Martha, please tell us about the inspiration for your new book, STRUDEL’S FOREVER HOME.
A couple of years ago I did a school visit at Benchmark School in Media, PA. It was a return visit for me. This is an especially nice school with engaged, energetic students and a wonderful, supportive staff. I was signing books in the library when a fourth or fifth grade boy came up and said he had a suggestion. (This happens.) I should write a book about Max, the dachshund my family had when I was growing up.
There is a story about Max on my website, which captured this young man’s fancy, and this is it: One morning before school I was looking out my window and saw Max, the family dachshund, being carried off by a coyote, and I was sure he was dead . . . but that afternoon he came home with only a flesh wound (tooth marks) in his neck to show for his adventure. We always wondered what happened to the coyote. Anyway, I realized the young man was absolutely right. I should write a story about Max!
Strudel (the name was changed because there are altogether too many dogs named Max these days) is the result. There is no coyote in the story because it takes place in Philadelphia, where I now live, and there aren’t many coyotes here. But I took my inspiration from the original Max. I tried to get into his head and think just like he did.
One more thing: I heard a news story about elementary school students reading to shelter animals in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) and thought that was a great idea. That’s the way the story of Strudel starts.
STRUDEL’S FOREVER HOME is told from the perspective of a dachshund, with several other animal characters throughout. What was challenging about writing in this format? What was rewarding about it?
I read several nonfiction books about dog behavior, including Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog, so that I would feel comfortable writing from the fictionalized canine point of view. Readers will notice that Strudel’s world is largely defined by smell and that he learns a lot more from his sense of smell than a human ever could. Before I did the research, I thought dogs had keener senses of hearing than they do. I also didn’t realize that their eyesight has some limitations that human eyesight does not. It was challenging to think in these terms, but also fun. Anytime I write, I imagine myself into the point of view of my characters, and being a dog for a while was fun.
One challenge was keeping in mind that Strudel’s knowledge of his family, and of things like school, is limited. He really doesn’t care where Jake is or what he is learning and doing all day. What he cares about is that he comes home!
STRUDEL’S FOREVER HOME touches on the bullying that many young people face. Tell us about this.
I include things in my stories to make the story better, to make it consistent with my experience of childhood, to make it consistent with the universal issues of childhood—or indeed the universal issues of being a human being. The bullying is there because it seemed real to me.
What do you hope readers gain from reading STRUDEL’S FOREVER HOME?
The same thing I hope they gain from reading any good fiction—the chance to broaden their own experience by seeing (and smelling!) the world from a perspective different from their own. Also I hope they will laugh and be entertained.
What made you decide to become an author?
I only have four skills: I can make a piecrust, I can parallel park, I can drive a stick shift and I can write. I’m not actually sure that writing is the most lucrative of the four, but it is probably the most fun.
What advice would you give to young authors?
Finish your projects! It’s easy to write the first page or even the first 20 pages of something. I myself have way too many half-finished projects in drawers or filed on the computer. Getting through the muddle of the middle and straight on till the ending—that’s the hard part.
About the Author
Martha Freeman is the author of many books for children of all ages, including Who Stole Halloween?, a Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee. The Horn Book praised her rich details and well-drawn characters in her novel The Orphan and the Mouse, declaring it “a satisfying package of happy homecomings, evil exposed, and the virtues of loyalty, bravery, and literacy rewarded.” She lives in Philadelphia. For more on Martha, visit www.MarthaFreeman.com.