Episode 59: Animal Stories for Children with Author Claire Eckard

On this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our guest is Claire Eckard, a children’s book author who grew up in England and now lives in Arizona with her husband and has a ranch with lots of animals. There’s no doubt in my mind after this conversation that Claire is an animal-lover! She wrote a lovely picture book for children called Bentley and the Magic Sticks, which we get to talk about today. It reminds me a bit of Clifford the Big Red Dog and The Rainbow Fish (both childhood favorites of mine). We also get in to talking about other works she’s finished and has in progress, and swap some great book recommendations.

Visit Claire Eckard online on FacebookInstagram, or her website.

Here's the list of all the great books we talked about on today's episode! 

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Bentley and the Magic Sticks 

Claire regularly volunteers with the Humane Society of Yuma, which is where she met and adopted Bentley. He is the inspiration for this book. I thought by telling his story, not only would it entertain children but it would also give them some good things to think about and how to treat other people. 

Anne York is the Illustrator for this book, and she really brought the animal characters to life in a fun way. 

I felt like Bentley's pack of animal friends reminded me of Clifford the Big Red Dog and his animal friends. There's lessons to learn and there's diversity in their little group. Part of the story also gave me The Rainbow Fish vibes. 

Claire and I talked about how reading books is so good for kids because books are what we use to help make sense of the world. She told a story about being a young child travelling between her divorced parents' homes in England and spending the whole travel time drowning herself in books. It really helped her cope with the emotions of leaving one place and going to another on such a regular basis. Reading makes us part of the creation of the adventures because we have to use our imaginations, and it's "such a great way to use our minds." 

Claire's other book is available for pre-order and should be out in mid-June - Geribo, The Shelter Cat.  Part of the proceeds of the book goes toward funding for animal shelters. She wanted this book to be fun for kids to read, and also educational about how take care of your own animals and how shelters work. She hopes that young readers will be inspired to get involved or to choose to adopt a pet. 

The illustrator used her own cat, Willie Nelson, to model for Geribo, except for Geribo has extra-large paws (which is the reason he thinks he's yet to be adopted from the shelter). 

In addition to educating and inspiring children, she also wanted Geribo's story to honor the hard work of animal shelter volunteers across the country. She got endorsements from The Million Cat Challenge and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.

Look forward to a new middle grade series from Claire later this year -- The Gallant series -- about an Arabian horse named Gallant and the little-known sport of endurance racing. It's about this horse and a young girl and their bond as they grow up together. 

Claire was inspired by Julie Suhr, one of the most well-known endurance riders, who continued riding well into her 90's. Claire and her husband have been involved in the sport for many years, and Claire thought this would be the perfect thing to write a series about! 

Classic Horse books: 

National Velvet

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

The Silver Brumby Series by Elyne Mitchell

Misty of Chincoteague  by Marguerite Henry 

Claire enjoys reading for pleasure and will definitely re-read her favorites. One of her all-time favorites is Katherine by Anya Seton. It's a well-written historical fiction based on the story of John of Gaunt and his mistress. It's romantic and set against a rich backdrop. 

The Proud Breed by Celeste De Blasis is a historical fiction three-generational family saga set in California (I'm only finding used copies on the internet).  "For me, the best thing about a book is that it draws you in and you forget where you are, even who you are, because you're becoming the characters and you're integrated into their lives." 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is another favorite...Claire read it in school "and I must have read it 27 times since." 

I recommended The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley to Claire, as I thought she would like the dynamic between the girl, the horse, and the big hunting cat that happens in that book...in addition to the rich setting and interesting character development. 

I talk about how I've read several more children's picture books in the past three months because I've decided I'm allowed to, specifically mentioning Fry Bread. 

I recommended Lovely War by Julie Berry because it's one of my favorite historical fiction novels to recommend and I think Claire would like it. It's well written with a nice twist to the way the story is told (narrated by the Greek gods!?) as well as being a beautiful romance. 

While we were talking about film adaptations of books, I mentioned that I hope we get a quality adaptation of Persuasion eventually. Claire recommends Becoming Jane -- a movie about Jane Austen's own story. (I'm looking this up right now putting together this blog post and it has Anne Hathaway in it...oh my goodness how have I not seen this movie? Adding it to my watch list.)  I mentioned that I really like Ayesha At Last, which is a novel based on Pride and Prejudice, but set in a Muslim community in Canada. (I liked Ayesha better than Unmarriageable, which is Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan...I felt it clung too much to Austen's storyline without any interesting twists (other than the exotic setting, which admittedly is very different than England!)  

I think Claire and Ruth Mitchell should talk about Austen novels and their adaptations...which led me to mention Deleted by Ruth Mitchell (which is futuristic/sci-fi not Austen but also super interesting!) 

Tell us in the comments what book you think should be adapted for film, and/or what you would do if you had to write an Austen adaptation! Be sure to pick up a copy of Bentley and The Magic Sticks from the link below, or wherever books are sold. 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours! 



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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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