Coming-of-age books try to address emotional and social challenges that all children face. Children are buffeted in overwhelming directions during their formative years. There are so many options and expectations from society that often children founder in trying to discern how grow up to be the best they can be. Despite supportive adults, some children learn to bury their insecurities under an inability to articulate discomfort. Children with unsupportive or absent adult leadership are even more hindered.
Children mimic the kindness or the cruelty they see and experience. In the case of the latter, they often turn to violent “acting out,” such as animal abuse. Animal abuse usually begins in frustrated, non-verbal, unsupported children in the middle-grade years. Around this time children first discover their own power over those “below” them in the family food chain, which are often pets. Multiple studies have shown that without intervention, animal abuse always escalates into violence against people when these troubled children become adolescents and adults.
My goal with the Pups & Purrs Humane Education Series is to provide fictional animal friends who experience what children do, such as bullying, ridicule, rejection, insecurity, and the universal seeking of acceptance.
By utilizing “first pup” (person) telling, I strive to help young readers see the world through the protagonist dog’s eyes, mind, and heart—thereby tapping into inborn empathy, before the world teaches that child to bury his or her kindness. Having the dogs go through conflicts young human readers may experience first-hand, I hope that my audience can see there are other ways to deal with frustration, trauma, and betrayal.
Finding your true self is difficult work, even as an adult, and beginning on the journey of self-discovery as an emotionally developing young person can be daunting. Challenges include decision making, taking responsibility for self, and dealing with the consequences of one’s own actions. These are crucial stepping stones to developing personal integrity.
I wrote my books to utilize themes addressing the myriad issues that children face as they bump into adulthood amidst the noise of events in their lives. In my first book, The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special, protagonist Max is raised in neglect and cruelty. Isolated in a backyard, with only his blackbird friend to tell him about the outside world, Max tries to live vicariously with his ally’s advice. The only kindness he experiences is with his little boy, who is also neglected and abused—and unfortunately unable to be much company.
Max must decide what kind of grown-up dog he will become—aggressive and mean (as he’s been treated), or to seek out the love and acceptance he yearns for. Then he must set goals to accomplish his search, take responsibility for his decisions (both good and bad), and voluntarily reach out for help. Even after he finds success in a new life, he doubts his self-worth. When he faces an ultimate challenge, Max finds the courage to accept—himself as well as his next journey.
In Hurricane Dog: A Tale of Betrayal, Redemption & Change, main character Gator is raised in kindness. With his beloved boy by his side, they save a puppy mill survivor with no name. They call her Magnolia, and the little dog blooms from hopeless to hopeful. At the same time, Gator descends into cynicism and bitterness, after both dogs are left during a Louisiana hurricane. Gator and Magnolia cling to each other through starvation, chaos, relocation, and emotional turmoil.
When faced with his nemesis, Gator must decide to either remain untrusting and angry, or to forgive and empathize with his perceived betrayer. The relationship between the boy Gavin and his puppy Gator spans into adulthood for each. Their bond eventually causes historically true changes in Federal Law regarding the rescue of pets and their people during natural disasters—illustrating that even seemingly insignificant boys and puppies can influence the world.
The third book of the series, From Wild to Mild: A Dog in Two Worlds, centers on the main theme of the importance of searching for your true self. Everyone has inborn talents and interests and one will be happier if those traits are discovered and adhered to. Being true to yourself is crucial to the development of higher character attributes.
Kaya, a dog who is raised by coyotes, struggles to force herself to become a wild canid. But try as she might, she cannot take a life, and she can’t stay awake for night hunts. Kaya finds other ways to contribute and discovers the value of mother love and sibling companionship.
Her father, however, is an unscrupulous, bullying meanie who constantly berates her. He is incapable of seeing beyond what he sees as her failures. Early on, Kaya recognizes that her father has no morals or integrity. For a while, she is conflicted—she knows she should revere him as her father, but his lack of admirable characteristics negates any attachment to him or his ways. She knows she must go—to find her true calling and a place where she is accepted for whom and what she naturally is.
Max, Gator, and Kaya battle their own innate demons. I wanted to show children that just because you are born into certain circumstances, you do have choices in whom and what you ultimately become. All children must leave their primary family and find their own ways—utilizing inborn talents and learning skills that fit their natures. Just as children grow up and must leave home to strike out on their own, Max, Gator, and Kaya face their futures—sometimes with courage, sometimes with trepidation. But they know there is no home to return to, until they finally find they are at home within themselves.
To see the complete series go to the Books Tab at www.sunnyweber.com.