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Dog's best friend

"Dog's best friend" Continued...

Issue: "Kids' books," Dec. 2, 2006

WORLD: The Hank books include a lot of earthy humor. Hank bathes in the sewer. Wallace the buzzard throws up on the coyotes: "That would be bad enough if he ate decent food. But buzzards don't eat decent food. When one throws up on you, what you're getting is dead skunks, dead rats, rot and corruption." Do you ever get complaints?

ERICKSON: No. I operate a 7,000-acre ranch and spend a lot more time with animals than with people. My descriptions of animal behavior are honest and accurate. Ranch dogs lounge in the overflow of the septic tank and buzzards throw up when they're disturbed. If you compare this kind of behavior with the political news we've been hearing this fall, it seems rather wholesome and innocent, doesn't it?

WORLD: You wrote that you once received three letters in a month from mothers of autistic children. You found out later why the books connected with these kids. Would you explain?

ERICKSON: One of the mothers explained that autistic children fight a constant battle against mental chaos. They crave structure and order. My stories are tightly structured. They all have happy endings and in every story, justice is affirmed. The grotesque irony is that, while the mothers of autistic children fight day and night against mental chaos, popular culture scoops it out by the ton: frantic television images that have no coherence, movies that can't distinguish between heroes and villains, art that seems to have lost all vision of form and beauty.

WORLD: Perryton, in the Texas panhandle, is a ways off the beaten track. Lots of decisions about children's book publishing come out of New York. How does your perspective differ from the conventional?

ERICKSON: Because we self-published the first 10 Hank books out of our garage in Perryton, Kris and I were able to control the content and make them the kind of stories we wanted for our own three children. The stories create a loving portrait of the life, values, and gentle humor of rural America. I've had the unique opportunity of being an author who is part of his community. My work is measured by the same common-sense standards that apply to carpenters and plumbers-an excellent discipline for writers, I think.

WORLD: You've been writing children's books for almost 25 years. You also do a lot of book signings. Have you noticed any changes in your audience?

ERICKSON: My original audience was adults involved in agriculture. Once the books got into the schools, I was doing performances for kids in third through fifth grades, mostly in public schools. Today, I'm spending more time in Christian schools and at conventions of homeschoolers. I think Christian groups were slow to recognize the spiritual dimension of my work. It's pretty subtle, but we must face the possibility that God has a sense of humor. After all, He's the one who built the first dog.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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