National award-winning book series, Boomer and Halley, put Shady Pines Story Town on the map. The books for children 4-8, feature Harold and Edna Sanders who live on Dogwood Drive across from Copy Cat Lane. When Harold and Edna adopt Boomerang and Halley’s Comet, a stray dog and cat, their lives turn upside down. The Sanders’ family adventures, and mis-adventures are filled with laughter and life lessons for us all.

Over at the Shady Pines Gazette newspaper office, editor, Zulah Talmadge, paces up and down. She is excited about her next assignment. She’ll soon meet the two people behind those books. One thing about Zulah, she’ll do just about anything for a good story. She may be a cartoon character, but she finds a way to talk to real life people. In fact, Zulah is on her way to do that right now. Let’s listen as talks with author Mary Jane McKittrick and illustrator Bob Ostrom.

Zulah: Mary Jane, the first book in the series is: Boomer and Halley Scavenger Hunt, Discover Rewards by Working Together. How did you come up with that?

Mary Jane: Well, Zulah, it was inspired by something my grandparents would do to keep their grandkids from being bored. They would hide Hershey chocolate bars and one-dollar bills all over the house. Then we had to try and find them. It was fun, it kept us busy for quite a while and it wore us out. A winning combination for a couple of clever grandparents!

Zulah: But in your book you also have hidden life lessons.

Mary Jane: Yes. In each Boomer and Halley book there are four positive themes like: working together, manners, respecting property, honesty, and that sort of thing. They pop up on the page with a PAW print to show where theme appears in the storyline.

Zulah: And then you have a bookmark with corresponding questions, right?

Mary Jane: Right. That way the adult reading with the child can talk about that life lesson. It gives parents and grandparents a way to help children understand why it’s important to be a good, honest and decent person.

Zulah: And Bob, you make these characters come to life. I mean, just look at me!

Bob: Zulah, you are a perfect example of a Shady Pines kind of character.

Zulah: What kind is that?

Bob: A little wacky; kinda zany.

Mary Jane: But always with good intentions and a willingness to help their neighbors.

Bob: Even when things don’t go as expected.

Mary Jane: Especially then!

Zulah: Bob, tell me a little about your process for drawing these characters.

Bob: When Mary Jane and I started working together, we wanted the characters and the town to look like something familiar and safe. If you notice, it’s kind of a nod to those familiar looking cartoons of the past.

Zulah: I can see that. What were some of your favorite cartoon characters when you were a kid?

Bob: I really liked the Looney Tunes characters. Bugs Bunny was just so cool.

Zulah: Bob, how do you come up with the look for each character?

Bob: Mary Jane and I work together on that.

Mary Jane: For instance, my childhood dog was an Australian Shepherd named, Boomerang. Because of that, I was able to show Bob old photos.

Bob: And even then, it took about a month to get the right look. Boomer was one of the harder ones.

Mary Jane: I remember.

Zulah: Why did it take so long?

Bob: Because I had an idea for the dog that was based more in the Looney Tunes kind of look.

Mary Jane: And I had more of the old-fashioned Disney cartoons in my head.

Bob: Yea, so, the result was a collaboration between those two styles.

Zulah: Was Halley’s Comet based on a real-life cat?

Mary Jane: No. But I’ve had several cats in my life that she resembles.

Bob: Halley came together easily as I recall. We knew she’d be gray because you called her a silver streak of a cat.

Mary Jane: Exactly. And, if you look carefully, she has a white mark on one of her front legs. It’s to help Boomer. He’s always forgetting which is his right or left paw.

Zulah: I never noticed that before. And what about their personalities?

Mary Jane: I wanted Halley to be athletic, sassy, sweet and able to stand up for herself. In other words, a good role model for young girls.

Bob: And Boomerang thinks he’s a tough guy pooch. The truth is, he’s kind and funny and loves to pick on Halley.

Mary Jane: They’ve got that sibling rivalry going on. That’s what fun about these two characters. They’re both strong, but also vulnerable.

Zulah: I know you two have leave to do another interview. Can we get together again soon and talk about your second book, Boomer and Halley Lost and Found, Learning to Live in a Blended Family?

Mary Jane: Sure.

Bob: Absolutely.

Mary Jane: We’ll tell you about the inspiration for Boomer and Halley’s “parents,” Harold and Edna.

Zulah: Oh, good.

Mary Jane: And, Zulah, I may even tell you how Bob and I came up with the idea for you.

Bob: You’re going to tell her?

Zulah: Oh, my heavens. We’ll need to schedule that right away!