It is a beautiful heart that can see into the eyes of children their potential for caring and love, and into the souls of animals who have no voice to speak of their needs. Love, safety, nourishment, and play ~ life’s precious gifts that can so often be taken for granted are not always available to everyone. And especially not to some, whose only wrongdoing was being born.
But, what if young, impressionable minds were taught responsibility for those without human language? What if those who are less fortunate are given opportunities? They are given a voice.
Emilie Buchwald is that voice.
And I love her language.
A friend introduced me to his mother-in-law a few weeks back. He had a hunch she and I would have something in common. He was right.
Emilie is the author of two award-winning children’s novels. A poet and a fiction writer, she has taught literature, poetry, and writing for children. She has a Master of Arts in English and a Ph.D. in English Literature, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota. Emilie is the publisher emeritus and co-founder of Milkweed Editions, the editor or co-editor of 200 books that have won more than 200 awards and distinctions, with a million books in print when she retired in 2003. She has received the McKnight Artist of the Year Award, the Kay Sexton Award for service to Minnesota’s literary community, and, in 2008, the National Book Critic’s Circle Lifetime Achievement Award.
(No, her credentials are not what we have in common although I find writing very fulfilling and have always thought it would be fun to write children’s books ~ but the credentials do make it a little intimidating to be writing about her. )
Actually, it is what Emilie has chosen to pursue with her ‘free time’ now that she is officially ‘retired’ that connects us. In 2006, after a long and accomplished career, she began a new journey. She founded The Gryphon Press to create high-quality children’s picture books whose ultimate purpose is to educate kids about important animal issues and the human-animal connection. (It wasn’t mentioned in her bio but Emilie also happens to be a passionate advocate for those who don’t speak human.)
Her publishing company, The Gryphon Press, is named for the mythical bird that represents fair play and justice. It has sold over 400,000 books to date ~ each one compellingly written and movingly illustrated to engage kids in learning about the responsibilities of dog ownership, pet adoption and overpopulation, getting rid of puppy mills, therapy and service dogs, the intelligence of dogs, dog parks, issues of abuse, and more. Most books have won national awards.
“I love the process of putting an artist and an author together, seeing a book take shape and putting it through production but I wouldn’t have gotten back into this if it wasn’t for an important reason,” she told me. “I was reading blogs and stories about how difficult it is to educate about animals and I just thought, ‘I know how to publish books. I can publish books for kids about this and talk in terms they can understand.’ This is a wonderful way to change things.”
Yes, Emilie, it is!
Take for example, Buddy Unchained, the story of a happily rehomed mixed-breed dog who shares his sad memories of life before being rescued. The book sends a powerful message that caring humans can and do help, and includes resource information for adult readers.
Or Always Blue for Chicu, the daunting story of a smuggled parrot’s neglect and suffering who is ultimately rescued and reunited with his soul mate. The book makes the clear point that a bird is a wild animal and formidable pet that can live a very long life and will require significant attention.
Or Are You Ready For Me?, a book (written by Emilie’s daughter, Claire) that helps parents answer the common question ~ “Please, can we get a dog?”. In this story, a dog and puppy at and adoption center ask two children how they will be treated.
Schools and other educational institutions are using The Gryphon Press books and creating lesson plans around them.
“It’s very satisfying to me,” said Emilie. “I’ve had instances where teachers have cried because they haven’t had a way of teaching these kinds of lessons before. I get letters all the time and see kids using our books.”
The only frustration? “Not being able to do more,” Emilie told me.