12th May, 2017
When publisher Penguin Random House came knocking on Carrington children’s book author Jess Black’s front door, she found it easy to listen to their pitch.
Black, an experienced writer, said yes to Penguin’s offer to write a series of four children’s books based on the concept of raising puppies to become trained guide dogs.
“I felt this was the first series that mirrored our family life the most,” Black says. “We’ve had puppies. We are just coming out of the naughty puppy stage. And a lot of it is based on our dog.”
Black and her husband Fergus have two children, Maggie, 8, and Elkie, 5, and one dog, Pippi, a rescued kelpie.
“Pippi chewed up a surfboard, she ate us out of house and home. Having dogs, I could relate,” Black says.
The four books in the Little Paws series backed by Guide Dogs Australia were released in April. Intertwined in stories told from a child’s viewpoint of raising a dog, is the message of what is required to raise a guide dog and why they are needed. The books are Welcome Home, Harley, about a yellow Labrador puppy; Ringo’s Road Trip, Meg’s Big Mystery and Goldie Makes the Grade.
Black did her research for the series by attending dog training sessions, spending time at the Guide Dog headquarters at Glossodia near Sydney, and attending a puppy graduation. She also spoke to guide dog owners, volunteers and clients who live with guide dogs.
The resulting books “feel natural” Black says, “because the kids drive the stories, kids raise the puppies. In Ringo, the kids and dog choose the road trip. In real life, adults are more likely to have more say. There was a lot of our family dynamic in the books.”
All royalties from sales of the Little Paws series go to the Guide Dogs organisation.
Black has several other projects in the works during 2017, including the release of books five and six in her Keeper of the Crystal children’s book series through New Frontier, and the release of picture book The Bold Australian Girl through Scholastic.
“I working on some of my own stuff at the moment,” she says. “I am looking at a different series idea, and keeping the picture books coming.”
Black previously worked for Scholastic Books. She is involved in an increasing number of workshops and appearances, including work with The Creative Wordshop in Newcastle, which offers creative writing programs through schools and for adults.
She may one day write a book for an adult audience, just not yet.
“My brain doesn’t have the space for it,” she says. “Maybe when the kids are older and don’t want me around so much. I wouldn’t say never, but not right now.
“I really like crime, I like reading it and watching it. But it would be hard to carry around in your head. The world of kids books is nice to carry around in your head.
“I like mystery, too. I started working on a mystery series for kids, but I’m not sure where that is going.”
The writer is optimistic about our future storytellers. They still write with pen and pencil; they still love super heroes. And the creative juices still run strong.
“Kids want to create, if you give them the opportunity,” she says. “The easy option is ‘screen time’. If you take away the screens and they play in the park, they will come up with ideas. It is about giving them the opportunity to create.”