Interview Triumvirate: A Three-Way Rescues Interview with Tommy and Charlie Greenwald and Shiho Pate
At my library we have a committee that works to create an annual list of 101 great books for kids. If you serve on that committee with me, though, there is a price to pay. Mainly, you have to listen to me holding a book over my head every few months or so saying, “Now I’m not a huge fan of dog books, but this one . . .” Apparently I feel obligated to mention my I-don’t-love-every-dog-book-bonifides on a regular basis. This is partly because there are some folks who love every canine-related cutie to cross their plate. Not me. But even I, in my battle-hardened state, have seen a marvelous proliferation of doggies in 2023. I mean have you seen Lita Judge’s Dogs: A History of Our Best Friends? Or George & Tao by Claude K. Dubois? They’re good, and so is the title I want to introduce you to today.
The Rescues: Finding Home is a rarity. It is one of those books that falls just outside of easy book but juuuuust before young readers. And best of all, it’s good. I mean really good. I mean surprisingly good in a field where simple texts too often mean all too simple storytelling. Here’s the plot:
“Two shelter dogs await adoption in this early reader series about friendship, family, and home. Moose and Bear are two scrappy shelter dogs patiently waiting for the right owner to adopt them. They meet, become friends, and one day a Cathy decides to take them both home. Despite their luck, they must face the challenges of settling into their new home. Along the way, they learn about each other, and their friendship deepens. Told with humor and heart, Finding Home is a tale that champions the importance of family and relays how it feels to belong and to have a place to call home.”
Today, I’m talking with not one, not two, but THREE creators behind this book! Say hello to Tommy Greenwald, his son Charlie Greenwald, and artist Shiho Pate!
Betsy Bird: Tommy! Let’s start with you. So here you are making books for older readers for years, and then all of a sudden you change gears a bit and create this honestly touching and adorable early reader series involving dogs. I need some explanation here. What is the origin story of THE RESCUES? And how did Charlie get involved?
Tommy Greenwald: Hi Betsy, and thanks so much for your encouragement and support for this book! I guess I’ve done the complete circuit as far as age groups go. As you may remember, I started out writing middle-grade humor books – The CHARLIE JOE JACKSON and CRIMEBITERS! series, among others. Then I pivoted to youth sports – serious books for older middle-grade and young adult readers, with GAME CHANGER and the Walthorne series, and chapter books with GOOD SPORTS LEAGUE. And there was one picture book in there, too – HOOKED. So, what was left? Early readers! With THE RESCUES: FINDING HOME, I had an idea kicking around in my head for a long time, involving two dogs named Moose and Bear with an identity crisis. Only when I started discussing the idea with Charlie did I realize that there was a real story here to be told.
Betsy Bird: Well, let’s get Charlie’s perspective on the matter. Charlie! Great to talk to you. So tell me in your own words how The Rescues came to be. What’s its origin story? For that matter, what’s your origin story when it comes to writing for kids?
Charlie Greenwald: My Dad – who has written many great children’s books about all sorts of things, from zombies to basketball and everything in between – initially came up with the concept: two dogs named Moose and Bear who meet and bond over their mutual confusion over the accuracy of their names. He always shares his book ideas with me and if I recall correctly, I told him I wanted to see the story evolve and expand. I think he liked my enthusiasm, and he brought me into the fold. We extended their journey together into an early reader.
Betsy Bird: Nice. But let’s not leave out Shiho. Shiho! Please tell me in your own words, how did you come to work on The Rescues? And what drew you to the project?
Shiho Pate: My agent Deborah at East West Literary introduced me to The Rescues! I was drawn because of the bond between Moose and Bear. And Tommy and Charlie’s manuscript beautifully captured how their relationship developed throughout the book.
Betsy Bird: Now Tommy, what’s the appeal of writing for a younger age range? I know that it can involve (in a sense) an entirely different set of muscles. How was the experience for you?
Tommy Greenwald: You’re not kidding about the different set of muscles, and I don’t mind saying those muscles are now quite sore! When you go from writing 40,000-word books to 1,000-word books, every word becomes – well, if my math is correct (and it’s probably not) – a thousand percent more important. Storytelling and description are paramount, but so is economy, clarity, brevity, and knowing when to slowly back out of the room and let Shiho’s amazing drawings do the work.
Betsy Bird: Oh yes! That reminds me. Shiho, I have to ask, but do you consider yourself a dog person? Do you own any dogs? Because I gotta say you make some mighty adorable pups in this book.
Shiho Pate: Yes! I am definitely a dog person. I do love cats too but I’m severely allergic to them . . . Russel was my fur baby. My husband (then my boyfriend) got him right before graduating college. And we all moved to New York. Russel was my ring bearer at our wedding and the best big brother to my daughter. I miss him so much.
Betsy Bird: I noticed that one of the dogs in this book has a little bit of a mohawk. How did you settle on the eventual look of the characters? Did you experiment? Were there looks that you considered and then ultimately rejected?
Shiho Pate: My art director Mike and I did few rounds of experiments. Here’s a snippet of some of the ideas we had for Moose and Bear:
Betsy Bird: Aww. And Charlie, what did this collaboration with your dad really look like? What’s your writing process like?
Charlie Greenwald: Exponentially more successful than our collaboration on my cursed college essay! I kid, of course. . . Everything was very natural. We both love to write and create new characters; we both love dry humor and we both love shelter pets. We divided chapter duties, gave each other feedback, and kept to our deadlines on revisions. Something we both felt early on was that we wanted to stand out from the many other books about dogs; we agreed that our protagonists had to not only be shelter dogs but scrappy mixed breeds who kept getting overlooked. This would make them especially determined to get adopted and find a family together. We wanted them to be, well, underdogs (pardon the pun).
Betsy Bird: Pardoned (but barely). Going back to Tommy, I know you’ve collaborated with others on works over the years, but aside from your illustrators I’m having a hard time remembering a time when you ever had a co-writer. How was it working with Charlie?
Tommy Greenwald: Well, Charlie is the oldest of my three kids – the others being Joe and Jack – and one-third of the inspiration for the incorrigible wiseacre Charlie Joe Jackson. So, you can imagine my surprise when this non-reader turned out to not only be a lot more interested in books as he grew up, but also a delightful writer with a font of ideas. I did have a collaborator on the one musical I wrote, but this was a whole new thing. Working with your kid is like playing them in a sport. The minute they beat you, or write something better than you, you’re both a tiny bit irritated and very proud. But having a chance to work with family, on a book that at its core, is a story about family? Hard to top that.
Betsy Bird: Was there anything you particularly wanted to include in the final product that just didn’t make it?
Tommy Greenwald: LOL good question! In an earlier draft, we had a really fun storyline about how Moose and Bear dealt with their first thunder and lightning storm, and I was sad when we had to cut it for space – but then we realized we could put it in the second book, so all was well! #thestormlives
Betsy Bird: Nice. Charlie, are you envisioning this as a series or as a standalone book?
Charlie Greenwald: Luckily for us, The Rescues: Finding Home is the first book of what will eventually be two, and perhaps even more. Shiho is doing the illustrations for the sequel now. We can’t wait to see what she has cooked up. This second one features a bunch of action-packed scenes that definitely lend themselves well to imaginative drawings. We got very lucky with our illustrator.
Betsy Bird: Finally, what’s next for all three of you?
Tommy Greenwald: I have my second GOOD SPORTS LEAGUE story, called THE PERFECT PITCH, coming out in a few weeks – which also has a rescue dog storyline in it by the way, because, uh, I’m a little obsessed with rescue dogs, although it’s quite peripheral to that story – and I’m working on my next Walthorne book, tentatively titled THE RIGHT CALL, which deals with a young baseball player dealing with the fallout of his dad attacking and injuring an umpire. (There is no shortage of concerning things to write about when it comes to youth sports!) We’re also sooooooo excited to see Shiho’s drawings for THE RESCUES: THE BEST DAY EVER, which is the second book in what we hope will be the ongoing adventures of Moose, Bear, and Tiger!
Charlie Greenwald: I have a few other projects on deck outside of The Rescues series. One is a graphic novel about a hammerhead shark who works as a “handyfish” in the ocean and has to learn about self-care the hard way. The other is about Jack O’Lantern’s brother, Jeff, who has to figure out how to be spooky on Halloween. I’m hopeful that they both will get out there in the world very soon. Thank you for asking 🙂
Shiho Pate: I am currently working on The Rescues book no. 2! And some others I can’t talk about yet. For the latest news and my artist life please visit my website at shihopate.com or follow my instagram @shihopate
Huge thanks to Tommy Greenwald, Charlie Greenwald, and Shiho Pate for giving such lovely answers to my questions here today. The Rescues: Finding Home is on bookstore and library shelves everywhere right now. No need to hesitate. Give it a look pronto.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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