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Raymond Bial: An Interview With the Author of RESCUING ROVER

Author Raymond Bial's most recent photo-essay, Rescuing Rover: Saving America's Dogs, has been selected for the Junior Literary Guild Book Club and is currently receiving high praise across the country. Chigger, Raymond's most recent novel, is receiving fine reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist and other journals; everyone who likes to root for the underdog loves this sweet story of an unforgettable girl. Learn more about Raymond's path to publication and how his books came to life by reading the full interview.

In celebration of my latest humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL (Running Press, August 2012), which features political humor and funny dogs, I am featuring interviews with other dog book writers. It's very exciting to shine light on books from other writers who also share a love for canines.

This installment, it's Raymond Bial, author and photographer. Raymond Bial (pronounced beal) has been creating acclaimed books for children and adults for more than 30 years, including Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty, an excellent companion volume to Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side; The Shaker Village, a lovely collection of color photographs depicting the simplicity and grace of this remarkable utopian community; a fine paperback edition of Where Lincoln Walked published in honor of the bicentennial of the birth of this great president; Dripping Blood Cave and Other Ghostly Stories, the third volume in a popular series of ghost stories for young readers.

His most recent photo-essay, Rescuing Rover: Saving America's Dogs, has been selected for the Junior Literary Guild Book Club and is currently receiving high praise across the country. Chigger, his most recent novel, is receiving fine reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist and other journals; everyone who likes to root for the underdog loves this sweet story of an unforgettable girl.

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Currently own dogs? Tell us their names, breeds and one amusing fact per dog.

Yes, we now have four dogs: Zander (beagle/lab mix), Lucky (Jack Russell terrier), Suzie (miniature fox terrier), Boone (lab), and Isabel, a Siamese cat who thinks she is a dog, especially when treats are being dished out.

Since I now work at home and my wife Linda is mostly retired, we spend a lot of time with our “pack,” and have an abundance of anecdotes, amusing episodes, and stories about our dogs.

Like Elmer Fudd, Zander is “cwazy” about “wabbits.” The beagle really comes out in him whenever he spots a cottontail. He likes to ramble around the yard and neighborhood, and as the saying goes, “It’s their nose that gets beagles in trouble.” Needless to say, our yard is fenced and Zander is usually on his leash. He is “just a dog,” as Linda once said, which I considered the ultimate compliment. Low-key and unassuming, he likes to do “dog stuff,” sniffing in bushes, poking around the yard, etc., He is such a sweet guy that a couple kids wanted to get a dog just like him, but their mother told him they would never find another mixed-breed like him, because he is a “miracle dog.” Since then, we look upon our mutt and joke that he is our “miracle dog.” Zander just gazes back, as if to say, “Who, me?”

A big-shot terrier, Lucky likes to strut his stuff when he is not snoozing on his favorite green chair, dreaming of running the Iditarod as a “lone wolf” and direct descendent of White Fang. He even has an Iditarod medal on his collar, which we once mentioned to the vet, who was duly impressed as she told us, “I’d noticed.” Although Lucky has mostly devoted his life to keeping warm, he has quite a high opinion of himself and we often surmise that he imagines himself involved in all kinds of Yukon heroics—guiding lost hunters, rescuing baby animals, and even helping Santa Claus during blizzards on Christmas night.

Although Suzie was literally thrown away in a Dumpster and saved by animal control and a rescue group, she has never been down for long. As soon as we brought her home, she took over, buzzing around the house and letting everyone know that she was the boss. She is a natural entrepreneur and somehow we’ve all ended up working for her. Among her empire of small businesses, she runs a “car-car” service in which she sits on my lap and mostly takes Linda to work in the afternoons. A young lady in the neighborhood once stopped me on the sidewalk and told me, “I think it’s so wonderful that you take your little dog with you everywhere you go.” My only thought: “As if I ever have any choice in the matter?” When she is not too busy managing her many enterprises, Suzie likes to watch television and bark at any animals that dare to appear on the screen.

Boone is goofy even for a lab. When we rescued him, he was a year old and had never been inside a house or taken for a walk. Shamefully underfed and neglected, he had lived outside through the hot, humid summer and bitterly cold winter. He now has two passions in life: eating as much as possible and simply being in-doors. He wolfs down his meals, goes crazy over dog treats, and tries to inhale as much trash as possible on our daily walks. His dream job is to work on a garbage truck, helping the “G-men” sort through all those tasty scraps that get thrown out. Otherwise he just loves being in-doors and his theme song is “I’m an indoor dog. I’m an indoor dog.”

Although Isabel is officially not a dog (don’t tell her that), she is always in the thick of things with our pack. As mentioned above, she loves the occasional dog treat and the other dogs defer to her, although she is so petite at just seven pounds, sopping wet. If one of the dogs (usually Zander) foolishly wants to play with her, she sits back on her hind legs and boxes him. More precisely, she pummels him. She has a wicked upper cut and watch out for that left hook.

In one sentence, what is your book (or latest dog-related book) about?

Rescuing Rover: Saving America’s Dogs is an in-depth photo-essay that provides both children and adults with a comprehensive overview of the “pet crisis” in the United States and all the wonderful work that is being done to help millions of abused and neglected dogs.

When did it come out? Publisher? Any notable awards or praise for it?

Houghton/Harcourt published the book last summer (2012). Even before it was published, Rescuing Rover was selected for the Junior Literary Guild book club. It was received great reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and many other publications.

People involved in pet care, especially those working in animal shelters and dog rescues at the local, state, and national levels, love the book. Come to think of it, everyone who loves dogs loves Rescuing Rover.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

What inspired you to write this book?

I have always loved dogs. My earliest memories are of our little cocker spaniel and my grandfather’s Jack Russell terrier who was appropriately named Scamp. As I was growing up in the country, we always had a farm dog or two—often unwanted dogs that someone had dumped on a back-road.

When my own children were growing up, we always had beloved dogs, most of whom were “graduates” of the local shelter, and I always wished that we could provide a home for every dog in America.

I wrote and made photographs for Rescuing Rover to provide a poignant look at abused and neglected dogs: 1) to draw attention to the pet crisis, 2) to acknowledge all those individuals and groups who are involved in dog rescue, and 3) to provide many suggestions about what others can pitch in and solve this problem. If I couldn’t personally adopt every unwanted dog in America, I wanted to at least help out some of my best buddies. As several reviewers have noted, this book has saved the lives of many dogs.

What kind of writing, if any, were you doing before the book?

Over the past forty or so years, I have published more than one hundred acclaimed books for children and adults, mostly photo-essays ranging from classics such as The Underground Railroad and Where Lincoln Walked and recent historical works, such as Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side and Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty.

Many of my books deal with social and cultural history—how common people lived their everyday lives, although I have published a science book or two, such as A Handful of Dirt and several collections of ghost stories and mystery novels for children, such as Shadow Island.

Although the subjects and genres of my books vary greatly, they all address serious themes in an enlightening and hopefully enjoyable manner.

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RED DOG / BLUE DOG is a humorous photo collection of
dogs doing stereotypical liberal and conservative things,
assembled all in good fun. It released in Aug. 2012 from
Running Press and has been featured by USA Today,, The Huffington Post, and more.

How did you find your agent? (If you don’t have an agent, how did you secure a book deal?)

Many years ago I had an agent, but once I became established as an author, publishing mostly with Houghton Mifflin, I went my own way. For Rescuing Rover, it also helped that my editor also loves dogs and has rescued two pups herself.

What has been the biggest surprise or learning experience you’ve seen through the process of seeing your book(s) get published?

For Rescuing Rover, I was pleased—and often astounded—that so many thousands of people are so devoted to helping puppies and dogs and that others can easily help the cause in small ways that make a huge difference.

Tell me about a fun moment or proud experience you’ve had with your book and readers since the book was published.

I’ve had so many proud moments with this book, but was especially delighted when our longtime veterinarian praised Rescuing Rover as a comprehensive photo-essay about what is and can be done to help puppies and dogs.

What are you doing to reach out to readers and dog enthusiasts?

From the start, this book was undertaken with the gracious help of the national ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. I also made photographs at our local shelter, so I was able to work with many fine dedicated people.

I’ve since shared the book with everyone from family and friends and the local media to national organizations. Rescuing Rover is also widely available online and at local bookstores.

Think of your dog (or a past dog perhaps). If you could compare them to one celebrity, who would it be?

All of our dogs resemble comic characters, especially Lucky who likes to officiously and ineffectively “police” the other dogs like Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on the old Andy Griffith Show. Like Barney, our little terrier’s favorite tagline is: “Nip it in the bud! You got to nip it in the bud!”

Even-tempered Zander reminds us of Andy and I suppose Suzie would be Thelma Lou, and Boone could be Goober or Gomer.

However, Boone more closely resembles the Bumpus hounds on A Christmas Story, not just one or two of them, but the whole pack.

And Suzie often gets into humorous fixes like Lucy in "I Love Lucy," at least she often has a lot of “’spaining to do.”

Favorite of these dog movies? --- “Best in Show,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Shaggy Dog.”

I loved all these movies, along with “Old Yeller,” even though it broke my heart and “Sounder,” although it may be a bit dated. I liked the dogs in the animated movies Bolt and Up, especially the squirrel chase and “cone of shame” in the latter.

In fact, I can’t recall a dog movie that I haven’t liked.

Where can people find you on the Internet? (Websites, etc)

I have a website: Also have an author page on

What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m completing several works of fiction and recently published a sweet and humorous little novel for children and adults. Entitled Chigger, this novel is receiving high praise, especially from nostalgic adults who enjoy a good story.

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