Talking TOBY and Loveys with the Talented Hazel Mitchell

14332986_10208758045641008_7820831330929635777_nMy copy of TOBY arrives:

When my much-anticipated copy of TOBY arrived from Candlewick Press, I immediately hugged the book. I cried. My own rescue dog, Buddy, started barking as he’s now hypersensitive to people crying. I assured Buddy this was a happy sort of crying. But he only continued to bark, so I sat on the floor while Buddy settled down and snuggled next to me and I read the story of TOBY to Buddy.

The cover. It’s a perfect cover. Elegantly simple and yet evocative, displaying both the dog’s obvious longing to want to play with the tennis ball, and yet his gentle, expressive eyes show a bit of trepidation. You had me at the front cover, Hazel. This would be the case even if I didn’t know Toby, and have known Toby since he first arrived at Hazel’s home in Maine, and as friends, we watched Hazel struggle with Toby’s difficult transition, while she clearly was falling madly in love with this dog. So it was not a surprise when Hazel announced that she was adopting Toby herself.

hazel-and-toby-close-upWhen Toby disappeared:

Then, in July 2014, Toby ran off. I was at a writing retreat on Martha’s Vineyard at the time, checking Facebook multiple times per day for Toby updates. It was heartwarming to see how people from across the country will come together to help a friend. During the 8 days when we were all holding our breath, I always sensed that Toby would return. “He’s just trying to find this way back to you,” I recall saying to Hazel in a private message. “He’s getting close.” When Hazel’s profile picture changed on Thursday, July 17th, to her holding Toby in her arms, you could hear the cheering across the country. Toby had found his way home.

And now TOBY, this wonderful and heartwarming picture book, has found its way into the world.

Why I LOVE this book:

9780763680930-int-1First, the illustrations, starting with the front endpapers, are stunning, offering a sense of what is to come. I know this boy from the get-go; his resilience, his longing, his hope, aided by the perfectly placed subtle clues: The SOLD sign, the newspaper ad at the steps of his new home. I love, love, love Hazel’s signature use of pastel colors.

And then you turn the page again to see the image of Toby beneath the title, his head down. His expressive eyes tell all. I imagine this could have been the real Toby, newly lost, after he ran away. While this image tugs at your heart, you turn the page to start the story, and there’s his boy again, filled with hope. Throughout the story, Hazel strikes a perfect balance, going back and forth between the real struggles of adopting a dog with issues, and a boy, who is determined in the very best way, as Hazel was, to believe in possibility. That with the right amount of love, encouragement, empathy and disciplined training, Toby would grow out of his fears and learn to trust again.

9780763680930-int-2TOBY is the perfect example of a book that works both as a read-aloud and as a wordless picture book, for children who can’t yet read on their own. Hazel’s warm illustrations and her brilliant use of color, along with the paper that Candlewick Press chose to use, all come together to make this book truly special. Then you add Toby’s and the boy’s facial expressions, which are honest and relatable and real.

Verdict: TOBY is a winner in more ways than one.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The lovey question:

As my own debut picture book soon publishes, I asked Hazel to share a few lovey stories, especially since Hazel now has a second rescue dog named Lucy, and the title of my upcoming book is LUCY’S LOVEY.

squeakiesHazel, I still vividly recall the photo of Toby’s loveys draped across the dashboard of your car. Those loveys went everywhere with you when you were searching for Toby. You’d make them squeak, in the hopes that Toby would hear the sound and come running back to you. Does Toby still have these loveys?

Yes we did, we would trudge up and down roads and paths and fields squeaking Toby’s loveys and hoping he would hear them. He still has them! They sit in his bed. Like all children’s authors and illustrators, I anthropomorphized those squeaky toys. I was pretty sure they were grieving just like us.

Lucy and her lovey
Lucy and her lovey

Lucy. You have since adopted another dog. Does Lucy have a lovey?
Lucy has a couple of loveys that came with her from her old home. Her favorite is white bunny, now only one eyed. She’ll lay and lick and nibble and cuddle him for ages.

Do Toby and Lucy share their loveys?
Toby shares his loveys with Lucy. Well actually she hijacks them. Toby isn’t too worried about his loveys anymore. Except for when we are away, then he gathers and hides them.

Toby with his lovey
Toby with his lovey

Loveys can get lost, too. Do you have back-up loveys should either Toby or Lucy misplace their loveys?
They both have several loveys. I think Lucy would be more devastated than Toby … he is a typical boy.

Hazel with her lovey
Hazel with her lovey

What about you, Hazel? Can you share a bit about your childhood lovey?

I have a childhood lovey, still. He is just called Teddy. He has no legs and only one arm left.

Thank you, Hazel, for writing such a memorable, feel-good book, and for sharing your talent, your heart, and the story of Toby with the world. And for the lovey stories, too!

Thank YOU for having us visit! We loved talking about our Loveys … and we all love Lucy’s Loveys! Lucy can’t get over all those babies! She is jealous!


When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all?
A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.

Links for Toby:
Book Trailer:

Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated several books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? ‘Toby’ is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press. Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental, Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Charlotte/Mecklenburg , Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended art-college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips, but is learning to love lobster. See more of her work at Repped by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd.

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