Children’s author Juli Brenning, who lives outside of Nashville, knows a thing or two about little girls and their best canine friends: she has two kids and three dogs of her own. Brenning’s 2014 picture-book debut, Maggi and Milo, features the tale of a girl, her dog, and their frog-hunting adventures. Brenning follows up this summer with a second story involving the same characters, Maggi and Milo Make New Friends. Both books are illustrated by Priscilla Burris.
In Brenning’s first book, readers learn how much Maggi and her beloved border collie love to explore the outdoors and make adventures of the grandest sort. In this follow-up picture book, they do the same, but this time, after some encouragement from her mother, Maggi hits the local park to try to make some two-legged friends of the human variety. No dogs are allowed in this park, much to Maggi’s dismay, but eventually the children she meets become intrigued by Milo, who watches from the park’s perimeter. Maggi even devises a way to share her best furry friend with all her new companions—one that involves even more explorations of nature.
Brenning, who previously worked in magazine publishing and will soon return to full-time classroom teaching, recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email:
Chapter 16: This is your second Maggi and Milo story. What makes you most want to revisit these characters?
Juli Brenning: I love these characters. Maggi has so many adventures waiting to be shared. And she is what I think is everything fabulous about little girls: She’s smart, she’s witty, she’s adventurous, she’s determined, yet she’s not a brat. And Milo … well, what’s not to love about a giant, loyal companion like Milo?
Chapter 16: In this second story, I like how for a moment you think Maggi has turned into this hard-core business tycoon but instead she’s found another way to connect with the natural world. Are you and your family big fans of the outdoors?
Brenning: I love that description of Maggi as a business tycoon. Yes, we spend a ton of time outdoors, and when my children were little we had treasure hunts in our yard, the neighborhood, and the playground. When Mackenzi, my youngest, and I would go for walks, we always brought a backpack specifically for the “treasures” we’d find. Just the other day I found that bag, and it was full of rocks and sticks and dried flowers and pieces of string. It made my heart sing!
Chapter 16: What is it like to see Priscilla Burris’s illustrations for your stories? What does she, as an illustrator, bring to your words that you appreciate?
Brenning: I think Priscilla has captured Maggi perfectly. Maggi’s expressions, her enthusiasm, and her curiosity can all be seen through Priscilla’s illustrations. The first image I saw was a pencil of Maggi standing on Milo’s back, an image from the first book. I knew immediately that Priscilla had illustrated the character I had written. Priscilla is wildly talented, and I feel honored that she is my partner.
Chapter 16: Do you make regular school visits here in the Middle Tennessee area (or even beyond)? How, if at all, do school visits inform your work?
Brenning: I have done lots of school visits and love to see children react to my words. It’s truly remarkable. I have decided to return to the classroom myself this fall and teach Language Arts, so I’m sorry to say that I won’t be available to do school visits this school year. I do have a wonderful following of teachers and librarians, and they continue to give me feedback and supply new ideas that their children come up with. I love this feedback.
Chapter 16: Do you think that your previous work in magazine publishing informs your work now in any way?
Brenning: My work in magazine publishing opened up an entire world that I didn’t know about previously. What I learned most working in publishing is how many incredibly talented and original people there are in the world, and that there are lots and lots of ways to work creatively.
Chapter 16: Who are some of your favorite children’s book authors? Whose work inspires you?
Brenning: I am inspired by the work of Erin Stead and her husband, Philip. Their books are beautiful and tell simple yet lovely tales. I also love Oliver Jeffers and his take on things. My favorite picture book is Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan.
Chapter 16: What’s next for you? And will there be more tales of Maggi and Milo?
Brenning: I am busy working on a couple of new characters and hope they find a home somewhere soon. And I would love to write more adventures of Maggi and Milo! Fingers crossed that there will be more soon. And, as I said, I will be returning to the classroom. I will be teaching eighth grade, so maybe I will be inspired to write a middle-grade novel after my year with them.
Julie Danielson, a former school librarian, blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage. Her first book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, was published in 2014.