Sarah Albee is the author of the new children's book Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends. Her many other books include Why'd They Wear That?. She lives in Connecticut.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Dog Days of History?
A: The short answer is, it arose out of a brainstorming session with my lovely editor Ariane at National Geographic. She was also the editor of my 2015 book, Why’d They Wear That?.
The longer answer is, it was a natural thought progression. I love dogs. I love history. Why not a mashup?
Also, if there’s a genre called “dog literature,” I was one of those kids who read the complete oeuvre. I love being able to provide kids with a nonfiction dog book that can pair up with their beloved fictional dog stories.
Q: The book includes so many fascinating facts about dogs--what did you find that especially surprised you?
A: Well, one thing that surprised me was that modern breeds haven’t necessarily progressed in a linear fashion from ancient breeds. We can see what looks like a greyhound pictured on a Grecian urn, or a toy poodle in a Renaissance painting, but they’re not necessarily genetically linked to our modern breeds.
We’ve been shaping and reshaping dogs for specific purposes—hunting, herding, working, companionship—for thousands of years.
Modern breeds as we now define our pets are a relatively recent phenomenon. They emerged during the 19th century with the growing spending power of the middle class. Before that, dogs as pets were a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Prior to the latter part of the 19th century, most dogs, like most people, had to work for a living.
Q: How were the illustrations and photos selected for the book?
A: It was definitely a collaborative effort! For most of my books, I do all the image research myself. Picture research is one of my favorite parts of the book process.
With Nat Geo, it’s a team effort. That can be amazing—the photo editors and design team at Nat Geo found some gorgeous images I would never have discovered myself. But that is not to say we always agreed. There were quite a number of “discussions.”
I’ve come to appreciate the fact that my agenda—finding the coolest, most historically accurate picture—is not always the same as a book designer’s agenda—to find the most dramatic, gorgeous-to-look-at image. We did a lot of compromising on both sides, and the book is all the better for it!
Q: What do you see looking ahead for the relationship between dogs and humans?
A: As long as we are here on earth, dogs will be trotting alongside us. I am thoroughly convinced of that. Dogs are eminently adaptable—they can live in cold climates, warm climates, crowded cities, high rise apartment buildings, ships, soldiers’ barracks…in short, anywhere humans can live. And we will always be each other’s best friends.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a new book that has yet to be announced, so I can’t reveal much except that I am SUPER EXCITED about it and cannot wait to send it out into the world. And after I finish writing this one (it’s almost done!), I have a new project all lined up that is going to challenge me a lot, but I can’t wait to start in on it. I know I’m being vague. I’ll get back to you with details as soon as I can!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes! Wait. I want you to know two things. Can I mention two things?
First, I’m grateful to have the chance to show kids that history can be fascinating, thrilling, and yes, even funny to read.
And second, I want to say again how grateful I am to teachers and librarians. They’re why it’s such a great time to be a nonfiction writer for kids right now. Teachers and librarians are on the front lines, finding the right books for the right kids, and they are putting nonfiction books into the hands of a lot of kids. They’re awesome.*
*The teachers and librarians are awesome, I mean. Well, so are the nonfiction books. And also the kids.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb