Square Fish Books is going to the dogs this season: Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group’s paperback imprint is featuring its six new canine capers in The Dog Days of Summer promotion. The cover of each book displays a crisp, close-up photo of a pooch on its cover, giving the middle-grade novels a uniform look and surefire appeal to young dog devotees.
The promotion encompasses five reprints of books originally published by one of the group’s imprints (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt, Roaring Brook and Feiwel & Friends), as well as one Square Fish original. Appearing for the first time in paper, the reprints include How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor, Dog Gone by Cynthia Chapman Willis, It Only Looks Easy by Pamela Curtis Swallow, Sheep by Valerie Hobbs and Lunchbox and the Aliens by Bryan Fields, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry.
The original release, The Rescue, written by the pseudonymous Nicholas Edwards, launches the Dog Whisperer series, which is the two-year-old Square Fish’s first original series. Penned by Ellen Emerson White, who also wrote the Santa Paws series under the same pseudonym, The Rescue introduces a dog and a girl who can read each other’s minds and together are able to save the lives of humans and animals.
The series was conceived by Jean Feiwel, senior v-p and director of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and publisher of Square Fish and Feiwel & Friends. A self-proclaimed dog lover, she lined up a fellow dog fan to write it. “Ellen is my go-to person if I have any doggy ideas,” the editor explains. “I loved the idea of a story of a girl and dog that together help others. I went to her with that concept and she developed the characters and story lines.”
Publishing The Rescue and the five dog-themed reprints on the same list was a tactical move on Feiwel’s part. “The imprints that fall under the Macmillan umbrella have a fabulous track record for fine literature and good stories, and in looking over their backlists, I realized there were a tremendous number of dog titles,” she says. “And since I’m such a huge dog fan, I thought, ‘Aha! Let’s do a dog promotion.’ And of course with the popularity of Marley and Me, dogs are in the zone right now. It seemed like a good moment.”
As coincidence would have it (“although I probably have a dog book of some kind on most of my lists most seasons,” Feiwel says), Ann M. Martin’s Everything for a Dog is due out from Feiwel & Friends in September. This is a follow-up to Martin’s A Dog’s Life: Autobiography of a Stray, which Feiwel published in 2005 when she was at Scholastic. This hardcover novel, which has a 150,000-copy first printing, centers on Bone, the brother of Squirrel, the stray who narrates the original book. Yet another dog lover, Martin was inspired by her own canine, a former stray, to write A Dog’s Life, and fans of that book helped pave the way for the companion novel.
When she visited schools in recent years, kids repeatedly urged the author to pen a story about Squirrel’s brother, who gets separated from his sister at the beginning of A Dog’s Life. “I hadn’t thought about writing a companion book until kids brought it up,” says Martin. “I thought it was a good idea, but I didn’t want it to be just another story about a lost dog finding a home, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Bone’s story.”
That dilemma was solved when Martin’s sister sent her a copy of her son Henry’s Christmas wish list. Nestled in between typical eight-year-olds’ requests for video games were several items that caught Martin’s eye: a dog, a dog house and “everything for a dog.” She was especially taken by that last entry. “I had to laugh,” she says. “I thought it was such a wonderful phrase, and it helped me pull the story for the new book together. I began thinking about a boy who wanted a dog, like Henry did, and why he might not be able to have one.” And so Martin decided to write Everything for a Dog in three alternating voices—those of Bone, of Henry, who is desperate to have a dog but his parents won’t let him, and of Charlie, a boy who has suffered a terrible loss.
Square Fish is backing the Dog Days of Summer promotion with a 24-copy mixed floor display for retailers and packs of 150 bookmarks. Fewiel says the featured novels “are doing well out the door and I’m happy with the reception they are getting.” The publisher has great faith in the perennial popularity of animal stories. In fall 2008, Feiwel and Friends launched Breyer Wind Dancers, fantasies about miniature horses with shiny manes and shimmering wings written by Sibley Miller; four more titles will join the series in the fall. And this month F&F is releasing Wild Blue and A Horse of Her Own by Annie Wedekind, the first two installments of the Breyer Horse Collection, a series of realistic novels centering on specific horse breeds.
“I believe in tried-and-true themes, and animal stories certainly fall into that category,” Feiwel says. “And dog stories are right up there—you just can’t go far wrong.”