Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy 60th Birthday, Sparky the Fire Dog®!

As a children's author, my goal is to write books that will help kids learn and grow, and I've always been a big believer in using animals to help kids relate to important and sometimes difficult situations.

So when I was approached by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to write a book in celebration of the 60th birthday of Sparky the Fire Dog®, I could not have been more honored and excited. As the NFPA's official mascot and spokesdog, Sparky has long played an important role in communicating fire safety to kids and families.

Since Sparky's creation in 1951, the number of fire and fires injuries in the United States has declined, which is due in part to enhanced public education efforts. But despite this positive impact, fires in the home still take a great toll on life and property. Approximately 3,000 people die each year because of fires.

Working on the Sparky the Fire Dog® picture book was a particularly special experience for me because I've had first-hand experience with fire. When I was 5, my house caught on fire and while my parents escaped, they weren't able to get to my room to guide me to safety. I was lucky to be rescued by a firefighter.

This is no doubt a scary memory for me, but it's also a reminder of the importance of instilling fire safety messages in children. Sparky is crucial because children under the age of five face the highest risk of home fire death. While fire can be frightening to children, the kind and gentle image of this dalmatian emphasizes positive fire safety messages in a way that is appealing to children.

In Sparky the Fire Dog®, Sparky takes a group of young animals through the neighborhood, pointing out hazards, giving basic fire prevention and safety tips, and showing them how to be prepared in case of an emergency. From having a working smoke alarm to being careful with candles and knowing where your exits are, Sparky's advice may be the most important thing children--and their parents--ever learn.

I very much hope that adults will benefit from the book as much as children. We all remember learning fire safety lessons from firefighters or Sparky when we were in school, but many of us may not have carried all of the crucial fire safety practices we once learned in our day-to-day lives as adults.

The release of Sparky the Fire Dog® coincides with Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15)--an annual public awareness campaign sponsored by the NFPA that focuses on the small actions that can make a big difference in protecting your family from fire. These actions include creating a home escape plan, installing and checking home smoke alarms, and installing home fire sprinkers.

Sparky has done such amazing work over the las 60 years, and I hope that the book will help the NFPA continue to spread the important messages of fire safety far and wide.

Anyone interested in learning or teaching about fire safety can learn more at the Fire Prevention Week website which contains more safety tips and statistical information.

This post by Don Hoffman, author of Sparky the Fire Dog®.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dog Blog Tour!

This week officially kicked off the Dog Blog Tour. Sparky the Fire Dog®, that is. In anticipation of the upcoming release of Sparky the Fire Dog, several bloggers signed on to post reviews of this new book by prolific children's book author Don Hoffman. Some blogs will be hosting giveaways to a few lucky readers, so be sure to check them out! Here's the line-up so far--stay tuned for more information!

Donna Bowman Bratton
's blog, review posted 9/17; read it here!
Biblio Reads
, review posted 9/20; read it here!
Anastasia Suen
's blog, check out the Sparky post on October 12th!
Barefoot Mommies
Chasing Supermom
In the Pages
NC Teacher Stuff
Reading With My Eyes Shut

Sparky is the official mascot for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the book's release date is October 1st--coinciding with National Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15) and Sparky's 60th birthday year. Check out Sparky's website,, for cool games and activities. You can also download a Sparky Birthday Party Kit to celebrate Sparky's big day!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Flight of Serendipity

When I told my parents that I was getting a degree in anthropology I might as well have told them I planned to either remain a student for another ten years or be unemployable. About the only thing you can do with a bachelor's degree in anthropology is to get a master's and doctorate in anthropology. Thankfully for me it proved to be an excellent foundation for becoming a librarian. I always tell people that thanks to that anthropology degree, I know a little bit about everything and not much about anything!

So the anthropology degree got me to being a librarian but how did a career as a librarian get me to writing a book about hummingbirds? And how do hummingbirds connect to anthropology? A lot of serendipity is involved.

A number of years ago I met Adrienne Yorinks. She was touring for the book, Stand for Children by Marian Wright Edelman and came to Austin. After a delightful shopping spree for fabric, we became friends. Over the years we talked about doing a book together but never really came up with a good idea. I did help Adrienne with Quilt of States, a book about how America pieced itself together as a nation but that was her book. We wanted to find a topic that would truly be ours. We both love animals and we talked about fish (after a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore) and primates, but neither really hit home for us.

Then one September weekend my husband and I took a short vacation to Rockport, Texas. This charming coastal community happens to be directly in the path of the spectacular fall migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird. As the birds get ready to leave North America and head to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America, a lot of them pass through the Gulf Coast area. Once they leave Texas and Louisiana, many hummers fly 500 miles non-stop across the gulf, although some take the inland route, finding food along the way. Because Rockport is directly in the migratory route, tens of thousands of hummingbirds can be seen in the area. When I walked out of the hotel that weekend I felt like I was experiencing a hummingbird flash mob! They were literally flying around me like flies. [Click here to see a video]

Inspired by their beauty, I recalled that many of the cultures I had studied about in my anthropology classes have stories about hummingbirds. I remembered seeing hummingbird images on Navajo pottery and the hummingbird katchina of the Hopi. I also remembered that one of the Nazca lines carved into the plains of Peru was of a hummingbird and that I had seen hummingbird petroglyphs incised into rocks in New Mexico and Arizona. Clearly these birds were inspiring to many people! So I started to do some research and thought about combining facts with cultural tales. As I soon discovered, hummingbirds are only found in the Americas (although there is some fossil evidence that they existed in Europe 30 million years ago). Loving a challenge, I sought out folk tales and stories from a variety of cultures. I wanted to be able to include stories from cultures from the same range as the hummingbirds--from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Being a librarian I did a lot of research and found that many of the same stories, or similar stories, appear in many cultures. So I read and listened to as many versions as I could and then retold them in my own way. I love the way the book turned out. Adrienne's beautiful fabric art so perfectly reflects the amazing features of the hummingbird but I especially love how she illustrated the folktales.

So the serendipity in this journey? If I hadn't studied anthropology I probably wouldn't have become a librarian and I would not have met Adrienne and we wouldn't have decided to work together on a book that developed out of a chance meeting and a spur-of-the-moment vacation. I'm delighted that it all worked out! And another bit of serendipity--this blog posting is going up just in time for National Hummingbird Day (the first Saturday in September).

Posted by Jeanette Larson, author of Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. Jeanette will be appearing at the Princeton Children's Book Festival on September 10th, and Hummingbirds has been selected to represent Texas at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC on September 24th.