There’s no way to properly express the excitement and anticipation I felt, leading up to the June 2020 publication of my first children’s picture book, Gabby Makes a Friend. I want to share a little about the story, why I decided to write for young children, how my dog inspired Gabby’s character, and also show off some of Sofie Schollaert‘s amazing illustrations of my work. She exceeded my wildest expectations by bringing the characters to life in ways that jumps right off the page and into your heart.
The Foundations of Gabby and Katie’s Friendship In My First Children’s Picture Book
Gabby and Katie’s relationship is fostered through quality time spent playing and resting. Gabby finds Katie food, and Katie reads Gabby stories. The book follows their friendship as they grow and change. One of the story’s key takeaways is that a true friend will accept you for who you are, and also for who you’re becoming.
They played together. They rested together. And Katie told Gabby stories.
They were the best of friends.
Chris Elle DoveGabby Makes A Friend
My Hope for My First Children’s Picture Book
It’s my hope that those who read the story of Gabby’s developing relationship with her new friend will cherish it for many years! I’ve never felt more pride in my work than when my daughter told me, recently, she’s looking forward to reading my books to her own children, someday. I can’t think of a better gift to give her children, all children, than stories with characters who are energetic, curious, and struck by the wonders of their world. Gabby and Katie inspire, as they make connections, solve problems, and learn life lessons. They’re lovable and unique, inviting readers to see beauty within themselves, and reminding them to be true to who they are.
Helping Kids Develop Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Not long after I started writing for adults about wellness, wellbeing, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I wondered if there was a way to bring some of the same, or similar messages, to children. I wanted to share knowledge and ideas about physical, emotional, and social wellness with kids, because I know behaviors and habits developed during early childhood have a tremendous impact on our adult lives.
One of the key insights I’ve gained through studying sociology, is that the attitudes and values instilled during childhood often become lifelong. If we hope to foster more balance, as a society, it’s crucial that in addition to making changes in our own lives, we also pass ideas and newly developed practices down, to the next generation.
“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’
‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web
Books That Left a Lasting Impression In My Childhood
There were a few books that I could read, over and over, as a child. When I read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig, I felt the pain of parents who can’t find their child, and related to the helplessness that Sylvester felt watching them search, but unable to speak. I shared in the joy of their reconnection, and the realization that a family bond was all the magic they needed.
Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne, was more than a story, it was a whole world. One that I could visit and revisit. Each book added new characters and locations, building a map of their realm in my head. At some point, I felt like I’d been there.
I was particularly fond of Tigger, in part, because “they’re jumpy, bumpy, clumpy, thumpy” which, as you may already know, is a wonderful thing! And, Tigger was more than fun, he also taught me that positive energy is contagious, and inspiring.
“Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”Winnie the Pooh
Revisiting Children’s Books Through Grown Up Eyes
When I was younger, I treasured a story if I could see events unfolding through the main character’s eyes. Later, while reading to my daughter, I realized the ability to take another person’s perspective results from the skillful portrayal of universal emotions in writing. I was extremely impressed when a book addressed a childhood fear, and was able to resolve that fear, without talking at, or down to, the readers. Amazingly, the same books that touched my daughter, were also able to engage me, as an adult.
My daughter, Nicole, [now an adult] still occasionally reads some of the first books she fell in love with as a child. Her all-time favorite was Jean Bethell’s Barney Beagle. In the book, Barney the beagle gets excited about each person who enters the pet shop, thinking they might take him home. Unfortunately, again and again, they decide to adopt other dogs. Finally, near the end of the book, Barney is chosen by “his boy”.
Nicole also loved Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?, by Martin Waddell and Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss. These are two very different books, one about a cub who’s afraid of the dark, and the other about a young boy, referred to as “you”, who is moving through the adventure of life. The boy encounters, as anyone would, “bang-ups” and “hang-ups”, and even gets hung up in a “prickle-ly perch”. Ultimately, he continues forward, finds the strength to “un-slump” himself, and moves mountains. Now, looking back, what the stories have in common is main characters who are wearing pajamas.
The stories were less important than what we gained as we read them, which was the chance to end everyday together. I was able to watch my daughter drift off into dreamland [provided she fell asleep first], carrying warm fuzzy feelings from her story, and know that I’d set her up for a sound night’s sleep.
From Rhyming King Arthur to Gabby
The first time I attempted to write a children’s book, I was in an English class at Western Illinois University. The class was about King Arthur, and I feel confident that we read just about every version of the story created. A few weeks into the semester, my professor, who I already adored, let us know that she needed to have surgery, and would be unable to teach for almost half of our sixteen week course.
While she was in the hospital, I wondered if there was something appropriate I could give her, to cheer her up. I didn’t know too much about her, but I knew she loved Dr. Seuss and Lord of the Rings. She’d actually driven to Chicago, the day the final movie was released, to a theater that was showing the entire trilogy back to back. To save you from trying to do the math in your head, viewing all the movies would take just over nine hours. Since, at that time, I hadn’t seen [or read] Lord of the Rings, I decided to do something related to Dr. Seuss.
My professor was very surprised when, from her hospital bed, she opened an email containing the story of King Arthur, written as a rhyming children’s book. Although it wasn’t actually an assignment, it may have been the most challenging, and rewarding, work I completed that year. I’ve felt that same passion and pride return in my work, as I’ve begun to immerse myself in writing for children.
Gabby, From My First Children’s Picture Book, Was Inspired by My Dog, Rhea
My dog is incredibly good at being cute, she somehow manages to do it all of the time. She is interested in, and bothered by, some surprising things. For instance, there are rocks in my backyard that were meant to be stacked and balanced. Rhea has never approved of the practice. Everytime they’re stacked, she immediately uses her nose to knock them down. It’s probably a good indication that Jenga wouldn’t be a great game to play with her.
Rhea is also unbelievably smart, I’m sure all dog mothers say that, but in her case, its true. She can even open doors, provided the handles are levers. When she wants to go outside, which is almost always, she taps you with her nose or paw, then runs to the back door, and stands in front of it, staring at you. When she does this, I feel certain she believes that if she only sinks her head just a little more, and looks intently enough, she’ll be able to communicate with you telepathically.
Rhea LOVES her yard! When we come home from jogging, or a trip to the park, she runs straight to the gate. It may be her favorite place, full of wonder, and also insects, dragonflies, birds, squirrels, and rabbits. It’s the perfect place to play fetch with the tennis ball, catch a frisbee, or check in with the neighbor kids, playing on their swingset.
You can follow Rhea on Instagram!
Gabby found a ball, and she found a sock. She also found lots of sticks.
Gabby even discovered a toothbrush!
But she couldn’t find Katie anywhere.
Chris Elle DoveGabby Makes a Friend
Eventually, Rhea gets tired, and either plops down in the yard, or comes in to curl up into a ball on the couch. When she’s curled up, there’s something very foxlike about it.
The foxlike characteristics of my dog are actually the reason I asked Sofie Schoolaert to illustrate my first children’s picture book. I’d stumbled upon Sofie’s Instagram page one day, and there was a depiction of a fox, lying exactly the way Rhea does. As I continued down her feed, I discovered lots of animals in very realistic poses, who had wonderfully expressive facial features. It’s truly amazing that we live in a time when a book written in Central Illinois can, fairly seamlessly, be sent off to Belgium for illustration!