Happy Book Birthday to THIS OLD DOG
by Martha Brockenbrough
Levine Querido / Illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo
“A lovely celebration of toddler-dog love…”
Booklist, starred review
In celebration of THIS OLD DOG’s release, here are
9 Questions with the wonderful and prolific
Q 1: What was the inspiration for THIS OLD DOG—
a new baby arrival, a faithful old dog, or______?
Martha Brockenbrough: This one is ripped right out of the headlines of my life. I’ve had dogs since I was ten years old. Right after I graduated from college, I adopted a two-year-old dog who was my constant companion, my confidante, my best friend. I had her until my first daughter was three years old and watching their relationship bloom was one of my biggest joys. There is something so wonderful when an old dog loves a young child with gentleness and wisdom.
The key to this book was finding Old Dog’s voice. Years after I’d said goodbye to my first dog, I was walking another old dog (slowly, slowly) and thinking about all the words a dog knows. What they had in common was that they were all one syllable. So I wrote the book entirely with one syllable words, and doing that made the story feel right. I broke the pattern on the last page, tucking in a three-syllable word. I did that deliberately, because the combination of the girl plus the dog was more than the sum of their parts. To me, that was the level of care that the subject deserved, and it’s what makes the text part of the story work.
Q 2: What surprises did illustrator, Gabriel Alborozo, bring to the project?
Martha Brockenbrough: Whenever I work on a picture book, I have illustrations in mind. Pictures are half of the story (at least!), and so you have to both evoke them and leave room for them. I’d envisioned something that feels just like Gabe’s work, but my feeble imagination could never have come up with the gorgeous colors and layered images. I have stared at these pages for hours and the art and characterization is beautiful, soulful, funny, and sweet. I guess I’m saying he brought stuff I didn’t even dream was possible. I love it unabashedly, the way a dog loves a ball.
Q 3: Which of your following book titles best describes your writing process:
- THIS OLD DOG
- CHEERFUL CHICK
- DEVINE INTERVENTION
- THINGS THAT MAKE US [SIC]
- THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH–– Oh, definitely this one. I write for love. I write all sorts of books because I love the world and I love young readers and still feel like I could walk right through a membrane of time separating me from my own childhood and adolescence. It was a fraught time for me and my goal is always to reach a hand out to young readers and pull them safely forward with honest words. The death part is this: I am acutely aware of my own mortality, and thanks to having written that book and spent so much time in the company of metaphorical death, I don’t fear the experience any more than I feared my own birth. My work between now and then is to bring as much love to the world as I can, love that takes many forms.
Q 4: Has your writing life “pivoted” during COVID19 and the pandemic? How?
Q 5: They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical.
Are you more like the little girl or the old dog?
Martha Brockenbrough: Oh, I am both. And both are my daughter and my dearly departed old dog. And I was also the young parent so busy with the bustle of life that I often felt impatient at the poky pace of my dog and my toddler. I’m at a spot now where I can see being a little girl in love with a dog, being a dog delighted to have someone to savor the world with, and a parent feeling a bit overwhelmed by the pressure of it all. And I love all of those experiences with their tender edges.
Q 6: Tell us about your other September release: UNPRESIDENTED / Sept. 15
Q 7: Do you still have a family band? Are you the bass player, lead vocals, percussion?
Martha Brockenbrough: My elder daughter is in college now (and headed back next week). She’s really the force behind it. But when we did play together, I was very much in the background on the mandolin, which is a wonderful instrument because it’s so light and bright.
Q 8: Can you tell us about your current WIPs?
Q 9: What question do you wish I’d asked?
Martha Brockenbrough: I always love being asked my best advice for writers. And it’s this: Love the work. The work is reading and knowing what’s out there. It’s in understanding how the books we love work, which requires studying them closely. It means giving yourself time to learn the craft, which is subtle and complex (despite what the celebrities always say on national TV). The more you love the work, the more you will do it, and the better work you will produce. And that’s what our children deserve: beautiful books made with everything we have to give.
Thank you, thank you, Martha for sharing your thoughts today.
You can also check out (and purchase) any of her amazing books on Indiebound.
Happy Reading, friends–
PLEASE WEAR YOUR MASK!