Write About Your Dog!

When she was a little girl, Lesléa Newman had a dog named Angus. He looked just like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Every day, she used to walk Angus through her neighborhood. Lesléa called this "The Hour of the Dog Walk," and it was full of amazing images and ideas. "Angus had a crush on a dog named Dusty – a Cocker Spaniel," Lesléa says. "Then there was Alfie, a Terrier who lived across the street. There was a cocoa-colored Poodle a few houses down."
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Dogs for Kids in October 2006

When she got back home from the walk, Lesléa wrote about the dogs in a notebook. She described what they did, what they looked like, how Angus acted around them. She added new details, things that didn't actually happen on the walk. Maybe the Poodle talked, or perhaps Angus and Dusty went on a date. Instead of a simple dog walk, Lesléa now had a great story or poem that made her proud to read.

Not everything was fun. "There was a really mean dog named Lucas across the street," Lesléa says. "Angus got into a fight with him one day." But with writing, even the scary scenes can be explored safely. Lesléa could write in her notebook about the fight. Or she could go even further. "Once I wrote a story about Angus getting hit by a car," Lesléa says. "That never happened. But I guess I was afraid it could happen. I loved Angus so much I didn't want him to get hurt." Instead of pushing scary ideas away, Lesléa wrote about them. Suddenly, it wasn't so scary.

As she grew up, Lesléa kept writing every day, putting down in that notebook whatever she experienced, using her imagination to add exciting details. She showed her stories to her teachers and her parents. Soon her writing appeared in magazines, then in books. Because she worked at it consistently, today Lesléa's job is being a writer. It has been her job for 25 years. She still gets story ideas from everyday life, although now she writes using a computer instead of a notebook.

One of Lesléa's books is called Hachiko Waits. It's about an Akita named Hachiko who lived in Japan from 1923 to 1935. Hachiko was a very loyal dog who waited every day, his whole life, at the train station for his master to come home. He became famous throughout the world. When Lesléa heard Hachiko's story, it impressed her so much she wanted to write about it. She spoke with people who had heard Hachiko's story. But there were a lot of details no one knew. How could she write a book if she didn't have all the details? She learned all about Japan, so she could picture the story in her mind. She just had to close her eyes to imagine Hachiko and see people who knew and loved him.

Thousands of kids have read Hachiko Waits. Lesléa goes to schools and tells kids how she researched and wrote the book. This is one of her favorite parts of being an author. "I love talking to kids and hearing what they like about my books," she says. After Lesléa speaks to classes, students often draw pictures of Hachiko and write a few words of their own. Lesléa saves these pictures and words, and she often looks at them for inspiration.

Lesléa is excited that kids across the country are reading about Hachiko and drawing pictures of the legendary dog. "It makes me proud to know that this story is making it into all those children's lives," she says. "You can connect with people who have never met you. But they actually know me a lot because they read something I created."

Do you ever wake up from a dream and can't get the pictures and sounds out of your head? One of Lesléa's books is called Dogs, Dogs Dogs! It started with a dream. "I woke up one day and I kept thinking of this dream where a dog was walking through the city all alone. There was music that went with it. So I asked myself, what I could do with this? It was like a puzzle or a game." She wrote down what she saw. She mixed in some real-life dogs. "Once I got them all in there, I realized this was a counting book, and it rhymed." She wrote that one dog was walking, then two dogs were running, three were leaping, four bouncing, five flying, six dancing, seven gallivanting, all the way up to 10. Soon she had a new book. It all started with one dog from a dream. The music from the dream created a song for all the rhymes.

"It's a gift when you get stories from dreams," Lesléa explains. "I don't know where it comes from. It's like magic." If you ever have a dream like that, hold onto it, write down what you see. Ask yourself what it means, and come up with your own answers. But do it before the dream disappears!

Lesléa says that writing is like a close friend you can always rely on. "Writers have something that lasts our entire life's journey," she says. "It will always be there." When she wrote Hachiko Waits, there were times when it was difficult to get everything just right. Even expert writers sometimes have a tough time! "Whenever I got stuck, I'd think about how patient Hachiko was, and then I was more patient with my writing. Hachiko kept me company all that time." Just like Hachiko, Lesléa explains, "Writing never abandons you."

Keep on writing, and you get better. "I once met a writer who's 90 years old!" Lesléa says. "She told me, 'I haven't written my best story yet.'" This is what keeps writers going. "There's always the possibility that today you'll write something better than you ever wrote before. The next day, you can write something even better than that. And it just keeps going."