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Teacher blends love for dogs, learning to publish children’s book

Third-graders at Marshall Elementary School erupted into giggles as they flipped the pages of the children’s book, “Minna and the Canine Club.” The tale of rescue dogs is filled with paws-ative problem-solving and doggone funny moments.

“He’s marking his territory!” said JJ Santos-Rosaries as he looked at an illustration of a husky dog and a fire hydrant.

“Look at her ears!” pointed out Nick Ryan, noticing a silly picture of a pup.

The students work on reading and writing skills every school day with the book’s author: their teacher, Erica Abel.

Marshall Elementary third grade teacher Erica Abel uses the book she wrote, ‘Minna and the Canine Club’ in reading and writing instruction

Abel recently published the book as the first in a series. It stars her spunky-from-the-start rescue dog — a Pomeranian mix named Minna — and a crew of canine friends. The hardcover book is illustrated by Rachel McCoy.

She created the book and established a business, Whimsical Writers, with a team of educators and family members, including her mother, Shelli Abel, a retired teacher from Caledonia Elementary School; her sister Jessica Abel, a teacher at Countryside Elementary in Byron Center; and her aunt Kelly Savage of Grandville.

The team met weekly for about three years to create the book and website, also called Minna and the Canine Club, which offers club membership, games and resources for parents and teachers. A second book, “Minna Saves a Life,” will be released in July.

“My family loves rescuing dogs so we thought, what a great way to engage students to learn to read and to love to read. We just wanted to show Minna’s personality and create lovable characters,” Abel said.

She hosted a book launch in her classroom, complete with games and treats. She also held a book signing in December at Barnes & Noble at Rivertown Crossings Mall in Grandville. The book is available through Minna and the Canine Club, and at independent bookstores Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven and Epilogue Books in Rockford. It  will soon be available at Barnes & Noble.

Minna, Erica Abel’s beloved dog, is a constant source of inspiration

Canine Club Fans

Abel uses her book regularly with her favorite group of readers and writers.

“I especially love using the book for writing and showing my students. ‘You can be a writer,’” she said. “That’s my goal for them to see, ‘you have that power too – anyone can do it.’”

She tells them how she created the book from start to finish, with hard work, trial and error, research and lots of imagination. Real experiences as a dog owner helped her write about dog life. “It’s important for students to see that writing comes from actual experiences, and then you can use your imagination to create the rest.”

Identifying character traits is a third-grade reading standard, and Abel said she found herself watching neighborhood dogs for inspiration as she imagined their personalities. Minna’s unique personality shines through on the pages, and Blue, a strong, brave husky, is based on Savage’s late dog. Other canine friends were imagined from watching other dogs Minna has interacted with.

Students said they are impressed that their teacher is an author and can write entertaining and funny books. They love how the dogs work together as a team to solve problems.

“She inspires us to write more books,” Nick said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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