Tracy Aiello is a former first grade teacher, business owner, columnist and all-around storyteller. She is the author of the Miracle Dogs series.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Tracey. Why did you choose dogs as the focal point for a history series?
Tracy Aiello: I actually came up with the title first. While vacationing in Portugal, I had numerous encounters with dogs doing miraculous (read: human) feats. There were dogs playing a form of soccer, dogs obeying traffic signals, dogs in restaurants and taverns, all seemingly without owners informing their activities. My traveling companions and I started calling the dogs the “miracle dogs of Portugal,” and the name had a wonderful ring to it.
I started out my career as a first grade teacher and had a dream of writing a children’s book one day. Combine the perfect title with a passion for writing for children and the result is my book, Miracle Dogs of Portugal.
Ferrante: Would these books be considered fiction or nonfiction?
Aiello: As the “blurb” says, the books are “almost true” stories. They are based on historical events, with fictional detail added.
Ferrante: Your blurb says: Miracle Dogs of Portugal is the almost-true story of historical figure Henry the Navigator and the dog that saved his life – Milagro the Portuguese Water Dog. How did you learn about this event?
Ferrante: If I remember correctly, Henry the Navigator ushered in the age of discovery. Did this event take place when Henry was a child? How did you research it?
Aiello: After coming up with the title “Miracle Dogs of Portugal,” I stumbled upon the Portuguese Water Dog breed that helped sailors throughout Portuguese history. I knew the importance of Henry the Navigator to world history and, having been to Sagres, I knew Henry had established a school for the study of navigation in the seaside city. My story married the two concepts, and I set out to write a book that taught children history and encouraged them to have courage and follow their dreams.
Henry established the school for navigation later in his life, I made him a child for the story. He also designed the boats that Christopher Columbus ultimately used to reach the Americas. I researched Henry the Navigator in the traditional ways – books, the internet. To understand Portuguese Water Dogs, I actually contacted the Portuguese Water Dog Clubs of America and met dogs in my area.
Ferrante: You’ve written the second book in this series, Miracle Dogs of the Missouri. I couldn’t find it on Amazon or Goodreads. Is it brand-new? Tell us a bit about it.
Aiello: I haven’t published Miracle Dogs of the Missouri as yet, but the story follows the same themes as Miracle Dogs of Portugal, with a child that follows his dreams and becomes an explorer. It is the almost-true story of Meriwether Lewis, the leader, with William Clark, of America’s exploration of its west. The story unfolds as Lewis, as a child, learns the ways of the river and the native peoples with the help of a spunky Newfoundland. He comes to believe he could use the river to travel distances farther than any other man.
Ferrante: Why do you call these “miracle dogs”? Is there a religious component to these books?
Aiello: There are not outwardly religious themes, just miraculous meetings (with the dogs) that remind the characters (and us!) to have faith in themselves and follow their dreams.
Ferrante: Do you have the third book in mind for this series?
Aiello: Not specifically outlined, but I’d love to tell the story of a courageous female character that led the way, such as Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman.
Ferrante: You used to be a first grade teacher. Have you ever considered writing picture books for that age? What drew you to write early chapter books?
Aiello:I did set out to write a picture book, but my strength is telling a story through words, not images. I relied on my illustrator, Kent Barnes, to help visualize my story.
Ferrante: When did you begin writing books? Do you write every day? You have a process that you always follow?
Aiello: I started Miracle Dogs in 2004 and have been writing ever since. For many years I wrote in the early mornings, about 5:30 – 7:00, on various projects. My husband and I had our first child in February, 2016, so I have taken a writing sabbatical, to say the least!
Ferrante: Did you do anything differently from your first experience in creating Miracle Dogs of Portugal when writing your second book?
Aiello: Yes, since the age level was a bit older than I originally set out to write, I really catered Miracle Dogs of the Missouri to 2/3 grade readers.
Ferrante: Is there anything you’d like to share with us that I haven’t asked?
Aiello: One of the things I love most about being a published author is sharing both my story and the writing experience with children. I conduct writer’s workshops in elementary schools around the country, teaching children the “bones” of writing and encouraging creativity. Kids often think they hate writing, but with a little encouragement they come to realize how they come up with stories all the time!
Ferrante: What is your favorite day of the week?
Aiello: Thursdays! Hopefully I’ve accomplished a lot for the week, have one more day to work and then I can rest and plan ahead.
Ferrante: What is something you always used to love to do that, during the last year or two, you feel like you’ve outgrown or lost interest in doing?
Aiello: I became a mom in February (2016), so everything in my life has changed. Now that our son is old enough to start participating in activities, I’ve actually regained interest in the things I loved as a child – such as libraries, swimming, children’s books and music classes – because we are experiencing these things together.
Ferrante: If you could get one thing back that was either lost or destroyed, what would it be?
Aiello: I don’t put much stock in possessions, but I do wish I could have many of my years back!
Ferrante: Wise answer. Thank you for chatting with me today. Good luck with your books and enjoy this precious time with your baby.
The Miracle Dogs of Portugal was reviewed on this blog February 20,2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.