“Pets and Their Famous Humans” is a new book by author Ana Gallo and illustrator Katherine Quinn. The book features an array of stories about the pets who belonged to some of history’s most famed artists, musicians, writers, and scientists. The book is full of delightful true-stories written in quick tidbits that are perfect for children to read akin to small chapters in a larger book. Some of the stories, such as Mozart’s beloved starling signing his melodies, are so heartwarming that they remain memorable long after the book has been completed.
Recently author Anna Gallo discussed the book via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for writing and why do you gravitate towards children’s books?
Ana Gallo (AG): I was lucky to have two big readers as parents. So, I started reading every book they put in my hands since I was a child. When I was around ten, one day I felt I needed something else, so sometimes I took a piece of cardboard, papers and colors and I made up a crafted book (later, I knew this was call editing process) and then I wrote on the empty paper my own stories. When I grew up writing was a necessity, a therapy, a company, everything!Then I studied journalism, and after some years I realized that I did not like to be a reporter, but at the same time I was working as health editor in a newspaper, I had the opportunity of working as a proofreader in a publisher dedicated to children’s books. Was then I discovered the challenge of kid’s books. Later I moved to Barcelona started working as a freelance for a big publisher as editor of children collections. After this publisher closed its activities, I kept writing for others publishers which demanded me texts for non-fiction children publications, so it was a natural evolution to it.
MM: What inspired you to write this series about famous people and their pets?
AG: Normally I am hired to write non-fiction books or articles which are part of general books for adults or children. In this case the idea was proposed to me from my editor, Zahorí Books, the Spanish original publisher of the book. We both love dogs and when she read in an article that Freud attached great importance to his dog’s reaction to his patients, the idea came up to her. The project had three themes I love: animals, children books and art, so Pets and His Famous Humans
was a gift more than a job.
MM: How much research did you do into this and how did you decide which people/stories to feature?
AG: The research was not easy because there is not much information about famous pets in the past. People didn’t write or pay much attention in conversations or interviews to their domestic animals. I mean, that was not a common or social topic as today. Fortunately, some biographers did a good job and help me to follow the trail of this everyday life of famous people with their pets. In modern ones, as Andy Warhol or Karl Lagerlfeld, there was more information because mass media became more present since the mid-twentieths. Other important information sources were friends or their closers who wrote about anecdotes of celebrities and their pets. And, of course, I needed images to visualize the whole thing, so the research of the paintings and photographs of these famous persons with their pets have been a very important part of the research.
MM: What stories really surprised and/or delighted you?
AG: I was surprised by the simple fact of seeing how these important characters, that seemed to me far from normal humans, loved their pets. It’s been like discovering another side of their personality, sometimes a marvelous side, not the public but a real one. As if you open the door of a star’s home that you admire and see that besides an artist is someone tender, who also need to be loved, shortly, you see the human side. It has been amazing to see how deep feelings some of them had for their pets, even for bearing them in mind at the end of their lives, as Paul Klee, Sigmund Freud, Georgia O’Keeffe or the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.
MM: How did you find the publisher and how have they been marketing this book?
AG: As a freelance writer I have been developing contents for Zahorí Books since they started their business in 2007. I have written some of their packaged ideas for non-fiction books and also written the contents of illustrated books they come up. I haven’t got the information about how they marketed this book but as far as I know that it’s been translated from Spanish to German, English and Catalan. In US is published by Prestel.
MM: How did you find the illustrator and how much say did you have over the art style?
AG: My publisher selected Katherine Quinn, from New Zealand, after following her works in Instagram. She contacted with her British agent Jehane and Katherine was immediately thrilled with the idea. That’s how she formed the Pets and Famous’s global team! The art style of the book was a question between the publisher and Katherine, I only could say I love it since the very beginning.
MM: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
AG: First, I want to transmit that having a pet can make our life better. Some of these creators went through hard times: depression (Virginia Wolf), solitude (Georgia O’Keeffe) and even the weight of popularity (Einstein) menaced them sometimes. I am sure they could keep creating and working in better conditions thanks to de calmness and warm company their pets gave them.
I would also like to arise readers’ curiosity to get a better knowledge of these art and science creators and make them to use internet to find out about their works. Finally, in a world that “being a celebrity” is a career in itself for many young people, I also want to show these persons became famous because they contribute to the world with new visions, new concepts and rules in arts or science. I show all of them also were children and had to discover what they wanted to be and do. For some of these famous, parents teachings were decisive —Klimt started working in his family studio and Picasso learnt from his father, an art teacher—, but when they had enough experience they overpass the rules they have learnt, they looked forward and never stopped following their own impulses and ideas. However, others, as Matisse or T. S. Eliot, since the beginning had to deal with parents who believed art or literature were jobs to starve to death, so they had to fight harder to follow the path they had chosen; even Newton was destined to become a farmer… until his family had to recognize he was better using his head than his hands and could dedicate all his life to think. So that’s something I would like young readers to get: find your special ability, make your own way and persist on it. But not to become famous, just to be happy and satisfied for doing your best. And if you have an animal, be sure you will always be for your pet the most famous person.
MM: What other topics and themes might you like to address in future books?
AG: I enjoy writing about those subjects I never lose my curiosity, such as history, art, human beings or any theme that I can show the subject in a different perspective. But I am always so busy writing projects publishers demand me that maybe in the near future I should take advantage of this coronavirus confinement and address to fiction stories. One never knows where the positive effects of a crisis can take you…
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
AG: Now I’m involved in the next book of a brainteasers stories series (called” Enigmas” in Spanish and “Sleuth & Solve” in English). This will be the fourth tittle of this amusing and successful collection, that have been already translated in eight languages. Everyone is dedicated to a subject: mystery, history and horror stories. My stories are illustrated by the renowned Spanish illustrator Víctor Escandell whose studio proposed the original idea to Zahorí Books, the Spanish publisher.