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BY LAURA LEWIS
HICKMANS CROSSROADS—Watching her dog, Margaret, snoozing on the sunporch last January ignited Marsha Tennant’s creative spark.
“Margaret,” she asked, “are you dreaming again?”
“I just looked at her and thought, ‘you could be a pirate queen,’” the lifelong educator recalled.
Thus was born “Margaret, Pirate Queen,” Tennant’s fictitious children’s book about her late, great dogs and their pirate adventures. It was inspired by Tennant’s backyard pond, which magically transformed into a lagoon as backdrop for the story.
The star of the story is Margaret, Marsha and Randy Tennant’s beloved rescued hound who died last spring at the age of 12. It also includes their “gentle giant” Rottweiler, Mad Maverick, who died last year, and a host of dogs from their ’hood in Meadowlands Golf Club community.
Tennant, a high school special education learning specialist for Horry County, S.C., Schools, credits 18 third-graders in teacher Karen Campbell’s class at North Myrtle Beach Elementary School last school year for helping her write the book that is now under consideration for publication by Scholastic Books.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Tennant said. “It’s touched so many children.”
She also credits actor Johnny Depp for providing further inspiration for Margaret’s pirate character.
“I mean does he look like my dog or what?” Tennant said, showing side-by-side photos of Depp from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and Margaret, who also has dark eyes, a similar nose and a hint of a mustache.
“She just had a swagger like him,” Tennant said.
Tennant collaborated with her brother, Dub Sutton of Surfside Beach, S.C., who did historical research for the book. They also lucked onto a great illustrator—23-year-old Amy Chapman, an artist and volunteer at Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, S.C., whose pastel renderings of the dogs have been praised by officials at Scholastic.
Chapman went out of her way to capture the character of each dog, including those who still live in Margaret’s Meadowlands ’hood, Tennant said.
That includes Cody, a rescued shepherd mix; golden retrievers Heidi and Phoebe; Lab mix Millie; Tanner the yellow Lab; and Jack, a mixed breed. Chapman also incorporated some “surprises” in the illustrations—Tennant’s daughter Amy’s pit boxer Lexie as well as Chapman’s terrier, Bubbles.
Somehow, Chapman was able to capture each dog’s personality without actually meeting them, Tennant said.
Chapman said it was a challenge, as she kept asking for more photographs as her illustrations unfolded.
“I have a ton of photos of all those dogs at my house,” she said, adding their expressions in the pictures is what she drew from.
Last school year, Chapman took her initial charcoal drawings to school for scrutiny by the students, who told her Margaret “needed to go in something fancy,” Tennant recalled.
As a result, “she’s bling-ed to the hilt,” Tennant said.
Chapman said it would be great if her art gets published.
And should the book become a series, “I’d like to do more of them and also do more children’s illustrations,” she said.
Last spring, Tennant was showing the book to a class at Myrtle Beach High School when it caught the eye of a Scholastic representative who urged Tennant to submit it for publication consideration.
For now, Tennant’s manuscript with Chapman’s accompanying illustrations is under review by a Scholastic committee that determines which books the company is going to publish.
Tennant will soon be meeting with a regional publisher.
“She loves the book. The most remarkable thing is I didn’t solicit,” she said.
Now that “Margaret, Pirate Queen” is under consideration, she and her students are hoping it gets published. One reason, she said, is because she recently learned one of her at-risk high school students couldn’t afford a computer.
“I said, ‘God, please let this book get published so I can get this child a laptop,’” Tennant said.
Campbell said the book-writing experience taught her third-graders what a writer goes through.
"They understand you have to brainstorm, revise and edit," she said. "It's not just a day thing."
Whenever she sees one of her students from last year's class, she said they always ask about how the book is progressing.
"I tell you, Margaret is something they'll never forget," Campbell said. "These kids are pulling for [Tennant] to get it published. They'll be her first buyer."
On Saturday, Nov. 8, Tennant will have a reading of her book at Seaside Animal Care’s annual animal fair and open house scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. in Calabash. Scholastic Books has donated 120 animal books that will be distributed at the event.
In the meantime, Tennant continues to take her big, personal copy of her own book to her assorted schools.
“Every time I read it, I see Margaret through different eyes,” she said. “I tell [Margaret] every day, you will be famous, and children will love you.”