COVID-19 isolation leads to a children’s book about canine heroes

COVID-19 has been transformational for the fictional lives of Boo and Ted, the family dogs-turned-secret heroes of San Diego author John Dunn.

What started as a family project during lockdown grew into a picture book starring the 5-year-old dogs called “Boo and Ted’s Amazing Adventures: Beach Rescue,” with illustrations by UK artist Holly Withers. The book offers a tale of bravery despite anxiety in a fun way, a welcome message for young kids living with COVID-19’s uncertainties.

The real-life best friends were the favored protagonists in Dunn’s bedtime stories for his daughters when they were young, with the Labradoodle Boo and poodle-Chihuahua Ted going on amazing adventures together once the family left them alone in the house.

“Basically, this started as a COVID project,” said Dunn, a deputy district attorney and Marine reservist by day. “We had a lot of free time on the weekends, especially because the kids’ activities were all canceled.”

Dunn dusted off the best Boo and Ted story for his now-teenage daughters and wife to illustrate. They photocopied and gave out their work to friends, family and neighborhood kids.

“Everyone enjoyed it so much. They were cooped up in COVID and reading it. So, we kind of went from there and decided to find Holly, who did the illustrations, which I really think are magnificent. Very whimsical, and just exactly what I was hoping for. And it morphed from there.”

Dunn worked with children’s book author and writing coach Denise Vega to pare down the text, found Withers through the digital publishing platform Readz, and published the book on Amazon, first with a Kindle version in December 2020 and a paper version in March 2021.

San Diego author John Dunn and the stars of his new book, “Boo and Ted’s Amazing Adventures: Beach Rescue.”

(Courtesy of John Dunn)

In “Boo and Ted’s Amazing Adventures: Beach Rescue,” the pair zip through San Diego to the beach in Coronado just in time to rescue a swimmer in trouble and dash back home before the family returns. Their modes of transportation, which shall remain secret here, add to the whimsy of Withers’ illustrations, done in gouache paint and colored pencil, of San Diego streets and landmarks.

The heart of the story — geared for toddlers to first graders — is the way adventuresome Boo helps timid Ted overcome his fears to launch the adventure and rescue the swimmer.

The pair undergoes a personality reversal of sorts in Dunn’s book.

“In real life, Boo, the big Labradoodle, she’s the shy one. Ted is the little adventuresome one. But having two daughters, I wanted the girl dog to be the leader.”

Boo’s message to Ted after the rescue — “You were brave even though you were scared” — may resonate with Dunn’s young readers at this juncture of the pandemic.

“Kids have a lot of anxiety in terms of being out of school, going back to school, now having friends that are out sick with a deadly disease,” Dunn said. “The message is to try to overcome those fears and take action.”

The book has been a welcome respite for Dunn beyond a lockdown distraction.

“Being a DA, and being a Marine to a certain extent as well, you know, I deal with a lot of heavy subjects. It can be stressful. (The book) is a good, fun, creative outlet that I’ve enjoyed as kind of a side way to be creative.”

COVID has delayed Dunn’s plans to read the book at local elementary schools and preschools for now.

“I love to do voices. And I love onomatopoeias, ”Dunn said, recounting the books he loved to read to his daughters that inspired his book, including“ But No Elephants, ”“ Tuscanini ”and“ How I Became a Pirate. ”

He will post any upcoming readings on his Instagram account, @johndunnbooks, and continues to donate his books to local schools, including Garfield, Jefferson, Birney, Grant, Florence and Monarch. The book is part of the San Diego Library’s local author showcase and is currently on display at the downtown library.

Dunn is already mapping out the future for fictional Boo and Ted, starting with “Boo and Ted’s Amazing Adventure Saving Christmas.”

“Rudolph goes down with an injury, not life-threatening. He just cannot continue to lead the sleigh. Luckily for Santa, it happens on our roof, and Boo and Ted are there to jump into action. Boo, remove willingly. Ted, a little more hesitantly.”

He’s also toying with Ted taking the lead in future stories.

“Maybe I could have Ted teach Boo a thing or two about being kind,” Dunn mused. “We can’t always have Boo being the one teaching Ted. You have to have it reversed.”

“Boo and Ted’s Amazing Adventures: Beach Rescue” by John Dunn, with illustrations by Holly Withers (2020; 28 pages)

Chaffee is a freelance writer.

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