How to Make a Book (about My Dog): Q&A with Ernie the Dog

by Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

One of the most entertaining parts of making the new picture book How to Make a Book (about My Dog) by Chris Barton, illustrated by Sarah Horne, was seeing the various ways Chris and Sarah incorporated Chris’s real-life dog, Ernie, into the text and illustrations. So when the opportunity came up, I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Ernie for his thoughts about special his role in this book!

Arf! Woof! Hello, Ernie! How does it feel to be the star of an honest-to-goodness picture book?

Hi there, Carol! Consider yourself wagged and whimpered at!

Me being the star of a picture book feels appropriate, to tell you the truth. Anyone who’s met me knows that my presence is bigger than my 18 pounds would suggest. Nothing demonstrates that better than being present on bookshelves all over the place.

And I’m glad you said “honest-to-goodness,” because my understanding is that this book’s honesty about me (and my squeaky carrot toy!) is one of its most appealing features.

Ernie is nothing if not helpful!

You live with not one but two authors, so you probably already know a lot about the process of making books. Is there anything about the book-making process in How to Make a Book (about My Dog) that surprised you?

Can I be real with you for a second, Carol? This may seem self-centered of me, but as far as I was concerned, all human activity used to fall into two categories: Focused on Ernie, and Not. Anything that’s not feeding me, walking me, snuggling me, giving me a chewie, or throwing my squeaky carrot, chasing after me and my squeaky carrot—that all just used to be Not.

So, really, I was surprised that anything of interest was going on in all that Not, or that it involved so many people. You probably know the page I’m thinking of—it shows so many people who apparently would rather make a picture book than focus on me. I just find that remarkable. But now that I see that the book they were making actually is focused on me, everything makes a lot more sense.

Making a book involves many people who do many different jobs!

What do you think of Sarah Horne’s illustrations? Did she capture the essence of you and your favorite human (a.k.a. Chris Barton)?

Do you mean, did she literally capture my essence? No. My essence cannot be subdued or contained.

But did Sarah Horne do an outstanding job of representing my many moods and behaviors, depicting my exuberance and all-around appeal? Absolutely.

And did Sarah nail the nobility, charisma, and rugged good looks of my favorite human (who certainly did not help me answer these questions)? No doubt about it. Plus she shows that he holds his pen in his left paw when he scribbles things, which is accurate.

I especially like how Sarah drew my squeaky plush carrot. If she can throw a squeaky carrot even half as well as she can draw one, I definitely want to meet her. 

Part of making books involves asking lots of questions!

What is the most important thing you want people to know about you that wasn’t included in the book?

I had an always entertaining and occasionally brilliant career as a student in agility class. The teacher used to give me pieces of hot dog. I miss those days.

Ernie’s brilliance knows no bounds!

Any plans for cameo appearances in future books?

I’m happy to consider any projects that come my way. Especially if they end with me getting the squirrel. 

Many thanks to author Chris Barton—and of course to Ernie—for this interview! If you want to know more about Ernie or about how nonfiction picture books are made, please check out How to Make a Book (about My Dog).

Praise for How to Make a Book (about My Dog)

“[G]eneral readers and budding authors will still come away strongly impressed by the everyday miracle that is the book in their hands.”—Booklist

“A master class in how to make a picture book.”—Kirkus Reviews

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