Jules’ Local Spotlight: Shellie Braeuner

h1 August 5th, 2009 by jules

This is illustrator Robert Neubecker’s cover art for first-time author Shellie Braeuner’s Great Dog Wash, released by Simon & Schuster in July. Remember when East Tennessee author/illustrator Lisa Horstman stopped by in early July? I’ll say again: 7-Imp seems to have readers all over the world, but it’s particularly thrilling for me to shine the spotlight on local (to me) authors, and Shellie is even closer, y’all. (We’re talkin’ Tennessee here; you know I have to say “y’all.”) Shellie, the recipient of the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Children’s Book New Author Contest, lives right here in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s here to say a bit about herself today, and Robert—who, you may remember, stopped by last year, making all kinds of illustrators envious of his lovely studio—sent me some art from the book. You all know already how I feel about Robert’s art, but I’ll also say that again: His art, brimming with life and color and possessing a child-like sensibility, makes me happy, indeed. It’s like Marc Simont on a digital Crayola high. And I don’t think there could have possibly been a better choice than Robert for illustrating Shellie’s title.

The Great Dog Wash, which Kirkus describes as “a winning dog tale that is simple enough for younger preschoolers who are just starting to enjoy their first stories with a complete plot,” is a buoyant, bouncing rhyme:

“Big dogs and small dogs, / come one and all dogs. / We’re having a dog wash today! / Slippery, slobbery, / do a good jobbery. / Wash all that dog smell away.”

When someone brings a cat along to the dog wash, you can imagine how well that goes over with a big group of canines. Thus, the “doggy stampede” that turns the kids’ plans on their head mid-way through the book. Fear not: If you have a mob ‘o’ bright kids, you will soon have a plan. And their plan involves, as the cover indicates, a “Great Dog Wash jamboree.”

Shellie, who also works as a nanny for four children here in Nashville, considers her debut picture book title her “lucky break.” She’s here to say why. Many thanks to Shellie for stopping by, and thanks again to Robert for sharing the art (which was, I must note for other Illustration Junkies of the world, rendered digitally for this title).

Big dogs and small dogs, / come one and all dogs. / We’re having a dog wash today!”

Shellie: According to my parents, I have been telling stories since I could talk. I can still remember leafing through each National Geographic magazine as it came, and trying to link all of the pictures together into one big story.

My mom thought I would either be a psychologist or a writer. I actually have become both.

My education was kind of crazy. I moved around a lot as a kid. Schools, cities, and friends may have changed. But libraries stayed the same. Lucky for me, I mastered the Dewey Decimal system early! I loved reading biographies as a child. I especially enjoyed a series called Childhood of Famous Americans. I think I read most of the books. I had always thought that people like George Washington and Dolly Madison had lives that just went from one success to another. But I was wrong. What amazed me was how often it was the individual’s ability to do the best with whatever they faced that was the real secret to success.

{Ed. Note: Pictured above and left are the “store dogs” who show up for the dog wash. Below and right are the “found dogs.”}

But I loved fiction, too — both books and plays. I still have most of my copies of the Shoes series; Ballet Shoes, Movie Shoes, and Theater Shoes. I also got hooked on Shakespeare early. I had a child’s version of A Midsummer’s Nights Dream and wore it out. I also fell in love with As You Like It. But my mom drew the line at Shakespearean tragedies. I wasn’t allowed to read any of them until I was in high school.

I went to three different schools in high school alone. One of the common threads that helped me adjust was theatre. I joined the theatre program in each school I attended and continued through college. People thought it was odd that in college I majored in both Theatre and Psychology. One professor noted that it must be difficult to have one major that required so much study, while the other was so simple. I assured her that we needed to study in Psychology, too!

I found the two areas of study to be mutually beneficial. Theatre made me aware of how much body language spoke for us, while Psychology helped me to nail the inner motivations of characters.

Both of these disciplines have helped me in my writing. My background in Psychology has helped me to understand family dynamics, and Theatre has helped me to think about a story as a series of scenes and beats.

In my first book, The Great Dog Wash, each couplet of the rhyming text is its own beat. And each stanza is its own scene.

“Slippery, slobbery, / do a good jobbery. /
Wash all that dog smell away.”

The story was a lucky break in so many ways. First of all, I heard about it from a good friend, Beth, who I met at a writing conference in Colorado. She told me about a writing contest sponsored by Cheerios. The first prize was inclusion on the Cheerios box and the chance at a contract with Simon and Schuster.

I looked through everything I had already written, and nothing seemed quite right. I even played around with a bunch of new ideas, but I didn’t really like any of them. I thought that I was going to have to let this opportunity pass.

As a nanny, the children I work with are often a source of inspiration. This time was no exception. On the very last day of the contest, I was washing the family dog with Elizabeth, who was then three years old. She started singing “Dog wash, Dog wash.” It occurred to me that if she was having that much fun with just those words, maybe there was a story in them.

The Great Dog Wash jamboree

I started writing while I made her lunch and edited while she was napping. I wound up getting the story in just a few hours later, before the deadline.

That night, I found a typo in the title, no less! I figured that there was no way I could win that contest. So, imagine my surprise when I got a call a few months later, telling me that I had won! I don’t actually remember a whole lot about the call. Except I do remember telling them that I don’t usually babble! They just laughed.

Simon and Schuster chose Robert Neubecker to illustrate. He is the kind of award-winning illustrator that a first-time author would never get the opportunity to work with. He did a simply fantastic job of giving a vision to my words. His artwork is fun and colorful, with a multicultural aspect that gives the story a universal appeal.

I’m very proud of my little picture book. It illustrates an idea that I always talk to children about: If things don’t go according to plan, then change your plans. Sometimes things turn out even better than you thought.

And so that has happed for me. I didn’t imagine all that could happen with a win like this. I have gotten representation from a wonderful agent. I’m slated to speak at several schools and the Southern Festival of Books. In my spare time (like I have any spare time right now!), I’m putting the finishing touches on a new picture book. I’m also working on a young adult novel that I hope to have finished in the next month or so.”

Thanks again to Shellie, and continued luck to her . . .

* * * * * * *

THE GREAT DOG WASH copyright © 2009 by Shellie Braeuner. Illustration © 2009 by Robert Neubecker. Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. Images reproduced by permission of the illustrator. All rights reserved.

5 comments to “Jules’ Local Spotlight: Shellie Braeuner”

  1. Great story/stories, and terrific puppies and dogs! Wish I could take my new, dirty but adorable puppy to your dog wash.

  2. Ruff ruff!!

    Love the dog wash! Adorable premise and spiffy clean bow wows. This brightened up my day considerably :)! Thanks.

  3. Don’t you just love when just the right things happen to just the right people?

    Congratulations to Shellie Braeuner for this. A first-time author who scored Robert Neubecker as their illustrator could be considered exceptionally lucky. But in this case, it looks like the good fortune cuts both ways. The dogs and kids in the artwork bounce and scatter and roll around just the way the words do, y’know?

  4. This book immediately took me back to one of my personal favorites from my childhood – “Harry the Dirty Dog” by Gene Zion (illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham). Shellie obviously knows what appeals to children – anything with dogs used to hook me instantly, as I’m sure this happy, energetic book does for today’s kids. Wonderful subject, and also love the illustrations.

  5. […] or author/illustrators whom I’ve already interviewed or in some way featured previously. Robert Neubecker. Adam Rex. Grace Lin. Jeremy Tankard. Ed Young. Dan Santat. Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Whew. The list […]

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