Monday, October 23, 2017

Jim the Wonder Dog--Writing About Pets

guest post by Marty Rhodes Figley

My newest book, Jim the Wonder Dog, is about a Depression Era Llewellin setter that many believed was either a genius or possessed of clairvoyant skills. This hunting dog predicted seven Kentucky Derby winners, the winners of the 1936 World Series and presidential race. He could also take direction in foreign languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish), shorthand, and Morse code—and recognized both colors and musical instruments. After a thorough examination by veterinarian scientists at the University of Missouri the mystery of Jim remained.  No one could ever figure out how he did those things. 

In the back of my book I have an extensive discussion of oral history. We have a much better understanding of Jim the Wonder Dog and the town where he lived because of the oral history created by the Marshall, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Valley College. In 1997, those two organizations conducted video interviews of people who had known Jim when they were children or young adults. Their recollections have details about Jim and Marshall, Missouri that would otherwise have been lost to time.

Classroom discussion: Discuss what an oral history is, its strengths and weaknesses.

Oral histories capture a moment in history that might have otherwise been lost.
In the case of my book, these personal stories, from people who are no longer with us, about their experiences with an amazing dog they could not forget, let history come alive. Their enthusiasm and love for Jim the Wonder Dog are apparent, as is their obvious enjoyment in having an opportunity to give their honest account of their treasured memories of Jim from so long ago.

Some disadvantages of oral history are: The person who is giving the firsthand account might not have been able to observe everything that happened or his perspective might have tainted what he saw. That person also might not have made an accurate observation because of his location, the surrounding circumstances (such as darkness, rain, or smoke), or his personal circumstances (such as excitement, sleepiness, or poor eyesight).  Finally, that person might not remember accurately.  Memories can fade with time or be influenced by hearing other accounts of the same event. 

Your students can make history come alive by creating their own oral histories by interviewing family members.

It’s important to conduct the interview in an informed manner.
Ask questions one at a time.
Give time for an answer before you ask the next question.
Try to ask questions that can’t just be answered with a yes or no.  Get more detailed responses.
Be a good listener.

Here are some questions  students could ask family members about their experiences with pets.  

Did you have pets when you were growing up?
How old were you when you got your first pet?
What kind of animal was it?
Where did you get it?
Who named it?
Who took care of the family pet?
Where did your pet sleep?
How did your pet show you love?
Did any of your pets have special talents?
What was the most interesting thing your pet did?
Did you feel your pet understood you? Why?
Did you have a favorite pet?
If so, why was this pet your favorite?
What did your favorite pet look like?
Did you ever have more than one pet at the same time?
If so, did they get along?

Bio: Marty Rhodes Figley is the author of several picture books including Emily and Carlo, Santa’s Underwear, Saving the Liberty Bell, and The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard. She grew up in Missouri and now lives in Virginia with her husband and Airedale terrier. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies. Besides writing for kids Marty enjoys making pies and playing the guitar. Visit Marty online at /

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