September 07


The Animal in Me by Carlie Sorosiak

It was the summer of 1998 in suburban North Carolina, and I was prepping—diligently—to become a dog. My favorite book at the time, besides the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, was a body-swapping tale called Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again, by Todd Strasser. In a short 197 pages, it chronicled the ups and downs of accidentally switching places with your Labrador retriever. 

Now, objectively speaking, I knew this book was fiction. 

I also believed in magic. And Santa Clause. Switching places with my German Shorthaired pointer, Sally, in a Freaky Friday sort of situation wasn’t a complete impossibility. If that ever happened—and honestly, I was kind of hoping that it would, preferably before the summer ended and I had to return to human school—I’d be ready.

I could fit easily in Sally’s crate. Barking? Got that. Dog biscuits? Disgusting, but manageable. I figured that tail-wagging would come naturally once I’d assumed a canine form. I was a little worried about how Sally would perform as me (basketball season was on the horizon, and I had an image to maintain), but she was a smart dog. Surely, she’d pull it together. 

Needless to say, summer ended, basketball season came and went, and still! Still, no swap. By the dead of winter, I was disappointed, especially considering that my continued efforts to turn into a wolf had also yielded no visible results. 

In the meantime, though, there were always books to help me imagine animal life. 

I re-read Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again and lost myself in every “animal story” in my Montessori school’s library. If there was an animal on the cover, I’d read it. Multiple animals? Even better. Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web grew to be a close friend. Shiloh tugged at my heartstrings in a way that I didn’t know a book could. And Moe the Dog in Tropical Paradise put a smile on my face even after I’d tumbled off the monkey bars; it felt like Diane Stanley had written that book just for me. Moe’s minor existential crisis (he did not like being cold in the winter) spoke to my eight-year-old soul. 

I’m thirty-one years old now, and I can easily see the pathway I took becoming a writer. It’s speckled with pawprints. While I never did manage to body-swap with Sally, or spontaneously transform into a wolf, over the past couple of years I have managed to write three middle-grade novels and two picture books, all from the perspective of animals. My newest books, Always, Clementine and Books Aren’t For Eating, follow a genius lab mouse and a bookselling goat, respectively—and I wrote them for my childhood animal-loving self. 

As a kid, I liked to read in trees. Mostly because I believed that if orangutans could read, they would read in trees. We had a spectacular maple in our front yard, and you could wedge yourself between the branches for at least an hour before your legs started falling asleep. My second favorite reading spot was the beanbag at my Montessori school. Never underestimate the power of a good beanbag. Decades later, and I can still feel that chair curling under me, supporting my romp through Babe the Gallant Pig

Animals made it into my earliest stories as well. The best thing about elementary school—even better than reading time, even better than recess—was the twenty minutes near the end of class when we could free-write in our composition notebooks. The room got hush-quiet, and I used to perch myself by the window, scribbling as fast as my hand would allow. There were goat astronauts, lizard kings, brave piglets like Babe. And hamsters. My goodness, I was obsessed with hamsters. Sally, my dog, also featured heavily in my narratives; in one composition notebook, there is an eleven-page, single-spaced story about how she ate a bee.

My point is, the subjects—and stories—we’re obsessed with as kids often remain our greatest passions. I’m so lucky that I had teachers and librarians who kept the bookshelves brimming with animal tales, along with all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. Decades later, on a shelf near my writing desk, I keep my old copy of Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again to remind myself of how far I’ve come—and that I am still annoyingly, wonderfully human. 

Carlie Sorosiak is the author of the novels Always, Clementine and Leonard (My Life as a Cat), as well as the picture books Everywhere with You, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth, and Books Aren’t for Eating, illustrated by Manu Montoya. She lives in Georgia with her husband and their American dingo.