MOUNT VERNON — For an artist, ideas are everywhere. They come from the ordinary — a bird perched on a feeder, a conversation in the grocery store or a regular Friday morning at the local library.
During her visit to Mount Vernon last week, children’s author and illustrator Lisa Papp told students at Twin Oak Elementary and Mount Vernon Middle School to look for inspiration all around them. After all, Papp’s most recent book, “Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog,” was inspired by middle school students right here in Mount Vernon.
In the book, a young girl decides to read to the dogs at her local animal shelter so they know that someone cares about them. Papp drew her inspiration from WAGS, the Working Dog Awareness Group, at Mount Vernon Middle School.
WAGS is made up of 53 students ages 8 to 15 who make weekly visits to the Knox County Animal Shelter and read to the dogs and cats. The group’s advisor, Trudy Debolt, said that the program makes dogs more adoptable because they become more sociable and trusting after interacting with the kids.
Papp gave presentations Friday morning at Mount Vernon Middle School and Twin Oak Elementary, where she told students about what it’s like to be an author and illustrator and how she approaches the creative process.
“It’s got to go through an ugly stage. You can’t just sit down and draw it perfectly. There’s definitely a process, so you’ve got to stick with it through the ugly stage,” she advised. “Just remember, your imagination is all your own. It’s unique to you, and you’ll come up with things that nobody else could come up with.”
“Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog” is the second in Papp’s Madeline Finn series. The first book, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog,” tells the tale of a young girl who feels embarrassed and frustrated because she cannot read as well as her classmates. Finn eventually finds the confidence she needs by reading to a therapy dog at the library.
Papp got the idea after witnessing a similar program at her local library. The program is aimed at struggling readers, who often feel less self-conscious reading to a four-legged friend.
“Dogs have this amazing ability to love unconditionally. Kids sense that right away. When they sense that they’re accepted and loved just the way they are, walls come down,” Papp explained.
Kristen Campbell, a first grade teacher at Twin Oak, agrees. For six years, she has hosted Phil and Mary Samuell and their golden retriever Sandy every Friday morning.
“It gives children the opportunity to read out loud without judgment,” said Campbell. “It builds their confidence.”
During Papp’s visit to Campbell’s classroom, first grader Joan Becerill read a few sentences from a Spanish language copy of “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog” to Sandy and his classmates.
“It’s nice to see an educator embrace a dog in the class room,” said Phil Samuell. “She uses Sandy as a motivation. If students don’t get their reading done the night before, they don’t get to read to Sandy.”
In addition to her school visits, Papp held signings at Paragraphs Book Store on Friday evening and Saturday morning.
“She was delightful,” said Lois Hanson of Paragraphs. “Every author we’ve had come in gives the child their full attention. It makes them feel very special.”
Papp also joined the WAGS group for their weekly visit to the animal shelter. During the visit to the animal shelter, Papp watched the students in action and even read to a couple of the dogs.
“She was very impressed with how the kids came in and knew right what to do,” said Debolt. “She could tell that their hearts are 100 percent completely in it.”
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