When we lived in Newburyport a few years ago, our naughty wire fox terrier Charlie leapt from the car at the grocery store, ran across the parking lot, and entered Shaws when the automatic doors swished open. My wife Diane ran in after him and eventually found him standing on his hind legs at the meat counter, sniffing.
And so a book was born.
I fictionalized the event so that Charlie (aka Rumplepimple) had a darned good reason for running in; a little girl was being bullied and Rumplepimple rushed to help. By the time his mom arrived, he’d already saved the day and was checking out the butcher shop.
I was trying to convey that there are lots of things going on behind the eyes of our dogs, friends, neighbors, and children that we just don’t understand. It’s a universal experience to feel misunderstood, and I wanted the kids who read Rumplepimple to say “Hey, I feel that way too!” I also wanted them to giggle: Rumplepimple has a rather unorthodox way of showing others that he’s the boss. He pees on them.
The book has been receiving attention for a variety of reasons. It’s got a subtle anti-bullying message, and the family structure includes two moms. It came out just a week or two before the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, which meant opportunities for both approbation and condemnation. This timing is still playing out in the webosphere as we connect with authors who also believe that diverse family structures need to be represented in children’s fiction, and respond to those who are violently opposed.
Rumplepimple lives in Haverhill now with his sister cat Chicken and his two moms, but Newburyport will always be his home town. It’s the place he spent his first two years (or fourteen, depending on how you count them). The place he loved to roam and sniff along brick-lined sidewalks. The place that had a dog park with a river he could lose tennis balls in. And the place that had the only grocery store he’s ever managed to enter, with its enticing display of tasty meats. He comes to visit often, and when we cross the bridge he demands to stick his nose out the window and get a good long sniff of the smell of home.
By Suzanne DeWitt