Hardy Plumbing
August 09, 2006

Gail Page: Coming Home to Sag Harbor

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Gail Page is a Sag Harbor girl and proud of it.

"I have vivid memories of going with my mother to the John Jermain Library in Sag Harbor as a child, and choosing from all the wonderful books," recalled the children's book author and illustrator. "My favorites were Curious George, Dr. Seuss, The George and Martha Series, anything by Maurice Sendak and the Little Bear books.

"I remember the head librarian, Mrs. Reidy. She's retired now. But I'm giving a book reading and signing at the library on August 19, and some of the current librarians were classmates of mine at Pierson High School."

The book she will be reading is How To Be A Good Dog, recently published to a rave review in The New York Times Book Review.

It is the delightful, hilarious and truly touching story of a high-spirited dog named Bobo, who really wants to be a good dog. But when his owner finally has enough and sends him off to the doghouse, it's Cat who misses him the most and is determined, armed with a how-to book, to help Bobo learn how to become a good dog.

The illustrations are colorful, bold and spare, evoking a broad range of complex emotions. There are laugh-out-loud depictions of Bobo's ebullient behavior, as he raids the refrigerator, demonstrates the joys of barking and eats someone's book of homework.

There is also a heartbreaking scene of his exile. A disarmingly simple portrayal of his doghouse, off in the far corner of the backyard, conjures up more loneliness than an endless, empty prairie.

Page said, "The published copies of Good Dog were sitting in a warehouse awaiting a release date a few months away. But then, Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read the book aloud on National Public Radio, with his dog, Lulu, barking in accompaniment. The reading caused such a stir that the release date was pushed up, and a second print run of the book was ordered before a single one from the first run had even left the warehouse."

It was the kind of book introduction every author dreams of. Still, Page's path to her auspicious publishing debut was anything but a direct route.

"After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, I worked as designer for Sue Brett Dresses. Realizing city living and the fashion business was not for me, I left to travel and three years later my husband and I settled on the coast of Maine. After having a baby, life changes in ways you just don't expect," said Page, as her career took a back seat to raising a child.

"Sometime around 1990 I entered a Dr. Seuss competition for unpublished children's book authors. It carried a $50,000 prize. Although I

didn't win it, I did receive an honorable mention. It also led me to write my first book, which was about three men traveling to work in a cloud."

Page has had a colorful career in a variety of industries. "I fell into a home health care career. I also started a business of my own, creating hand-painted clothing. Although I did fairly well with them and had no shortage of orders, it became more about productivity than creativity. I realized that what I'd really created was my own sweatshop."

She began to paint floor cloths and sell them at craft fairs. At one point they were featured in Good Housekeeping and Do It Yourself Magazine. "It was a very difficult period in my life. It was kind of a low point for me. I was going through a divorce, and there were some other difficult situations. I wondered if I was making some comment about myself by creating art that people walked all over," Page said. Throughout this time, she never gave up her dream of publishing a children's book.

"About 10 years ago, a boyfriend at the time showed some of my work to his agent and she really liked it. She sold Good Dog to Scholastic. Silly me, I was so green, so nšive, I assumed that my initial effort was a finished book. It was quite a surprise to me when my editor at the time would send it back with corrections and suggestions and reassurances that we were, 'almost there.' This went on for four years!

"Finally, we agreed the book wasn't working. A few years later, my agent sold the book to Bloomsbury. It went much more smoothly this time."

"After this book," she continued, "I'd love to write a story about the wonderful things I did as a child growing up in Sag Harbor. Seeing Mrs. Browngard who worked in the bakery, going to the Paradise for a lemon custard ice cream cone, to the Barry's dry good store to buy fabric, shopping at the five and dime and stopping by Cilli's Farm to feed the cows. It was just such a wonderful place to grow up, and writing about it would be a great way of bringing things full circle."

Speaking of things coming full circle, when Page reads to the children at the John Jermain Library, it will be in the very same room that she discovered her very own favorite childhood books, including the Little Bear Series written by Elsa Minarek. And it is Minarek who has contributed the blurb on the back cover of How To Be A Good Dog. She gives it "two woofs, a meow and a hurrah!"

Page returns home Saturday, August 19, at 11 a.m. to read at the John Jermain Library in Sag Harbor.

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