Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln will be released on January 14th, and I’m delighted to be celebrating its arrival into the world with its author, Shari Swanson. Honey is a forgotten true story that Shari discovered through pure tenaciousness. Finding a reference to a childhood friend of Abe Lincoln, she followed lead after lead until she discovered the 1921 book, The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln from the Spoken Narratives of Austin Gollaher. Shari read the book from cover to cover and turned the best of the best into the charming story that is Honey.
Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.
One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.
Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is a Junior Library Guild selection.
Shari Swanson is a lawyer turned middle grade teacher turned author. When she isn’t celebrating the creativity and loyalty of animals, she is an advocate for social justice and celebrates girl power wherever she finds it. Shari joins us today from California—where she lives with her own dog Honey—to tell us What was on her . . .
Mind while she was researching Honey: To research HONEY, in addition to all the reading, I travelled twice to Kentucky. What amazed me was how wild the terrain would have been for such a little boy alone. The woods are full of animals. The distances Abe covered alone are vast. The caverns are dark and dank. I imagine it would have been terrifying to be stuck in a cavern, hoping your dog would bring back help. Abe must have been a very brave boy.
Editing Room floor: To write a picture book, particularly a non-fiction one, there are just so many fascinating details that must get left behind. It’s much like Michelangelo seeing David in the block of marble; you have to trim out the non-essential parts. And that is tough. In this case, I left out all sorts of adventures Abe had with Honey, including a wildcat attack, the details of how Honey came to be injured at the base of a cliff and the bad man who pushed him there, and all reference to Abe’s best friend, Austin, who I absolutely fell in love with reading about the two of them together. (I am overjoyed that Chuck Groenink included Austin in one of the pictures!) Many of these details are in the Author’s Note, and lots more on my website, but it’s tough to cut things out. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins, Katherine Tegen books, suggested we do a timeline for the book with Lincoln’s encounters with animals over the years. That was a fascinating bit of research. As far as I know, these tidbits have never been collected together before. One detail that I found too late to include but love is an anecdote about Mary Todd Lincoln telling her husband that he shouldn’t feed the cat off a gold fork at the White House dinner table. Lincoln’s amusing response–“If the gold fork was good enough for President Buchanan, it’s good enough for Tabby.”
Top Five Surprises about Abe Lincoln: Some of the surprises I discovered while doing research about Abraham Lincoln involved just how rustic life on the frontier was for the Lincoln family, how small their cabin was, and how difficult it was to cut a life out of the rocky land. It surprised me how many chores Abe did from a very young age, and how dangerous they were—felling trees, walking miles through the untamed woods, carrying heavy burdens. I didn’t realize his relationship with his father was so strained until doing my research. Another thing that hit home even though I knew it intellectually is just how remarkable it is that Lincoln made something of himself from such a humble beginning.
Top Five Challenges about writing nonfiction: For me, research is so fun. I love diving deep and following the various branches as they appear. It is hard to pull out of the research and begin to write, and the temptation to go back into research rather than write is always there. I find it challenging to tease out just the right thread for the picture book text. It’s so tempting to put in all the details you’ve uncovered, but writing a book is about picking just the right details, words, and examples. And cutting the rest. Credibility is always a challenge when reviewing primary sources. In competing, contrary accounts, who is telling the truth? Who can be trusted? How have bias and assumptions influenced the telling? For someone written about as widely as Abraham Lincoln, parsing differing accounts, following those accounts back to the primary sources, corroborating those primary sources with other historical detail can be challenging.
Walk with her own Honey: I am very lucky to live among the hills in Southern California. Honey and I enjoy long walks each day, as close to sunrise or sunset as we can get, and soak in the beauty. We frequently travel to the mountains where Honey and I enjoy a good romp in the snow.
Favorite animal links: I enjoy nature documentaries and stories based on animals. I subscribe to National Geographic on Facebook and am always in awe at the photographs and stunning stories they share there.
Most Inspiring Girl-Power Stories: I do love seeing girls shine. I grew up in a time when girls were expected to be wives and mothers, or maybe teachers or nurses if they were single. In my school yearbook each year, I could check one of those pre-printed choices for what I wanted to be when I grew up. The choices given for boys were also pretty stereotypic–policeman, fireman, etc. No mention of Father. I love that we are pushing past that and encouraging children to pursue their passions without pigeonholing them into specified categories. I love that picture books celebrate passion and purpose and people who have defied expectations. One of my favorite sites is A Mighty Girl where I recently read about a young girl who invented a way for the A pillars in a car to be virtually invisible. Amazing! I love inventors. For children and humanity as a whole, I love the sites Start Empathy, We Need Diverse Books, and Be the Bridge. I’ve also been fortunate to work with the sites DailyGood.org and Kindful Kids (kind + mindful) both subsets under the larger umbrella of ServiceSpace.org. Both sites work to curate wonderful stories of kindness and compassion and are working hard to be the change you want to see in the world.
Refrigerator Door: Nothing
Calendar: HONEY, THE DOG WHO SAVED ABRAHAM LINCOLN releases on January 14th. The book launch will be at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose (the oldest children’s bookstore in the country) on January 18th. I’m looking forward to Lincoln’s birthday especially much this year! And I’m going to be reading from HONEY at local book stores and several schools in conjunction with their Scholastic Book Fair as, I’m thrilled to say, HONEY will be one of the books included!
Desk Top: I’m at work on a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story about an animal, this one set during WWII.
Thanks so much, Shari!
If you would like to order Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, simply click on the image below.
If you would like to know more about me and my upcoming books, visit me at sandranickel.com.
Shari Swanson Shari Swanson Shari Swanson Shari Swanson Sandra Nickel Author Sandra Nickel Author Sandra Nickel Author