Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Deborah Stevenson, author of Oy, Elephants! as well as the book's illustrator Morgan Spicer. FQ: Both of you have a strong love for animals and are true animal advocates. Can you tell readers a little bit about your particular ‘loves’ and perhaps any organizations you wish to talk about that benefit animals? STEVENSON: On my kindergarten report card, my teacher wrote: "I think Debbie should have a pet. She loves animals so much." So I think my connection with animals was hard-wired and early onset. Actually, Grandma Gussie's character in Oy, Elephants! is based on my real grandma. She adored animals and was always taking in strays, rehabilitating and releasing neighborhood squirrels and injured birds, and she always had dogs. She would have loved the Helfands! She was most definitely a strong influence in my life in general, and in my love and respect for animals specifically. I have always had a particular affinity for dogs, and have been fortunate to share my home and my life with many over the years. I enjoy training and competing with them in the sport of dog agility, which they enjoy as much (maybe more) than I do. Agility, for me, is a like a beautiful dance that showcases the miraculous partnership that is possible between dogs and humans. And of course as dogs go, none was quite as dear to me as Soren, the incredible little French Bulldog who was the subject of my first book, Soaring Soren. I love all animals, but aside from dogs, I do have a little thing for elephants and confess that I'm a long-time collector of elephant knick knacks. I also love rhinos, and I am extremely concerned about the effects of poaching and encroachment on the future of both those species. For each book, I try to support a related charity. For Soaring Soren, that charity is French Bulldog Village. It's a wonderful group that rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes French Bulldogs in need, and they don't just take the easy to place cases. They take senior dogs, dogs with medical and behavioral issues. It's an often-expensive labor of love and they do great work. For Oy, Elephants! and another upcoming book, I've chosen some charities that help fight against poaching and ivory trade. One lovely organization is David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. They rescue young elephants, rhinos and other animals who are orphaned, often due to poaching, care for them, rehabilitate them and acclimate them to return to the wild. In addition to general donations, you can foster one or more of these youngsters and get regular updates on their progress. It's both educational and rewarding, and honestly, just fascinating--a great gift and activity to share with a child. International Rhino Foundation has a similar foster program and works hard to educate the public about rhinos and protect them and their habitats. SPICER: I struggled with my love for animals for most of my life. I called it a curse, "cursed with compassion." We live in a world where animals are not treated well. I felt I could not find a place for myself or my art growing up. My love for animals, and respect for their right to a cruelty-free life, made me feel separated from my own family and most of my friends. The best way for me to express my love for animals, with my artistic talent, was with dogs as the subject to start



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out my career after college. Everyone loves dogs, right! That was something we could almost all agree upon--they were a safe, but fun subject for the majority of my books. My small business, Bark Point Studio was founded in 2012, and since that time I have created thousands of pet 'caricatures,' now called illustrations, with a percentage of a lot of those commissions going to local and national 501(c)3 animal rescue groups. Since making the decision a few years ago to embrace a vegan life, my struggle to love animals has no longer been a struggle or curse. I can love them, embrace them, respect them and draw them without the feeling of hypocrisy or of helplessness. I now feel I express my love for animals with each meal, every day, and not just with my professional career choices. I would love to mention Farm Sanctuary, an amazing non-profit. I would also love to mention just two of the breed-specific rescues I love to work with, Poodle Rescue of Vermont and Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Another great one, Foster Dogs, Inc. which started in NYC but has since grown. FQ: How did you first meet up with one another? SPICER: Through my small business Bark Point Studio. I started the business because I was determined to make a career as a freelance artist. I had been doing pet portraits my entire life, with the best experiences having been at the Monmouth County SPCA dog walk fundraiser. My mom, who is a small business owner and philanthropist, was always pushing me to use my art to benefit others. One year, I donated all my profits which only amounted to a few hundred dollars, but I must have drawn about 50 dogs that day as they sat in front of me at this wonderful fundraiser. I would say this experience enabled my career as an artist to get off the ground. So Bark Point Studio was the same idea, but at a much larger scale thanks in part to social media. People who commissioned art of their animal companions were encouraged to share them on social media, since my work is done digitally, this was quite easy for them. One share lead to another and Deborah had found my work. It was through this process that almost all of my author's of dog-related titles found me. Deborah and I do share a love for animals, in particular, for our dogs. We work very well together, I feel as though the more feedback we give each other and the more we bounce ideas off of each other, the better both of our work becomes. It has always been easy for me to communicate with her throughout the process because we are so similar in our mutual respect for dogs and our understanding of the incredible role they can play in our lives, whether it's as an agility partner or simply as a best friend. I believe we have many more stories to tell together! STEVENSON: Our first meeting was quite accidental, and a real-life case of foreshadowing if I ever saw one. I saw a caricature of a friend's dog on social media, and it was wonderful. I thought, "I'd love to have one of those of Soren!" and so I asked my friend where she had gotten it. I contacted the artist, Morgan, of course, and asked her if she could do a caricature for me. She did, of Soren and one other of my dogs, and I loved them. A few years later, I went to contact Morgan again to have her draw my other dogs, and noticed on her Facebook page that she was illustrating a children's book. By then, I had a first draft of Soaring Soren written, so I sent it to Morgan and asked her if she might be willing to illustrate it. The rest, as they say, is history. Who knew back when Morgan drew her very first Soren, that she would become the subject matter expert one day.