We are very excited to share a guest post from Teacher, Dog Lover and YA Author Sheri Levy about her wonderful first and second novels and her inspiration. She draws on her experience teaching special needs kids and explores our amazing bond with animals, especially the benefits of service and therapy dogs.
Guest post by Sheri Levy:
When the Passion for Animals, Writing and Teaching Special Needs Children Started
As I look back on my life, I see I was always a teacher in one way or another. My mother had me experiment with many hobbies. I fell in love with baton twirling, practiced every day, and gave up play-time with my friends. On weekends I competed, and we sometimes traveled a long distance. At age thirteen, I taught three-ages of marching groups, and many solo students. This activity inspired me to follow my dream of being a teacher. But my heart was set on helping special needs children.
When I married, I worked during the day with Trainable-Handicapped children, and went to school two nights a week to earn two more teaching credentials. I waited for my children to attend school, and began teaching a Multi-Handicapped class.
After sixteen years, I chose to teach an adult-literacy, family parenting program. I did home visits and found myself spending most of my time teaching reading and writing. Reading to my students had been a favorite activity and that didn’t change with my adults.
During my free time, I day-dreamed about writing, took online classes about writing, attended conferences and workshops. Because of teaching special needs children and adults, I had learned about the magic of service dogs with autism, mobility and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was time to begin my research for my first book.
My husband and I had raised five dogs by then, and I trained the later ones, which were Australian shepherds. I began my research which explores our bond with animals on my phone calling around the United States. One day I connected with PAALS (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services). This certified and respected group was only an hour-and-a-half from my home.
Sparking an Idea with PAALS (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services).
I spent hours interviewing their volunteers and taking notes. One young girl, Madison, was a puppy raiser and she explained her job. This gave me an idea for my main character, and I started planning my story. My novel setting would be on Edisto Beach, a favorite vacation spot. I used my experiences of being on this quiet beach, the sea life surrounding us, and turned the plot into a young adult novel.
Because of my research, I promised to support PAALS with my book proceeds. They in turn, have supported and included my novels in their advertising. And I can’t help but share their awesome work in my stories. During the PAALS graduation ceremonies, it is over-whelming to hear the stories from their clients. The dog wears a graduation cap, and the client tells how their dog has changed their life.
PAALS client, Jorey Fleming, stood up and spoke in December, 2016. He shared that he had received his service dog for autism, four years earlier. He began his story about strangers approaching him on school grounds, asking about his dog. This forced him to interact with the people. As he learned to carry on conversations, he volunteered in activities at the University of South Carolina. His many commitments at school and his outstanding grades, brought attention to his academic performance. He was the first student with autism to be awarded the American Rhodes Scholar award. He plans to attend Oxford College for his Master’s degree in the Fall.
The First Novel “Seven Days to Goodbye”
My first young adult novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, introduces Trina who has lost her best friend, her white German shepherd. At age thirteen, she believes if she becomes a puppy raiser, she can train puppy after puppy and never worry about them dying. But she never thought about getting attached.
The fun part of writing this story was having Trina’s first puppy meet Logan, a young boy who has autism, and to have her trained service dog make a magical connection with him. Adding teen issues of growing up at different stages and being self-involved, Sarah, Trina’s best friend begin to have issues. Trina is surprised when she discovers Logan has two older brothers. This throws a kink into the story as Sarah is interested in the same brother who likes Trina.
Topics in a YA story usually cover complex themes and connect the reader to some type of emotional truth. This can be a powerful force for self-discovery and help the teen decide on the type of person they want to become. I enjoy using the theme of helping others in my novels.
The Sequel “Starting Over” Coming Soon
The sequel, Starting Over, introduces the subject of life changing decisions. Even though Trina believes in herself, and continues to train service pups to help people with special needs, she is shy and not confident.
When a new angry girl shows up at the barn, Trina decides to risk her safety to help Morgan, and overcome whatever issues she’s hiding. Morgan has money, a beautiful and talented horse, and competes in horse trials. How can she be so mean and unhappy? With the help of Trina’s newest puppy, Trina uncovers Morgan’s secrets and discovers more about herself.
Thank you Sheri, we can’t wait to read the books.
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