The Real, True Story of 'The First Pup,' Bo Obama

Amy Keyishian

$13.25 at Amazon
We all saw how President Obama's first order of business in his acceptance speech was to promise his daughters the puppy they craved. First dogs hold a special place in America's heart, and it was a matter of much national importance (maybe a little too much ... ) as he started the huge job of running the country, and interviewers kept asking about ... the dog.

A flurry of books were rushed to press at the time, but none really got at the real story of Bo. Now, Bob Staake, a legendary illustrator and author of The Donut Chef and The Red Lemon, has now brought us The First Pup: The Real Story of How Bo Got to the White House.

I consider myself pretty well-informed, but I had no idea Ted Kennedy was involved with the matchmaking between the Obamas and Bo. I spoke to Staake this morning, and learned lots more about how this book came to be -- and why his dinosaurs have pointy teeth.

How did you research this book?

It was all out there in the press. There were so many books that came out well in advance of them even having the dog, and they're all pretty bad. What I wanted to do was, once we had the facts and could tell the story, do the real story behind the dog. But it's also a kind of fairy tale about Sasha and Malia living every kid's dream -- moving from Chicago to live in the White House. I wanted to use their point of view as a back-story to the whole thing. The family went through this huge change; the dog signifies that change.

I remember! When I was a kid, Amy Carter moved into the White House. I wanted to be her friend so badly!

Yes, a kid can relate to this! They are the First Family of the country. I showed the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol -- I wanted kids reading the book to learn about life in DC and the excitement that must occur when you move into the White House.

Were parts of the story left out?

The real story was a lot more complex, and we had to distill it. The dog was actually sold to a family in Texas but was too rambunctious. Then, Ted Kennedy found the dog, and that turned out to be Bo. There's a section of the book where Kennedy is looking out the window at the White House, wanting to give the First Family this dog. Kennedy was actually going to write a forward for this book -- he wrote his own book about his dog, My Senator and Me -- but his health prevented him.

And of course, I took some license. Bo didn't really show up in a limo. But that just seemed so perfect.

It's clear, from the illustrations in this book, that you're familiar with (a) kids with their eye on a prize and (b) rambunctious dogs. Got either?

I have two kids. As for dogs ... I like dogs, but I'm a cat person. I like those dogs that are happy and smiling every time you see them: Irish setters, golden retrievers. But I also like them to be owned by other people.

Do you have any special insight into how you write for (and talk to) kids?

I think I'm sympatico with kids. It's what I do. When I do a picture book, I go back to that Bobby Staake growing up in Redondo Beach, California, in the '60s. Books opened up a whole new world for me, and I use the things that excited and inspired me and helped me dream and soar. I try to do things that can only occur in a picture book -- like using these impossibly round, rotund characters, having that one red lemon standing out. Reviewers say my stuff looks modern, yet with a retro feel. That's a function of what I saw and was inspired by as a kid.

Not to mention what inspires your cool line of fabrics. But that's another story. Do you think kids are more sophisticated than we think?

Often, the decision makers -- editors, publishers, art directors -- get cold feet about doing stuff for kids. You have to give dinosaurs rounded teeth, not sharp ones. For me, that's changing because I no longer have anything to prove. If the Tyrannosaurus Rex has sharp teeth, the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west -- kids are capable of understanding much more than we think they can.

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