TT with HD: Charity Nebbe
[Ed. note: More information on Charity's book, including the audio version, previews of the art, and how to buy Our Walk in the Woods is available on her website. The Michigan Radio series, Foreclosing on the American Dream, to which HD alludes below, can be heard on Michigan Radio's website.]
CN: There we go!
HD: Are you having fun yet?
HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!
CN: Thanks! Good to be here! [laugh]
HD: Wow, you're letting your end go all the way down!
CN: Is that unusual?
CN: Does that harm the teeter totter?
HD: No, it does not harm the teeter totter.
CN: I remember that from being a kid that you would let it go all the way down and make it bounce.
CN: That was always really fun. [laugh]
HD: So, when you were a kid growing up in Iowa did you actually call them teeter totters or was it see-saws?
CN: Teeter totters.
HD: Really? You're not saying that just to be polite?
CN: [laugh] No, I think that's what we called them. [laugh]
HD: So, I listened to the audio version of Our Walk in the Woods last night, with you and Daniel Pinkwater, and I wondered, listening to Daniel Pinkwater read the part of [the dog] Kirby, whether you wrote that part with his voice in mind? Because I mean you guys had some connection before this book project, right? Years ago with Chinwag Theater?
CN: Yes. But I didn't write it at all thinking about his voice. That was kind of an afterthought.
HD: So the idea to have an audio version, that was an afterthought? Or the idea to have him specifically read it?
CN: Both, actually. Daniel and I have been friends a long time, and we did Chinwag Theater together. But I was pretty committed to having this be something entirely separate--that I didn't want to feel beholden to anybody in getting it published and doing it. I asked for his advice a little bit along the way. And then he was very kind--he wrote a very nice review of the book. After that, then I asked him to record the part of Kirby for an audio version. And I told him I was very excited to hear his Boston Terrier, and he said, I think I'll just read it straight. And I said, that's what I meant!--I always thought of you kind of in that way anyway! [laugh]
HD: His voice sounds to me plausible as a dog voice, but if I had to pick a breed for him to be, it wouldn't be a Boston Terrier.
CN: And what would it be?
HD: It sounds to me like more sort of a hound dog.
HD: To me, that would probably be a better fit. Boston Terriers, well, they're small, little dogs, right?
CN: Mm hmm.
HD: I am biased against them as a breed, I have to confess. But yeah, I would not have have imagined a Boston Terrier matched with his voice.
CN: The book was not written about a Boston Terrier. The illustrator chose. He doesn't have a dog, but he borrowed a friend's dog who was a Boston Terrier to do research for his pictures. And when I got the pictures actually, it took me a couple of days to fall in love with the dog.
HD: Oh, to get comfortable with that depiction of Kirby?
CN: Yeah, and I had to change the dog's name.
CN: His name was Farley. And Farley is the name of a dog that was in my family, but I kind of imagined the dog as kind of a Border-Collie-Lab ...
HD: ... now that's a real dog. Border Collies, Labs, those are real dogs.
CN: Right, exactly. I am biased towards mutts. I have always been biased towards mutts, so that's what I sort of imagined. But I love Kirby! He's a neat little dog.
HD: At least your own dogs did get to make a cameo appearance.
HD: From listening to the audio version I don't remember that they are actually specifically mentioned in the text. Do they just show up in the illustrations ... ?
CN: ... yes, just in the background. I saw the pictures he had originally done, and there was one picture of the park with all the dogs and and all their people look-a-likes. But there was one person whose face you couldn't see, who was walking three dogs. And they weren't my dogs, but I asked the illustrator if he could turn them into my dogs.
HD: I see.
CN: And he did that for me! Which was very cool.
HD: So did he do those in watercolor, or is that acrylic, or what are the originals in?
CN: You know, I really don't know. I think they might be oil paintings. But pencil sketches is what I saw first. And that's when I asked him to turn them into our dogs.
HD: So, the concluding line of the book is--I don't remember the exact wording--Tomorrow ...
CN: We'll go again tomorrow.
HD: We'll go again tomorrow, right. Okay, so is that setting this up for a sequel?
CN: You know, that was never my intention, either.
HD: But I think it would be easy to multiply this title. You know, you have, Our Walk in the Woods ...
CN: ... Our Walk on the Beach. Our Walk in the Snow. ... ?
HD: I was just thinking The Next Day's Walk in the Woods. The Day After That's Walk in the Woods.
CN: [laugh] I see. The Quick Walk Monday Morning Before School!
HD: Right, It might sound like it would get repetitive after a while. I think there would be elements that would be consistent, right? But whatever variation there was ...
CN: ... well, I'll give it some thought.
HD: Or maybe in a sequel you could introduce conflict where, you know, you actually meet the people who threw down the trash.
CN: Oh! [laugh]
HD: And maybe sort of take it to a dark place.
CN: [laugh] Well, you know, I'll give that some consideration! Actually, I thought of the idea for the book--it's been 12 years ago now.
HD: Oh really!
CN: What happened was, my dog Sunshine, our family dog, died when I was away at college. And I couldn't go home. And I just needed to be by myself--Sunshine was a really wonderful dog. She was 14 years old, 15 years old when she died. So I went for a walk by myself--just because I needed to be by myself. And I walked into a park and I almost stepped on a dead bird. And I thought, Yuck! And I thought, Sunshine would have really liked that dead bird. And that's sort of where it came from. Walking with dogs is something that you do together, and apart at the same time. It's a social event, but you're experiencing it on such different levels.
HD: I read in part of the background material that I reviewed that you're donating some percentage of your royalties to animal rescue organizations?
HD: Was that in any way prompted by the interview that you did with the Jackson animal shelter manager for the series [on Michigan Radio called, Foreclosing on the American Dream] ...
CN: ... no, that's something I decided to do before. Most of the dogs that I have had in my life have come from animal shelters, and I've never actually had a purebred dog in my life. But most of them have been rescues, and all of our cats have been rescues, whether it has been cats we have rescued ourselves, or gotten from an animal shelter. And it's always been something that I believe in very strongly. It was something that I planned to do because it's something but I believe in.
HD: So, Sara, the big white fluffy dog, is what kind?
CN: According to the Humane Society's guess, she's half Samoyed and half Spitz. So I always tell kids, She's half big white fluffy dog, half little white fluffy dog.
HD: Ah, okay. 'Big white fluffy dog' is becoming sort of a part of her standard--I think there's a name for it like back in the classical Greek tradition, it's always 'fair-ankled Ino', so whatever that descriptor is--it's Sara, the big white fluffy dog.
CN: Right, right! [laugh]
HD: So you actually took her to the library yesterday? Did she behave herself?
CN: Oh, she is an angel in public.
HD: But not in private, is that the contrast you are introducing here? [laugh]
CN: [laugh] No, not in private. Because everybody is always telling me, She is such a good dog, oh my gosh, she is so well behaved! And I think, Yes she is, right now. Even though, she pulled a stunt on me yesterday.
HD: So she just refused to even sniff them, or what?
CN: Yes. [laugh]
HD: So how did the kids react?
CN: They thought it was very funny. But she adores children, and she loves to be a superstar, loves to be the center of attention. And she'll get mobbed by kids, and she just loves that. She doesn't mind at all. She's an old lady--she's 12. So she's also very calm.
HD: So she just doesn't have that much energy anymore.
CN: Right. [laugh]
HD: Did you test-drive the book with your own kids?
CN: I never did. Actually I wrote the book before Audrey was born ...
Audrey: ... [inaudible]
CN: I'm sorry, honey. So I think Rob read it, and I gave it to my brother to read. I didn't show it to Audrey until I got it back with the color artwork. Because she was so young I didn't think she would be interested. And even when we got it with the color artwork, she was still a little bit young for the story.
HD: Hey listen, the teeter totter is talking, too!
CN: So the first time we saw it, we were going through it, and all of a sudden when we got to the page with our dogs on it, she was like, There's Sara!! There's Milo!, there's Mandy! That was really cool!
HD: That must've been a thrill.
CN: Yeah, for a long time she called it, The Book with My Dogs in It. I don't think she knew that I wrote it for a long time. Now she calls it Mommy's Book. But I don't think that she thinks that that is remarkable, because why wouldn't Mommy write a book? [laugh]
HD: Doesn't everybody's mom write books?
CN: Right, probably.
HD: So she'll be asking her little friends, So where is your mom's book?
CN: Right, [laugh]
HD: [Ed. note: Useful background is that Michigan Radio, where CN hosts All Things Considered, is housed in the Argus Building.] You know, yesterday morning I was teeter tottering with a guy whose father worked at the Argus Building during World War II making bomb sights.
CN: Oh, you're kidding! It's Argus Building Week!
HD: Yeah, that must be the theme for the teeter totter this week. So that's where you guys [Michigan Radio] are right now, right? Which is like, if I threw a rock really far I could almost hit you guys from my house. But I like this as a location, better.
CN: This is the Huron River. You know, I'm really concerned about the fact kids don't get outside in nature very much. And even parents who mean well just don't facilitate that. Kids are so busy, parents are so busy. So I'm hoping that as kids and their parents read the book together, that it will sort of model for kids--[to Audrey] you want to get off? No?
HD: Just doing some side-saddle action!
CN: To model for kids going out in nature and paying attention. Because sometimes when a kid gets to a park they are so excited to be there, they just run through and they don't even notice the world around them--which is part of being a kid.
HD: Yeah, that's just what kids will do.
CN: Right, exactly. But I'm hoping it will make them think, You know what, I'll look for animal prints in the mud, too! Or maybe give parents some ideas for things they can do with their kids. And also I hope that it models the relationship between a child and a dog, too. Because those are some really amazing and magical friendships. My gosh, my first best friends were always dogs. And the girl in the book, Abby, is named after my first best friend, who was a black Lab.
Audrey: Thank you!
HD: You're welcome! Anytime. Seriously, one of the perks of being an alum of the teeter totter is that you're welcome to come over to the house and ride anytime.
CN: Well, thank you!
HD: After work or before work, and it's easy to find, because I put up one of those yellow diamond signs that has the teeter-tottering people. There's a sign like that right out in front of the house, so it's easy to spot. And honest-to-god, I'm not making this up, you're welcome to do it. And people have actually started taking me up on that.
CN: Oh, that's great!
HD: I wasn't home at the time, but my wife told me that she was sitting in the living room and somebody walked down the driveway. And started teeter tottering in the backyard. And she was like, Well, I guess people are going to start doing that now.
CN: You want to ride a little bit more? We'll go five more times, okay? We'll go all the way to the ground, and go Bump!
HD: Do you want to ride with your dad on the other end?
CN: Do you want Daddy to ride with you? Come on, Daddy!