ended up not only being paralyzed from the neck down, but soon found herself in an isolation ward barely able to swallow. To find out how a milkshake put her back on the road to recovery, pick up a copy of Kehret’s first memoir.

PegKehret_HeadshotAuthor of over thirty books for young people, Kehret has received recognition from many reading associations, as well as won numerous awards for her books. She writes about her literary career in Five Pages A Day: A Writer’s Journey. Kehret says that she began her writing life at the age of ten when she wrote and sold a weekly publication that cost five cents a copy and reported on dogs. To produce this newspaper, Kehret interviewed every neighbor who had a dog. When people told her nothing except that their dog eats, sleeps, and barks, Kehret didn’t give up. She wrote instead about her own dog, who had a unique background of being saved during World War II. Naturally, not every edition could feature her dog, and so by the third, she faced a publishing disaster. She believed her writing career was over. To find out how her dream resurfaced in high school, pick up a copy of Kehret’s second memoir.

AnimalsWelcomeA long-time volunteer at The Humane Society, Kehret began to observe and learn about wild animals when she relocated with her husband into a dream cabin on ten wooded acres near adjoining forest land in Washington State. She writes about this adventure in Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue. Kehret tells of how shortly after the move their oldest granddaughter came to spend the day. Brett was nine at the time. After she left, Kehret found a message scrawled in the dirt under her office window: ANIMALS WELCOME. Kehret jokes that, “Apparently, critters can read, because I’ve had four-legged visitors ever since.” Sadly, not every chapter in a person’s life is a happy one. After forty-years of marriage to Carl, whom Kehret viewed as her closest friend, she lost him due to a faulty heart valve. To find out how animal rescue helped Kehret rebuild her life after this tragedy, pick up a copy of Kehret’s third memoir.

Why did I enjoy Kehret’s memoirs? Foremost, Kehret has lived a full life that should prove of interest to even strangers to her writings. All of memoirs show that she knows how to spin a good story, in that Kehret starts with a suspenseful lead, steps back to fill in necessary background details, and then develops each scene with action and emotion. Kehret never flinches from admitting her mistakes, which shows a vulnerability that I appreciate. At the same time, she also never shows fear of voicing her opinion about the wrong deeds of others, and that takes a courage I appreciate. Finally, for anyone who aspires to write or rescue, Kehret serves as role model.

As part of my preparation for a writing club I’ll soon teach about rescue animals, I’ve been reading some of the pet books I’ve collected over the years, and am delighted to have found Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret. This brief book of just over one hundred pages contains eight true stories mostly about dogs that came from The Humane Society in Washington State where Kehret has long volunteered. Shelter Dogs was an inspiring and educational read that I felt sorry to have end.

Two days of my writing club will focus on how animals help humans. For that reason, I appreciate that half of Kehret’s stories featured dogs in need who ended up benefitting their owner: A dog with kennel cough becomes a sports champion; A large exuberant stray gets trained to become a service dog; An abandoned puppy saves an hearing-impaired mother and her child from a house fire; A pregnant dog whose family gives her up gets matched, through Paroled Pets, with a gentleman who can no longer work or drive due to seizures. Foremost, Kehret’ stories provide me with entertaining examples of heroic dogs, because of how she creates fast-moving plots. Indirectly, because of how her plots show how the working dogs learned needed skills and then put them into action, Kehret’s stories also educated me about the diverse uses of dogs.

Two days of my writing club will focus on how humans help animals. Two stories fit the bill. Both of them also illustrate another aspect of Kehret’s fine writing ability. You see, for the most part, Kehret’s narratives focus on a few pivotal moments. Take for example, the story of Kirby, which is also my favorite in the book. For a long time, Kirby lived happily with his elderly owner. Then his owner got taken to the hospital and Kirby got left behind. For six days. This abandonment left Kirby fearful of all people, so much that he growled and snapped at anyone who came near him. A kind veterinarian technician made a special effort to help him but, when nothing worked, it seemed Kirby might need to get euthanized. Kirby’s story pulls on my heart-strings, not just because of how sad it is, but also because Kehret took the time to develop the problem, the conflict, and the resolution.

Besides simply sharing stories, Kehret also provides factual inserts. For instance, after a story about a dog who becomes a movie story, Kehret explains why and how the American Humane Association monitors the use of animals in entertainment. As with this story, some inserts relate to the subject. Others seem like more just random facts. In all cases, inserts are between one to two pages, and always contain useful information about dog care. Other perks include a photograph of the profiled dog, often with the owner, and biographical information about the author and the photographer.

Shelter Dogs is on par with other collections of animal stories I’ve read. In addition, I can see Shelter Dogs, which made me both smile and cry, inspiring young people to write their pet stories. For those students of mine who prefer research, I can see them instead creating pet guide books. Apparently, Peg Kehret grew up wanting to become both a veterinarian and an author. Although she never became the former, I can see how books like this draw on both of these wishes, and readers are the beneficiaries. My only remaining question is: When will she be writing about other shelter animals?

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

PegKehretPeg Kehret’s novels for young people are regularly recommended by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, and the Children’s Book Council. She has won many state “young reader” or “children’s choice” awards. A long-time volunteer at The Humane Society, she often uses animals in her stories.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

As a child, Peg Kehret wanted to be either a writer or a veterinarian. Growing up in Minnesota, she had a happy life except for a bout in 1949 at age twelve with polio which paralyzed her from the neck down and hospitalized her for several months. Kehret had each of the three types of polio: spinal, respiratory, and the most severe kind, bulbar. No one knows how she developed polio, but Kehret surmises in her FAQ that she probably got it from someone who has such a mild case that they were never diagnosed. Fortunately, she made nearly a complete recovery.

Her experience of the illness changed Kehret’s life, as she describes in her memoir Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio. Peguin reports that because Kehret can remember her experience with polio so vividly, she finds it easy to write in the viewpoint of a young person. Most of her main characters are around age twelve. Her autobiography won the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and the PEN Center USA West Award for Children’s Literature.

After attending the University of Minnesota for a year, she married Carl Kehret. The couple later moved to California, where they adopted two children.

Before she began writing books for children, Kehret wrote radio commercials and plays. She also published short stories, articles, and two books for adults. Her first book for kids was published in 1985. Since then she has published many popular books for young people.

For many years, Kehret and her husband traveled around the U.S. in their motorhome with their pets on board so that she could speak at schools, libraries, and children’s literature conferences. Sadly, after forty-eight happy years of marriage, Kehret lost her husband.

According to her FAQ, Kehret’s home is a log house on a ten-acre wildlife sanctuary near Mount Rainier National Park. She often sees deer and elk from her window, which Kehret views as better than watching TV. When she isn’t writing, Kehret likes to read, do crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and play with her animals. She also likes to cheer for her favorite sports teams, bake, knit, and pump her old piano. Her children are now married with children and living in Washington State.

As you might expect from an author who writes about animals, Kehret is also a long-time volunteer for animal welfare causes, currently helping Left Behind K-9 Rescue and the Northwest Spay Neuter Center. She has a dog and two cats, all rescues.

WRITING BACKGROUND

In the back pages of Shelter Dogs, the book I’ll review tomorrow by Kehret, there’s the story of how she and her used to volunteer at the Humane Society. One day while helping out there, not intending to adopt, they saw Daisy and their hearts melted. According to the shelter, Daisy was a Cairn terrier, the same type as Toto in the movie Wizard of Oz. The couple already had a cat and a dog, but agreed to go home and talk it over. They never made it home. Instead they sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, then went back inside to sign the adoption papers.

Her FAQ that Kehret gets her ideas from personal experience, from items read in newspapers, and from her imagination. Naturally, all of the stories in Shelter Dogs feature dogs from the shelter where Kehret volunteers.

Kehret’s first book wasn’t for young people. After she wrote Winning Monologs for Young Actors, however, Kehret knew immediately that she had found her true voice as a writer. She tells Author Turf, “Before that, I’d published two books, several plays, and more than two hundred short stories – all for adults. From then on, I only wrote books for kids.” Of all the books Kehret has written for young people, she considered her three memoirs, SMALL STEPS, FIVE PAGES A DAY, and ANIMALS WELCOME the most special because they’re her own true experiences.

When researching into Kehret’s life, I found of most interest her answer to two questions asked by Author Turf.

Q: What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

A: “Don’t write a novel for children. They are impossible to sell. Write another how-to book instead.” This advice was from my first agent, who had just sold a how-to book for me. I did not take her advice. Instead I wrote Deadly Stranger which she sold to the first publisher who read it. Not long after that, she and I parted company.

Q: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

A: “Don’t try to follow the fads; write what YOU want to write.” I heard this from a speaker at a writer’s conference and I’m sorry that I don’t remember who it was. Back when the Goosebumps books were wildly popular, I had an editor urging me to write horror books for kids. When Harry Potter first hit the scene, a different editor encouraged me to try fantasy. Instead, I kept writing the books I wanted to write and hoped they would attract like-minded readers. They did.

As for what’s the best part about being an author, Kehret says in her FAQ that it’s getting to do what she loves and being paid for it. “It’s fun to use my creativity and I like being my own boss. Writing is hard work, but when I hear from kids who tell me they never liked to read until they discovered my books, it’s worth it.”

Unfortunately, post-polio syndrome has required Kehret to give up school visits and conferences. She also has to write for shorter periods of time.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kehret, check out her three memoirs, which I’ll be myself reading later this month. In the meantime, tomorrow I’ll review Shelter Dogs. Save the date: July 9!

Today I am going to take an unusual review approach. At least in the district where I work, we evaluate writing at the elementary-level based on two stars and one wish. In honor of my grade-three students who asked me to read Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret and Chewy and Chica by Ellen Miles aloud to them, I’m going to critique the two books using the feedback style with which my students are familiar.

GHOST DOG SECRETS

I award Peg Kehret a star for creating a page-turning adventure with Ghost Dog Secrets. As part of his attempt to help the abused dog, sixth-grader Rusty encounters a ghost, his best friend’s snoopy sister, AND threats from the dog’s owner. Will the ghost haunt or help? Will the sister keep quiet or rat Rusty out to his mom? Will the owner act on his threats to steal back his dog and invoke vengeance on Rusty’s family? When my students would leave for their next class, I found it hard to resist sneaking a peek at subsequent pages for the answers.

I also award Kehret a star for raising awareness of pet abuse. Rusty began to take notice of the chained-up dog, after his class started collections donations for a local animal shelter. In his efforts to rescue the German Shepherd, Rusty contacted Animal Control who explained to him that he needed evidence of neglect. Even after Rusty took matters in his own hands by bringing the abused dog home with him, he remained in contact with Animal Control who introduced Rusty’s family to the concept of being fosters. When I finished reading Ghost Dog Secrets, my students wanted a copy of the instructions for creating blankets to give to animal shelters.

My wish is that Kehret hadn’t made the abused dog’s owner such a one-dimensional villain. The man left threatening messages on the family’s phone, showed up their doorstep one night and tried to break his way inside, and even threatened to harm Rusty. In the end, it turns out that the villain had a secret to hide, which is why he wanted a guard dog and also why he didn’t want anyone snooping around his place. Although the inclusion of such a one-dimensional villain certainly made for a suspenseful read, I have to wonder if it will give young people the wrong idea about the reasons dogs and cats end up in shelters.

CHEWY AND CHICA

I award Ellen Miles a star for creating a quick and easy read with Chewy and Chica. Each day, I have been able to read an entire chapter to my students. With the countdown already begun to the end of school, I’m relieved to know we should finish the ten chapters well before our final day. What helps facilitate the fast read is the simplicity of the plot. A family fosters two rescue puppies and the siblings start a friendly rivalry about whose dog will get adopted first, but that doesn’t turn out to be so easy when they realize the puppies still need to get trained.

I also award Miles a star for raising awareness of animal rescue. Through dialog exchanges between the siblings with other characters, readers will gain an awareness of puppy mills along with other reasons that animals end up in shelters. Through the actions of the siblings, readers will discover how difficult but important training of foster animals can be. The message of animal rescue naturally flows from the plot, in contrast to Kehret’s heavy-handed style.

My wish is that Miles hadn’t felt a need to have the puppies talk. I suppose it serves the purpose of helping readers understand how canine companions must feel. When Chewy bites and Chica pees inside, readers get to hear their side instead of just seeing how frustrated the actions make their owners. At the same time, when Chewy trembles and shakes after his rescue, it’s obvious that he’s scared. When the two puppies lick their new young owners, it’s also obvious that they are trying to make friends. For me, it interrupted an otherwise perfectly good story to hear inside the heads of the puppies.

What I appreciate most about both books is that they show that our culture is starting to speak up and take action for our furry friends. Given that three to four million dogs and cats are still euthanized every year, I applaud the efforts by authors to educate through entertainment about the great need which exists for change.

My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.

How would you rate these books?


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