I am pleased to welcome my friend and fellow dog-lover, Shanna Silva! In Shanna’s new picture book, A DOG’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN (Yeehoo Press, 2022) illustrated by Agnès Ernoult, a dog named Smudge takes on the role of teacher and mentor for the newest member of the family. As his human sibling grows up, Smudge relays important life lessons. Readers of all ages will relate to the playful pup protagonist and his thoughtful, timeless wisdom. I am delighted to chat with Shanna about this heartfelt story.
In A DOG’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN, the story is told through the eyes of Smudge, a family pet. What inspired you to create a dog protagonist?
Dogs are such intelligent, thinking creatures, capable of love, compassion and connection to their human families. I wondered how a dog might react to a new human sibling and thought about the instant bond that forms. I had the name “Smudge” written down as a dog name I wanted to use in some writing, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Who wouldn’t love to know what goes on in the mind of a pup? I decided that Smudge would want to teach his new sister his vast experience of human life. It lent itself to humor and universal life lessons.
Although Smudge teaches his young human important life lessons, he also urges her to sneak him treats and emphasizes that humans don’t like when dogs drink out of the toilet or chew on shoes. Were any of these scenarios inspired by your own dog?
I have an 18 month old sheepadoodle puppy named Drake. Drake didn’t come into the family until after A Dog’s Guide to Being Human was written (although he’s giving me a lot of material for a sequel). I grew up with dogs and had 2 of my own prior to getting Drake. It’s funny to me that Drake ended up with a lot of the same penchants as Smudge, like shredding paper, smelling flowers, and being a picky eater.
What were your thoughts when you first saw Agnès Ernoult’s illustrations?
Seeing illustrations for the first time is an interesting experience. I liken it to reading a book and then seeing the movie. When you read a book, you conjure up your own images of characters, settings, and events. When you see the same title as a movie, things look different than what you pictured. It’s the same with writing. In your head, you know what your characters look like, but it’s often different than the illustrator’s interpretation. Agnès did a spectacular job of creating the characters, the setting and the scenes. I loved the sketches immediately and her final work was so much more than I could have imagined.
Smudge ultimately encourages his human to be loving and kind to everyone, essentially teaching her to do good deeds, or mitzvot. Is this something you thought about as you wrote the story?
I wanted Smudge to teach his sister how to be a mensch! The Jewish values that I wrote about apply to everyone. Although this is not a Jewish book per se, I consciously kept in mind the universal values that Judaism encourages. The world needs more kindness, compassion, and caring about others. We could all learn a lot from dogs!
What do you hope readers will take away from the story, perhaps in how they approach their relationship with their own pets?
Having a pet is a lifelong commitment to the animal, through sickness and health. Animals, particularly dogs, enhance our lives and give so much love back. They are family members. I hope readers take a step back to value the relationship with their pets, and like Smudge, learn to approach the world with kindness. I hope readers laugh, identify with the story, and want to read it again and again.
Thank you, Shanna (and Drake)!
Shanna Silva is an author and Award Winning Broadway Producer. She’s written three picture books for children (so far): Passover Scavenger Hunt (Kar-Ben, 2017), Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups (Apples & Honey Press, 2018) and A Dog’s Guide to Being Human (Yeehoo Press, 2022). She’s also written 45 hi/lo books for the educational market. Sometimes, Shanna also writes for grown ups. Her work appears in the parenting blog, Kveller.com, Bella Magazine, Twins Magazine, in the anthologies Multiples Illuminated I and II, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Shanna recently completed the Children’s Book Academy’s Middle Grade Mastery course, for which she was awarded a Golden Kite Award for her work in progress middle grade novel, Thick. She belongs to SCBWI and is a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs, a collaborative marketing and promotional group of Jewish female authors. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with her sheepadoodle puppy, Drake.