Kids, Dogs, and Dolls ~Tanya Hanson

MarryingMinda Crop to UseToday it’s about kids. One, Patty Reed, aged 8, survived the “starved camp” of the Donner Party in 1846. And another, Feddie Harper, 11, is a present-day kid who lived in my head and comes to life in my new release by my other me, Anya Novikov. Black Dog, White Dog is part of the fun and wonderful anthology  My Dog Can Do Magic, from the Prairie Rose Publications imprint, Tornado Alley. I wanted to write something my little grandsons could read. The story is inspired by the horse rescue where I muck and feed, and where I have set up a reading program for our youngest volunteers.

Pearl, at the rescue
Pearl, at the rescue

But back to Patty. Her father James Reed was the actual founder of the Donner Party, and his family of six  was one of only two families to survive intact after the dreadful winter entrapment near Lake Tahoe.

Martha Jane (2)

The well-off Reeds started the journey in a two-story wagon so elaborate the party somewhat snidely nicknamed it “the Pioneer Palace.” However, like everybody else, the family was forced to lighten the load along the way. Yet Patty couldn’t part with “Dolly”, a four-inch wooden toy she kept snug and secret in her pocket. Dolly helped keep Patty company in the darkest of times. You can see a copy of Dolly today at the Emigrant Museum in Truckee, and the real artifact, at Sutter’s Fort State Historical Park near Sacramento.


“Patty” Reed, (February 26, 1838-July 4, 1923) was born in Sagamon County, Illinois, and christened Martha Jane. Today’s Martha Street in San Jose, California, is named for her. After the harrowing winter, Patty was part of the first of four relief parties that evacuated the survivors. For many years after the rescue, her parents managed a mildly successful life in northern California. Widowed in 1876 after a happy marriage to Frank Lewis, Patty supported her seven kids by running several boardinghouses in the San Jose area.

I was happy to read that normal life was possible for somebody who had endured such horror. I highly recommend the book Desperate Passage, by Ethan Rarick, if you are interested in the Donner party. This incredible book is impossible to put down.

In my story, Feddie Harper is trying to survive the death of his beloved black Lab, McKnight. Yup, it’s Feddie, no R, although everybody messes up and calls him Freddie. grrrrr. Volunteering at the nearby horse rescue helps him find a life-saving dog…in more ways than one.

Black and white

Add a touch of California Chumash history and legend, and well, Feddie’s summer turns out pretty good!  Will he and Helene have more adventures? I think so!  (Of course there’s gotta be a girl!)

How about you? Have you ever had a special doll or dog that helped keep you company as you navigated through a hard time?

My_Dog_Can_Do_Magic_Web (2)


Excerpt:     Mom taught third grade at his school. Luckily, Feddie had never had to enroll in her class. Oh, he knew she was a cool teacher, but what did you call your mom if she was your teacher? Mom? Mrs. Harper?

“Which reminds me…” Mom started off again.

Feddie’s heart thumped. He read her mind, too

“Your summer book list. Have you started?” She definitely tossed him a classroom glare.

“Mo-om. School’s been out, like, an hour.”

“More than a week now. And you have six books to read for your reading journal.”


“Thing is…you know Mrs. Wegner from school, don’t you?”

“Mom.”  He rolled his eyes. “It’s a small school. Know. I know everybody.” Then he ground his teeth.  If she thought for one second to get him a tutor he’d…

“Well, she’s a volunteer at the local horse rescue.”

Horse rescue?  Feddie perked up at that.  Like McKnight’s ears had when he heard something. Horses were almost as cool as dogs. “So?”

“Well, I thought that was something you and I could do to pass the time. There’s an orientation meeting this afternoon.”

“All right.”  Anything to postpone the reading list.

“Thing is…volunteers under twelve aren’t allowed in the stalls.”

“I’ll be twelve in September!”

“It doesn’t matter. You aren’t twelve yet.  Anyway, I want to muck to get some exercise.  There’s a reading program where kids read to the horses. You could do that while I clean stalls.”

“What?  Read to the horses?”  Well, it wasn’t that weird of an idea. He’d done his homework with McKnight his whole life.

“Yes. That way, the horses get acquainted with the next generation of volunteers. And with you having a list of books to read, it just seems fortuitous.”

Another big word.  She did it all the time.  He grumped out loud. “English, Mom.”

Available for pre-order. Release date March 10.


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36 thoughts on “Kids, Dogs, and Dolls ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. I had a dog named Sugar. I was looking forward to becoming a big sister when I was in the second grade but it was not to happen as my mother had a miscarriage. A few weeks later, I was taken to pick out a puppy and Sugar lived until I was in college. She was my baby and we had such fun, She was a dandy¡

    • Hi Melanie, oh, Sugar wounds like a true and wonderful friend, and all the way to college! This is such a touching post. Thanks for sharing with us today. It’s always good to see you here.

  2. Hi Tanya:
    you’re amazing, always trying new things. I love that you’re writing something that your grandchildren can enjoy. Feddie sounds like a great kid.
    I’ve always had either a cat or a dog to see me through the rough spots. But when my Akita passed a few years ago it hurt so much I never did get another animal pal. Maybe. Some day.

    • Hi Robena, oh, I know that pain well. Our two black Labs helped me get through Hubs’ cancer battle (he’s cured, thank God) but shortly after remission, our girl Marley stopped eating…sudden untreatable cancer. I thought I’d come apart…again. Then after she passed, the boy Seau just failed….we haven’t been able to get another dog since. But the day is coming. So I completely understand. My friend, thanks so much for posting today! xoxoxoxox

  3. Hi, Tanya–I’m proud of you branching into a new genre. I’ve thought about writing children’s books or mid-grade stories, but I do realize my limitations. Not for me.
    You have a perfect backdrop for stories, working with the horse rescue group, and I’m certain you’ll find even more success with your writing.

    • Hi Celia, thanks so much for your kind words. I have got to give credit to Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints for giving me so many opportunities and even more than that, giving me confidence and support. I had great fun doing preliminary research on the Chumash tribe for this story. So many seeds kids could learn while having fun reading an adventure story! And big people can enjoy it too LOL. I call it a story for the young and young at heart.

      I so appreciate you commenting today! xox

  4. Years ago when I was growing up… my two best friends were my dog Misty and my bird Oscar… Misty was a sweet and beautiful dog… Oscar would guard my room, play games with me and give kisses… I loved both and was deeply saddened when they each passed away.

    • Hi Colleen, oh bird kisses! I am so enjoying that image in my head right now! I love birds, even the noisy raven-crows that caw, caw, caw endlessly. And I’ve got to say, there is nothing like a dog and their unconditional love.

      Although the Chumash “rainbow bridge” is a different mythology than our modern concept of the Rainbow Bridge where our critters wait for us…both bridges are part of Black Dog, White Dog. Sigh.

  5. Hi Tanya
    I love that you have incorporated bits of your experience with rescue to this book. Sounds like fun. And I love the idea of reading to the horses. Great little story so far. I want to read it!

    • hi Charlene LOL, I am writing a Valentine story for The Wild Rose Press right now, a contemporary, and you guessed it…there’s a horse rescue. Amazing how real life intrudes on our stories, huh? I think you will like Black Dog…Evers and Kira as well as Rhys will have to grow up a bit before they can read it, but I will have a copy for you for future. I think Carter can handle it pretty soon. Thanks as always for your friendship and endless support. xoxo

  6. I’m so excited. I am always scouring for books to read with my little guy. He loves dogs, and magic, and I think this anthology sounds perfect for him. 🙂

    • Oh Sam, you are so sweet. That’s the true gold standard, if my friends like something I’ve written. Gulp. Sure hope you guys do! Thanks so much for commenting today. It means so much to me. xoxox

  7. Tanya, I absolutely loved your story in the My Dog Can Do Magic! anthology and look forward to more (hopefully!) stories with those characters. The horse rescue is a wonderful backdrop for your characters!

    Growing up, I had a white tom cat named…Tom! LOL But he was an outside cat…and well, we know what happens to outside cats. Word was some old man a block over (who was a mean old cuss) poisoned several of the neighborhood cats, and we figured Tom was one of them. That was a very sad day, when he didn’t come home.

    I wanted a puppy so much, but my parents always said no–no one had fenced yards in our little town, and I suppose they were afraid a puppy wouldn’t last long, either. But I’m making up for lost time! I’m the proud grandparent of my “granddog”, Embry, who has lived with us for many years when my daughter had to move to place with no fence, and then to an apartment. He’s a great Pyrenees and has been sickly from the day she brought him home from the rescue as a puppy, so I count it a true blessing that we have him, and he has us. He is the KING at our house! LOL

    Great post–you are really branching out and taking off, lady! So many wonderful projects in the works!


  8. Cheryl, it’s so funny…when you asked me to submit. the story just formed inside my head. Every single word just flowed. Thanks, my friend and wonderful editor, for the great opportunity. Losing our own black Lab to sudden cancer just broke my heart and helped form another plot point in the story.

    But I also had a great kitty cat in my life, too. Butch thought he was a dog, he acted just like our yellow Lab.. One day he just didn’t come home. Thing is, he never WOULD have left our dog. We checked and checked with the animal shelter for weeks, put out reward signs. Nothing. He liked to explore and often searched out our RV, so I just hope he found his way into somebody’s camper and when they headed back home (it was Christmastime) he ended up being part of their family. Sob.

    SO glad Embry found love and care with you. Hug his royal highness for me. xoxo

  9. Tanya, that excerpt is delightful! Feddie’s got one heckuva personality. I’m looking forward to reading his story — and the others in My Dog can do Magic!

    We never had pets when I was growing up because we moved so often (21 times before I turned 18). Every summer when we kids went to spend time with one or another relative, we made up for lost time. It was really hard to get us to leave the horses and cows and dogs and assorted other critters alone. 😀

    I’ve been owned by dogs ever since I was 18, and I’ve loved them all. Right now I’m owned by four, two of whom are rescues. Lest I forget my place, they frequently remind me “the staff” is allowed to live in the house only because that makes it easier for “the staff” to attend to them. 😉

    • AW, Kathleen, you know my heart is thumping at your rescue dogs. We’ll be doing that when the time comes for our next pup. We didn’t ever have a dog, a great cat, though. I know full well how we truly are our pets’ servants LOL. Thanks for the post. xo

  10. Tanya, I’ve always had a dog in my life, from German Shephered to Basset Hounds, and they’ve all been unique personalities –special unto themselves, as much individuals as the people I’ve met. It’s great you’re sharing your love of animals with your grandson. Keep going!

    • Hi Richard, I liked this page “I love my German Shepherd” on Facebook and get the darlingest pix of that breed. And on a walk just the other day, I got to pet a passing-by Basset Hound. Oh what a cutie, those ears. Each critter sure is unique, huh? We had three Labs at once and just like kids, they had their own personalities, their own do’s and don’t. Aw, I miss them. Thanks so much for stopping by today, fellow dog lover.!

  11. Tanya, the story sounds so sweet. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to write for children.
    I had no idea you volunteered at a horse rescue. Now I really admire that.
    My Golden Retriever, Lily, and my black and white cat, Liberty, are my buddies. They greet me when I come home and hang out with me wherever I am in the house. Without them things just wouldn’t be as good. No matter who might be mad at me or have unkind words, my fur babies still love me.
    When I think of what happened to the Donner party, a cold shiver runs through me. It must have been unbearable, especially for the children.
    I wish you every success and happiness, Tanya.

    • HI Sarah, yeah, after the last of our three Labs passed away, I wanted to help out animals, especially since we have decided to wait a while to get another dog. We travel a lot and are gone sooo much. I love the horse rescue, not only because I’m learning more about horses for my writing, and of course, settings for my stories LOL, but our horses have a home for life, if they are not adopted after rehabilitation. They all have a sad story, so it’s such a joyous place now that they are all doing so well.

      Oh, I love reading about your buddies! Our next door neighbors have a wonderful Golden whom I have loved since she was a puppy…she comes for sleepovers when they go on vacation. I always get my doggie fix with her.

      I do think substitute-teaching in second grade for five years recently helped me get a suitable “voice” for this story. Fingers crossed LOL. Thanks so much, Sarah, for stopping by today. I so appreciate your good wishes.

      P/s/ The Donner party dogs (5) eventually had to be sacrificed. Sob.

  12. Hi Tanya, how nice to read what the other “you” is doing!

    What got me through bad times as a child was a teddy bear. I called him God. The reason is that the person who gave it to me said, “Let God help you.” I thought she was talking about the teddy bear.

  13. Oh gosh, Margaret, that is the cutest story ever! I can imagine how much God helped you! You seriously must get a God-bear in one of your stories. Too precious. Thanks, my
    friend, for stopping by today. xo

  14. Hi Deanna, thanks so much for stopping by. I feel the healing powers of the horses at the rescue, for sure, so I totally understand your connection to your own horse. No matter how I might be feeling, the horses always make me feel better.

  15. Tanya, great blog and fun. My grandson, who is now in college (yikes) and I wrote a fun little picture book when he was about five and I printed it out. I even read it to his kindergarten class and won a prize for reading the class’s favorite book. Got my pix in the school paper. When he got home that day he was so excited that I won the prize, but more excited that I was also voted the “oldest” reader! LOL Enjoy writing for your grands! As you know I’m fixin’ to have a knee surgery and ACL repair and both of my cats won’t leave my side at night. If I get up to take care of business they are right behind me. They never slept with me before. It’s kinda like they know I’m in pain and need to watch over me. Now, what in the heck they’d do if I got in trouble I don’t know, but I bet they could get my D/H awake one way or another. Again, enjoy your writing for your grands and others. Big hugs, my friend, Phyliss

    • Oh Phyliss, what a darling idea, that personal picture book. Hope you still have it! Oh, and those cuddle muffin kitties keeping you warm and cozy. Hugs to you, dear friend, and best of luck with the surgery. Hubs has done it twice, both knees…gotta keep it cold. You’ll super need the kitties then,too. xo

  16. I had a wonderful baby doll that my grandmother sewed clothes for. She was wonderful and would now be considered an antique. We moved when I was in 7th grade and most of my things disappeared. We also had a wonderful dollhouse that vanished. You would think during a move of 10 miles to a bigger house nothing would have gotten lost. I still have her clothes and hope some day to have another one like her. I keep looking in antique shops.

    Love the sound of Feddie’s story. “Having” to read for school over vacation is resented by many children. I love the programs in libraries that bring dogs in for children to read to. Sharing with a nonjudgmental listener makes takes the pressure off the reader. Reading to horses is a new one to me, but why not. It would get them used to each other so they would be old friends when they started working together. I look forward to reading this anthology.

    • Hi Patricia, yup, we got the idea from the reading-dogs at the libraries. Also a volunteer’s little girl had been reading to the horses for years, so we thought let’s get a program started for other kids. When I was a sub-teacher, one elementary school had a teacher who brought his Golden Retriever to school each day….the pup slept in the back of his trick. The kids were welcome to go talk to the dog…helped them find comfort when they had problems. Or even if they just needed a hug. I love that idea. Thanks for posting!

  17. Tanya, loved your blog and excerpt and can’t wait to read Black Dog, White Dog. I too am a lover of dogs, horses, all animals and wildlife too. My dad raised English setters for hunting–never charged anyone to use the dogs, they just had to be good hunters. I spoiled those dogs any chance I got–my dad would just shake his head. For St. Pat’s Day when I was in junior high and my dad was out bowling, I took green food coloring(mixed in water) and washed the dog. Yep, Jiggs was a lovely medium shade of green(took almost 3 weeks to fade with numerous washings). When my dad returned home, Jiggs had a green felt shamrock around his neck, a corn cob pipe in his mouth and a green tam scrunched about his ears. Jiggs always walked me to and from school and that morning when the principal saw him, he allowed Jiggs into the school(only dog ever allowed such a privledge). He walked the halls proudly and even made the newspaper. My dad was a mild tempered, easy going man; he was NOT happy but a day he laughed with us–I never did such a thing again. Since then I’ve always had a dog, am on the board and volunteer at the animal shelter and have a wonderful part black lab who was rescued. I fostered him for a weekend and found that although he’d been beaten, neglected and nearly starved to death(he was 6 mos. old when rescued) he was and is one of the most loving dogs I’ve ever had–yep, had to keep him as I’ve done with others. It’s so painful to loose them, but there is nothing like a dog to warm your heart. Thank you so much for all you do with and for dogs and horses. And wishing you much success with all your stories.

    • Beverly, thanks for posting! I cracked up at our story about poor green Jiggs…and my heart warmed at your loving home and hugs for that precious black Lab. I treasure animals and am so glad to find so many others do too.

  18. I have never really been a doll person, but I did have a special dog. When I was in 7th grade we moved mid-term. Shortly after we moved I got a really cute dog. Pepper helped me navigate junior high in a new school, in a new town. He was a part of our family for over 10 years. He saw me through high school, college, and planning a wedding.

  19. Hi Shirley, dogs just know what we need, don’t they? And junior high is a tough place to begin with. SO glad you had Pepper along on your other important life journeys. I am so happy you stopped by to comment! Thanks.

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