Latest book explores multiple themes, from immigration to puppy mills –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
Friends and fans of author Julie Salamon gathered on Saturday, June 11 at the North Adams Library in Seaman for an informal book signing and discussion of her latest work, “Mutt’s Promise”. Salamon, a graduate of North Adams High School, now lives and works in New York City. “Mutt’s Promise” is her tenth book, and her third book for children. The event was sponsored by the Friends of the North Adams Library.
Salamon’s parents, Dr. Alexander and Lilly Salamon were World War II Holocaust survivors who immigrated to New York after the war. In 1953, they moved to Seaman where her father worked as a physician throughout Adams County until his death in 1971. He donated the land from their family farm for the Alexander Salamon Airport because of his love and gratitude for the place that became home to his family.
Accompanied by her sister Susie, the two reminisced with old friends and neighbors about their childhood years in the county. “We only lived here for 18 years,” Salamon said, but this will always feel like home to us.”
“Mutt’s Promise” is Salamon’s third successful collaboration with illustrator Jill Weber (“The Christmas Tree” and “Cat in the City”). “We had such a good time doing ‘Cat in the City’ that while she was working on the illustrations I began a story that became ‘Mutt’s Promise’,” says Salamon.
The book tells the story of a brave homeless dog named Mutt who ends up living on a farm after saving the farmer’s cat from a weasel-like animal called a fisher cat. Mutt subsequently has puppies which end up in a puppy mill after being given away by the farmer to someone who he thought was going to give them a good home. The story narrates the puppies’ eventual escape and adventures as they try to make their way back to their mother.
While Salamon’s work is packed with both whimsical and dark ideas she says, “It’s a mystery to me where the ideas come from”.
She says much of the lighter side of the story in “Mutt’s Promise” was inspired by her childhood in Adams County, and that Mutt was partially modeled on her childhood dog, Poochie. She describes the pastoral world into which the puppies are born as “an invitation to adventure,where they kept their noses stuck to the ground as they dashed about, inhaling the fragrance of hay, poking their heads into the inviting spaces provided by parked tractors and plows.”
The inspiration for the darker setting of the puppy mill she says is emotionally related to her parents’ experience in concentration camps.
She says the story also mirrors the path of her own life, “The story begins where we began – at this beautiful place in the countryside,” she says, then moves to a terrible place from which they escape and end up in New York City.”
The book, which is aimed at children 8-12 years old, develops several themes: courage, immigration, friendship, personal responsibility, endurance, and survival. Salamon visits middle schools where she discusses the book’s themes with fourth and fifth graders.
“We have discussions about what it means to survive, and whether it is enough to just survive,” said the author. She writes of the lonely farmer who has given up on his dreams, “Disappointment can become like a hungry, living thing. It starts eating away at your ability to feel happiness or even think straight and can get so big, it blocks out every other feeling you might have.” Later in the story when the puppies talk about what will happen when they escape from the puppy mill, she writes “Day by day it became harder to dream. It takes strength to dream, and the puppies were growing weaker.”
“I always looked at my parents as model survivors because they managed to survive and keep their hearts intact,” she says, which I think is not always the easiest thing to do.”
She mirrors that idea in Mutt’s advise to her puppies, “Strength is like a seesaw, sometimes up and sometimes down.”
According to Salamon, the book has become a resource for the Humane Society of America. “They’re hoping to get the book into middle schools because they’re interested in developing what they call a humane curricula, which involves teaching kids not only how to take care of animals appropriately, but also how to be humane to people.”