The tail of the wide retriever

Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School K-1 teacher publishes first book about her favorite ‘Champ’ion

Undeniably, being the teacher’s pet has its perks. In fact, for 2-year-old Champ Brown, being the teacher’s pet landed him the starring role in a recently released children’s book.

Of course, it probably helps that he has four legs and a tail.

“My students love books about animals,” says Christy Brown, author of “Champ Wide Retriever” and a K-1 teacher at Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School. So, her beloved golden Labrador retriever was a natural choice for the main character of her first book.

For 27-year-old Brown, publishing a children’s book has been a lifelong dream.

“Even when I was a kid, if there was a school project where we had to create something, I always made a children’s book,” says Brown, adding, “It’s something I always knew I wanted to do.”

So, when a friend showed up to a tailgate party with his pooch dressed in a custom-made wide retriever jersey, Brown’s idea for “Champ Wide Retriever” was born.

It took Brown just a few weeks to write the 26-page story, which chronicles Champ saving the day for the Tiny Tacklers football team. Written entirely in rhyme, the book is perfect for kids just learning to read, like Brown’s K-1 students. A K-1 teacher has students for both kindergarten and first grade.

“They (her students) really like books that rhyme. When I read to them I’ll often let them fill in the rest of the line. Writing rhymes has always come really naturally to me too, so it was easy for me to write,” Brown said.

And if the blue and orange jerseys of the Tiny Tacklers look vaguely reminiscent of the jerseys worn by the University of Florida, it’s not an accident. The Gainesville school played a pretty important role in the making of “Champ Wide Retriever.”

When Brown and her husband got Champ as a puppy, they chose his name as a tribute to their own love story. The two met at a Gators game, and, more specifically at the 2007 National Championship game, where UF pummeled Ohio State.

Being a Gator even got Brown’s foot in the door in the notoriously difficult to break into industry of children’s publishing. Brown had long admired the Gator-inspired children’s books of fellow University of Florida alum Mark Damohn, and on a whim contacted him, seeking advice on getting published.

“I basically just sent him an email, expecting to never hear back, and then he wrote back and said ‘he’d be happy to help another Gator out,’” Brown recalled.

Damohn looked over Brown’s initial manuscript, then put her in touch with Mascot books, a Virginia-based self-publishing company. From there the book sprung to life.

Mascot Books linked Brown up with several possible illustrators, of whom Brown finally settled on Charr Floyd. On the selection process Brown says, “I got really lucky, I liked his work the best, and he just happened to be available to do my illustrations.”

The anime-style images that grace the pages of “Champ Wide Retriever” were a group effort, however.

“Floyd would send me PDFs of pages, and I’d bring them into my classroom and ask the kids which ones they liked better,” Brown said. “The football on the front cover was actually added after one of my students suggested it.”

Brown’s students, which she often has for two years in a row, are looking forward to returning this fall to be taught by a published author. Student Byrdie Lepree, who will return as a first grader to Brown’s class in August, already has her copy of the book.

“I really like when Champ makes the team, because it’s exciting,” exclaimed the loquacious Lepree, who also loved meeting the book’s main character in real life.

And more celebrity appearances are no doubt in Champ’s future. Already, Brown and Champ have a book signing scheduled for August 5, at Gigi’s Boutique in the Mercato, and Brown hopes to also plan an event at Veteran’s Memorial when school starts back up. Champ even has his own Facebook page, where fans of the book can view photos, leave comments, and see where he and Brown will be signing books next.

Luckily, the 100-pound retriever is up for the hectic publicity schedule — proving that they don’t, after all, call it “working like a dog” for no reason.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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