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In Ian Falconer's new book, 'Two Dogs' cause mischief after being left home alone

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For illustrator and kids' book writer Ian Falconer, inspiration often comes from people around him. He based the character of Olivia the pig on his young niece, and readers became smitten, landing him and Olivia on The New York Times Best Seller list. Now, Ian Falconer's latest book, "Two Dogs," is inspired by his other sister's kids.

IAN FALCONER: Perry's the one who'd throw mud at your windows. He's naughty and funny and brash. And Augie is very, very cautious, careful, doesn't want to get in trouble. And they are both still that way.

SUMMERS: It's a story of a pair of two dachshunds named Perry and Augie at home one afternoon alone, entertaining themselves the way Falconer imagines two pups might when their humans are at work or at school. My co-host Ailsa Chang talked with Falconer the other day, and they started talking about his real-life inspiration for Perry and Augie.

FALCONER: You know, it's very simplified for children, but they both have the same personalities that they have in life.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: How did you land on this dog breed in the first place - dachshunds? Why wiener dogs?

FALCONER: Well, our family has always had them - grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles.

CHANG: I love it.

FALCONER: We're German - just like Scottish people always get Scotties (inaudible).

CHANG: (Laughter) When you were growing up, did your dachshunds get into a lot of trouble when you guys would leave the house?

FALCONER: Oh, yes, frequently (laughter). You know, emptying out the garbage onto the floor, getting - I remember once, the two dogs, they got a ham off the counter and ate the entire ham, and they were so sick.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: Oh, my God. I'm imagining you cleaning up after them during walks for days and days. You know, when I was flipping through this book, some of the drawings, they look so realistic. Like, there's this spread here of them sort of running around the lawn, watering (laughter) - watering in quotes - the flowers, playing by the pool. Did you start with photographs and sort of tweak the photographs and made them illustrations, or how do they look so realistic?

FALCONER: I made a whole model of the backyard...

CHANG: Oh.

FALCONER: ...Using artificial plants. And the fence you see running around the back is actually sushi mats.

CHANG: (Laughter) Oh, my God, really?

FALCONER: Thought it would be fun to juxtapose the drawings with realistic stuff and try and get away with it.

CHANG: Yeah, it looks really cool. What do you want people to be left with as families gather to flip through the beautiful pages of this book? What thoughts do you want them to be having in their brains as they learn about Augie and Perry?

FALCONER: I think just to enjoy them. There's no message in the book, except that they're friends in the end. They've done something together, and it's gotten them over their fighting - not much more than that, just meant to be fun (laughter).

CHANG: You know, also, this book - because we're returning to work these days or a lot of people are, including myself - this book made me think that maybe I need to get a partner in crime for my dog, Mickey, because I do think he's going to be a lot lonelier these days as I'm gone.

FALCONER: Well, they will.

CHANG: Yeah.

FALCONER: I've read about that, that suddenly everybody's gone again. The parents and the kids are all gone again. They're out of the house.

CHANG: Yeah, exactly. But then I was thinking, after reading your book and looking at all the funny illustrations of all these antics that Augie and Perry get into, I'm thinking, man, if I do get a buddy for Mickey while I go back to work, this book is warning me what could happen in my absence.

FALCONER: (Laughter) Don't worry. They're not that clever.

CHANG: Ian Falconer's new book is called "Two Dogs." Thank you so much for being with us, Ian.

FALCONER: Well, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.