Polk, Not Oak

March 9, 20084 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, radio, travel, Uncategorized

Earlier this week I revamped that blog I wrote about taxi drivers and sent it to Chicago Public Radio. I recorded it for them Thursday, and it’s scheduled to air in Chicago on March 12 sometime between 9 and 10am. When we were done in the studio Thursday, the first cab to pull up took Hanni and me without a protest.

I was relieved. It would have been way too weird to be denied a ride in a cab after recording an essay about, well, about having been denied a ride in a cab.

“Dearborn and Polk,” I told the driver. He hit the accelerator. Most riders sit quietly in the back of a cab, fidget with papers, glance out the car window. I can’t. And the way I figure, maybe chatter will help drivers feel more comfortable with Hanni and me. Maybe it’ll encourage them to pick up the next human-and-guide-dog team they come across. So I talk.

“How’s business?” I asked. “Fine,” he said. That was it.

Not in the mood for chatter, I guess. Or maybe he was miffed about having a dog in the car? He sure drove fast. I told him so when he stopped the car and said how much I owed him. His speeding worked in my favor — The fare was three dollars cheaper than I paid on the way out.

I gave him a big tip. I mean, the guy wasn’t Mr. Personality, but at least he picked us up. Besides, I like cab drivers to know that people with disabilities can be big tippers.

After uncoiling from the cab, I picked up Hanni’s harness and commanded “Forward!” She brought me to the curb and stopped like always. We crossed the street to her favorite vacant lot, you know, where she “empties.” As I took her harness off, I reached out to the fence there for balance. The fence wasn’t there. “Wow!” I exclaimed to Hanni. “They finally took that stupid fence down!” Hanni did her business, I buckled her harness back on, and we headed north to our apartment.

The sun was out, and the snow was melting. It had been so long since I’d felt the sidewalk at my feet that it felt odd — Not the same cracks and angles I was used to. Hanni’s pace was quick — she seemed to be enjoying guiding me on sidewalks that were clear of snow and ice for a change.

I started listening for Jazz music – it streams from outdoor speakers at the sandwich joint in our building, that’s my cue to tell hanni to turn left and go to our doorway.
All I heard were birds. Hanni kept up her pace, then finally stopped at a curb at the end of the block. It couldn’t be our block, though. I never heard any jazz.

We must have gone the wrong direction when we got out of the cab. It was a nice day – cold, but sunny – and Hanni was enjoying the walk. I decided we’d continue walking. I was sure to hear, or feel, or smell something that would tell me which way to have Hanni take us.

We walked north, and north, and north. It seemed so quiet. No sound of kids from the local college talking on their cell phones, no smells from coffee shops. “Hanni,” I said.”I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I called out an “excuse me” to the next pair of footsteps I heard. Turns out they belonged to a man named Carl. “I’m a little turned around,” I said. “Can you tell me where we are?” When Carl said we were on Dearborn and Division, I actually laughed out loud.

Division is 20 blocks north of Polk. There had been so many clues to tell me we were far from home – quick ride, cheap fare, missing fence, birds singing, Hanni’s enthusiasm (she always walks faster when we’re in new territory) – but I wanted so badly to be near home that I wouldn’t allow myself to be convinced otherwise. “The cab driver must have thought I said Dearborn and Oak,” I told Carl. (Oak is near Division.)

Carl hailed me another cab and waited while I tucked Hanni’s tail inside. Before he closed the door, he said one last thing: “Thank you for trusting me.”

Perils of Pauline

March 5, 20084 CommentsPosted in book tour, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Writing for Children

Me and Hanni, a.k.a. Pauline, at the end of SAFE & SOUND.Paul Kirk, the principal at Roslyn Road elementary School, was the lucky man who got to introduce us to the student audience at our visit yesterday. During my speech to the kids, I explained the three rules to keep in mind if you happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name.

“Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name wile you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for Hanni. “If you use her fake name to say hi to her, she wont’ notice,” I said. “She’ll think you’re talking to someone else!”

I asked the kids what their principal’s name was. They chorused an answer. “But what’s his first name?” I asked.

Hmmm. Paul wouldn’t work for Hanni. “How about we call her Pauline?”

The kids loved the idea. During the Q & A part of the session, a student asked if Pauline sleeps with me. It was a good question – it gave me a chance to explain that Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed on furniture. “But she sleeps as close as she can to me,” I said. “She lies right next to my bed. If I get up for a glass of water in the night I have to be careful so I don’t step on her.”

Students asked whether or not Pauline likes other dogs, does Pauline ever slip on the ice, what does Pauline do if she comes across a whole in the sidewalk. But then came a question I hadn’t heard before. “Have you ever fallen out of bed?”

“Yes!” I said. It took a second for me to figure out where this question had come from, but suddenly the light bulb went on over my head. “But I fell off the other side – not on Pauline!”

Guide Dogs and Spiders and Wolves — Oh My!

March 3, 20087 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, guide dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

I know, I know. I already went on and on and on in my last post about our book being reviewed in the School Library Journal. But I can’t help myself! It’s just too cool! The review is available online now, too, at the School Library Journal website.

The icing on the cake? In the online version the listings are alphabetical according to the author’s last name. So there it is, Beth Finke’s book, directly above Jean Craighead George’s new picture book about wolves, “The Wolves Are Back.”

Jean Craighead George is a Newbery winner for “Julie of the Wolves” and a Newbery honor winner for “My Side of the Mountain.” She’s one of the most well known children’s authors of our time.

Last week Hanni was listed with E.B. White’s famous spider. This week, with Jean Craighead George’s famous Wolves. What next? I can’t wait to find out!

Positive Review in School Library Journal

February 28, 2008CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, Braille, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Look at Safe & Sound among the greats!School Library Journal likes us! School Library Journal likes us! School Library Journal likes us! School Library Journal likes us!

What? You’ve never heard of the School Library Journal??? Well, you must not be a school librarian – or a children’s librarian – then. Forty thousand librarians, teachers and children’s book lovers subscribe to the School Library Journal every month. An estimated 100,000 librarians, teachers and children’s book lovers read it.

And when the March issue comes out this Saturday, all those people will be reading about Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. Know why? Because the March issue of the School library Journal features a POSITIVE REVIEW of our book!

This is extremely exciting news. One reason I decided to write a childrens book about Seeing Eye dogs is so that… that children would read and learn from it. A positive review in School Library Journal will expose Safe & Sound to tens of thousands of school librarians. And then, who knows? tens of thousands might order Safe & Sound for their school libraries. Just think of how many more kids will have access to our book –and learn about blindness, teamwork and just how special Seeing Eye dogs are.
I’m not sure yet if the review will be available online. Even if it is, it won’t be available until Saturday. But shhhh! For you, my loyal blog readers and Seeing Eye dog fans, I will paste a sneak preview of the review right here –my publisher got an advance copy and sent it to me the minute she got the good news. Enjoy – we sure did! Here goes:

FINKE, Beth. Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. illus. by Anthony Alex LeTourneau.
ISBN 978-0-9792918-0-7.
LC 2007003741.

K-Gr 3–“Look at me!” Hanni, a Seeing Eye dog, explains who she is and her responsibilities as she introduces readers to her partner, Beth, who is blind.
Vigilance is stressed throughout the book, and when Hanni talks about “keeping us safe,” readers know that she is speaking as part of a team. Although there is plenty of information about what a Seeing Eye dog does–and does not do–when at work, this is predominantly a story about relationships: Hanni’s relationship with Beth, with other dogs, and with the world at large as she navigates her partner through it. The pictures are painted in oil and have a soft focus. There are two sets of notes at the end–one from the point of view of Hanni, which describes her training as a puppy, and one from Beth, which explains how she became blind and her decision to get a Seeing Eye dog. These are accompanied by black-and-white line drawings that are much more playful in tone than the rest of the book. A list of online resources is appended. The book is also available in braille. An upbeat and inspiring selection to be used along with Glenna Lang’s Looking Out for Sarah (Charlesbridge, 2001).–Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA

Hanni the Dog + Charlotte the Spider = Heroes

February 27, 20084 CommentsPosted in book tour, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Charlotte’s Web book coverLook at Safe & Sound among the greats!Officer Buckle & Gloria book coverThis Saturday Hanni will be honored at a Champaign Public Library program called “Get Inspired! Meet a Hero at Your Library.” The Champaign library will be recommending favorite books about heroes for the next couple months, and “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” is one of their three picks for march:
1. Officer Buckle & Gloria
Recommended for preschoolers
by Peggy Rathman

The funny on-stage performances of a police dog, teamed with her new partner, teach kids how to be safe at home, in school, and around town.

2. Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound,
Recommended for grades K to 2
by Beth Finke

How will Beth, who is blind, travel safely to work, to the park, or to a concert? Her good friend and guide dog, Hanni, helps her every day!

3. Charlotte’s Web
Recommended for grades 3 to 5
by E.B. White

A clever spider named Charlotte hatches a plan to save her dearest friend, Wilbur the pig

Hanni has been recognized for her heroism before, but being listed right up there with Charlotte the spider? Now, that’s an honor.

The Champaign Public Library’s calendar is full of hero-themed events for the next couple of months – Hanni is looking forward to her time in the spotlight this Saturday at 2 pm.