Wednesday, October 24, 2012

FOR DOGKIND: Didactic, allegorical, disgusting, and adorable children's book

Just a momentary interruption of our regularly scheduled MT programming ...

My dog Elroy discovered the real origins of dogkind—our evolutionary tale of connectedness and change over deep time—and I recorded it. It's written for dogs, but humans will find that it's manageable from about eight years on up, and it speaks to kids of all ages. Elroy's story engages humans, young and old, in scientific thinking. I'm posting Chapter 1 of the complete manuscript here in hopes of attracting a publisher.

For Dogkind
The Autobiography 
of Elroy Beefstu Stacey 
as told to Holly Dunsworth © 2012

Chapter 1. To the Dogs

This is a story about a story, Kid. It’s about the origin of me, you, and dogs everywhere and how our tale was discovered in the first place. I’m goin on twelve years old and before I get grayer in the face and longer in the tooth, I figure I’d better put this on record. Preserve it. This way, after I’m long gone, dogs can learn about it from the comfort of their pods on the moon or Mars or wherever their spaceships land.
Figure 1.1. Me, now, in my gray-whiskered twilight years. 
Still reekin of rhino droppins, just one of the amazin smells I wanted to share with Bubba and the gang back home, I first realized the magnitude of our tale while standin on the bow of the R.V. Endeavor. We were journeyin from Capetown to Narragansett.

That’s ship’s deck is where, given everything I’d sucked into my eyes, ears, and sniffer and everything I’d smeared all over my fur, it all washed over me like one a those rogue white waves crashin over the gunwale: We’re all connected, not just dogs and prims, but everything. 

Figure 1.2. Connectin up dogs and prims to all the rest like the horned owl, guinea fowl, octopus, platypus, and human. 
(ask HD for sources found by Google)

Speakin a rogue waves, that minor catastrophe’s how Murphy and I nearly lost our chance at comin home on this ship. One a those monsters struck just as we left the harbor. It wasn’t just lucky for us that we weren’t swept overboard. It was lucky for us that the commotion distracted the humans from noticin us stowaways. 

Figure 1.3. R.V. Endeavor: The ship that carried us home to end our three years of globetrottin. (

We’d learnt from prior sea voyages that we needed to make sure to hide good and tight until land was completely out of sight before emergin to greet the humans. If land’s in sight, they’re liable to throw you overboard. But if it’s not, and you’re all surrounded by lonesome waters, even better, shark-infested waters, their lovin hearts and chefin hands can be manipulated into toleratin your presence and maybe even makin you a first mate. 

Figure 1.4. Murphy, now, in her white-faced twilight years.

The best way to use a human is to be useful to them in return. You gotta reciprocate! The easiest way is to be a source of positivity, love, peace, laughter, those sorts of brightenin things dogs are good at. Charm them with cuteness. Follow them around, but don’t be so annoyin and whiny about it. This warms their cockles like you wouldn’t believe, allowin you safe passage and usually some nice meals too. But even better is if you have some sort of skill to share with the humans to really cement the deal. And on the Endeavor, Murphy and I had somethin almost too good for the humans to believe.

“Ding dong! Here’s another one!” shouted Murphy, already up and at ‘em, out of her sleepy dogball, leanin out over the starboard side of the bow, tail waggin, sniffer to the wind.

“Bow, wow! I got it too. There she blows!” I cried.

It’s unmistakable, that stink. Hot, wet tongue, teeth, saliva, and snot. Microbes, diatoms, fungi, parasites and plaque. Burps, sneezes, blood, DNA, hormones, and dinners past. All expunged and atomized into the air and whisked by the ocean breeze straight into our sensitive sniffers. 

Figure 1.5 Stinky whale blowhole.

We could detect a whale way before the humans could, at least without their fancy glowin beepin machines, and, yes, sometimes even better than those machines. And it was whales they were interested in, even more than they were interested in us. We figured out right quick that when they found whales they were happy and when they were happy we got extra table scraps! Extra cheese. So whales made us happy too.

Once they learned how good we were at sniffin out nearby whales, it became such an amusin game for us all, and we earned the spoils for sure. Not the least of which was a trip home to Bubba and the gang.

It wasn’t until after Murphy and I had got round the world, crossed all the wide open spaces, smelt mind-blowin’ly monstrous creatures like those stinky whales; and before that lived with the prims; and before that, done all the silly things you need to do while you’re becomin a dog; it wasn’t until we had all that behind us that it then came rushin back together on the bow of the Endeavor, as if it was before my eyes and inside my sniffer, plain as day: The true story of the origins of dogkind.

And that’s why we have to start this tale at the very beginnin of our lives, eons before we even thought about a trip around the world. And we’ll get right down to that from the first word of Chapter Two.

Now, after hearin this account of mine you might claim that you instead of me could have dreamt up this whole notion of where we came from. And you’d be absolutely right. You may be an extraordinary dog, but I certainly don’t claim to be. Never have.  Despite what all the city tree trunks said. I’m clever, but not exceptionally so. I’m curious, but most dogs I know are. Many to a fault.

Figure 1.6. City tree trunk. Not a tree. 
“Extraordinary” doesn’t fit me but it certainly describes the stupendous journey I made round the world, and all the circumstances, events, and other dogs in my life, especially Murphy, without which and whom I couldn’t have unraveled and deciphered and translated such a transformative and glorious idea as the one that I’m about to explain to you here.

The real heart of the matter, though, is that this tale was already told long ago. Told by the very nature of its existence. And it’s important to me that you get that. We just needed the right dog in the right place at the right time to sniff it out.  And I suppose that havin a dog like me at this stage in the history of dogkind discover it, well, that’s actually part of the whole ancient process isn’t it?

But for now I’ll leave that thought dangle like drool from your jowls. I don’t want to spoil the ending. Although, come to think of it, you’re probably already well-versed in the origin of dogkind, havin heard it from your elders when you were a wee pup, as I shared it with our little dogglings years ago.

Whatever your level of familiarity, it’s my aim to provide you with just a sliver of a bone or a glimmer of a spark in the followin pages. A spark of what? I can hardly say. But I hope it’s in here somewhere. At the very least, it’s my wish that your experience is pleasant and worth your time.

And to the humans out there who are kind enough to read this story: If I could, I’d lie there with you as you turn these pages, my head on your foot, listenin to you babble, breathe, and bite your flimsy claws, hopin you’ll throw me a gasp, giggle, or grunt—anything I can thump my tail to.

Oh, and go ahead and dog-ear the pages. Makes the book cute. 

If we had you at "evolution" or even if you're just potentially interested in helping to get this book published then we hope you contact us at holly_dunsworth at so we can send you the whole manuscript for your consideration. In case you'd like to read some details from our proposal, here you go...

Categories: Children’s chapter book, fiction, science, nature, animals, pets, adventure, travel.

Project status: Complete manuscript. Illustrations needed.

Words: ~20,000 (11 chapters plus small appendix "A People's History of Dogkind")

Target age group: 8 years old and up

Style: Didactic and allegorical while disgusting and adorable.

One sentence summary: A wise and charming old dog tells the story of his life in which he discovers the real story of dog origins.

Between the lines: Evolution’s so obvious, anybody who's curious and adventurous can see it.

Sources of inspiration: This is a dog’s mash-up of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Descent of Man, Expression of Emotions, Journal of Researches (Voyage of the Beagle), and, of course, his Autobiography.

Summary: As Elroy learns the ways of doghood he can’t help but wonder how it all began. When he kills a squirrel and loves it, and then when he lives with prims (wolves) and loves it, he’s transformed. He yearns to find out more about other dogs, other animals, and other ways of being around the world. So he and his pal Murphy embark on an expedition circling the globe, sending messages back home via carrier pigeon that reveal their hard-sought conception of a whole new perspective on doghood and its origins—the story that all dogs around the world tell their dogglings to this day! Upon their arrival home, initial reactions to the mutts’ discoveries are mixed. Most in the pack are fascinated and smell immediately how this new angle fits their, admittedly, limited perspective at the animal sanctuary where they’ve lived their whole lives, but other dogs are deeply offended by the notion that they could share common ancestors with those savage, beastly prims. After recounting the highlights of his life, which has been focused on hunting down life’s biggest questions, our curious mutt Elroy shares how his discovery connects dogs to prims to elephants and humans and even to squirrels, all the way back in time as one big family on earth, all working towards something larger than any one dog, and towards something more magnificent than anything anybody can conjure up behind the sniffer.

Format and illustrations: I’m open to ideas, but for now I'm thinking For Dogkind should be modeled after a 1940s-50s classic children’s hardback. The book needs to look epic, simple, and classic. I’d like the drawn illustrations (like Fig. 1.2) to share the spirit of the figure that I made for the title. A nice recent model for the look is Alexander McCall Smith’s The Great Cake Mystery. Ideally the book includes many small, simple line-drawings and one map. Plus three multi-page “notebooks” of sketches, brainstorms, and ideas with arrows, family trees, Venn diagrams, etc. They will be modeled after naturalist's field notebook. (An alternative to drawings is to use photographs from free, open sources on the Internet. But I'm not sure how the printing costs of color photographs compares to hiring an artist for black and white drawings! I also would just love it if it was in color but only in the dog's visible spectrum but I don't want to get my hopes up with costs.)

Story behind the book: As a teacher and also as a member of a core team of educators with the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, I’m perpetually facing obstacles to learning and accepting evolution, to seeing humanity’s place in nature for what it is. After a particularly stimulating workshop with my Smithsonian team, it occurred to me how funny and downright ridiculous it would sound if a dog was disgusted to learn that he evolved from wolves, the way that humans are appalled by the notion they evolved from monkeys, fish, and primordial goo. I decided that my dogs, Elroy and Murphy, were the dogs to discover evolution and the ones to share their story, our story, with the rest of us. Thus, For Dogkind was born.

Relevance, needs filled, problems solved, importance: People resist the notion that they’re part of the natural world. It’s certainly a problem, and not just in science education, but in how they make decisions and how they behave, overall, in the sociopolitical realm. Evolution—the fact that over many many generations all life on Earth shares common ancestors—is so controversial, still, that only half of American adults admit to accepting it. For Dogkind is a nice allegory for that obstacle—for the potentially dangerous paradigm of human exceptionalism—that we face as educators, neighbors, citizens, and animals in ecosystems. Additionally, For Dogkind is a tale of discovery—something that we want our children to emulate and to achieve, to sink their teeth into and never ever let go.

When I’m not sharin my stories, Holly tells me hers. They’re not half bad. (credit: Julie Dunsworth)

Elroy tweets (without pigeons) at @ElroyBeefstu 

Thanks everyone for allowing us to interrupt the MT this way!
Much love,


Holly Dunsworth said...

I hope the 30 or so tweets they let me send before Twitter suspended my account for being spammy got to at least one group who may be interested.

This is one of the tweets that got out before they stopped me this morning:

"@NRDC FOR DOGKIND: Didactic, allegorical, disgusting, adorable evolution book seeks catalyst or symbiont. …"

On the one hand I'm glad Twitter stops people from sending out multiple copies of the same messages to many different accounts that they follow. But on the other hand... it makes this whole getting published thing even more spammy feeling. The suck-up emailing and cold querying already feels so icky, why'd I think Twitter would be any different? Okay, it did feel different despite the whole getting in trouble thing and having to promise I won't do it again thing. It really does feel better this way, having the stuff up there on the MT, than hiding it away hoping the fishing expedition for an agent hooks one! Onward!

Anne Buchanan said...

How extremely stupid for me not to have thought of that, Matey! Do ask Holly to give you an extra bone tonight!

Holly Dunsworth said...

That's what Huxley said, right?

Anne Buchanan said...

Yes. I don't know why the Matey bit was lost to history.

Holly Dunsworth said...


Holly Dunsworth said...

This is proving to be dangerous for my mental health. Two people (one is me) liked this post to all 549 friends on Facebook.

On the upside two people with about 20,000 followers on Twitter retweeted Elroy's tweet at them!