By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholic kindergarten teacher Andy Allen’s harrowing experience with his dog “Norm” inspired a delightful children’s book now on the market.
Allen, a native of the Davenport Diocese who teaches at St. Jude Elementary in Cedar Rapids, based “Stormin’ Norman – The Soggy Doggy” on the memorable day he risked his life to rescue Norm from a flood-swollen Iowa creek.
The first-time author knows a lot about young children’s interests because he’s been teaching kindergarteners for seven years and has a master’s degree in early childhood education.
“I read a lot of stories to my kids (at school). You can tell when they enjoy a story and when they don’t. I wanted to write something kids would enjoy reading with their parents. I was looking at Norm. Kids love animals. So I decided to write about Norm,” said Allen, a graduate of Regina High School in Iowa City (1996) and St. Ambrose University in Davenport (2000).
In this true story Allen and Norm were out for a walk at a summer camp when Norm jumped into a shallow creek. Norm likes water and is a good swimmer, so his playing around in the creek didn’t bother Allen, initially. “He was trying to swim back to me, but he got farther and farther away from me. I thought, ‘I have to save my dog or I’ll never see him again.’”
Allen jumped into the creek, surprised to find the water level up to his head, and lost his eyeglasses and wallet as he floundered. Recent flooding had elevated the water level and created a swift current. “I was trying to hold on to roots or rocks, anything I could get my hands on. I reached out and grabbed (Norm). He was having a blast; he had no idea how much danger we were both in. He was giving me kisses,” Allen recalled. “At the time, you don’t realize there’s a fine line between being courageous and doing something dumb. I think this was a little bit of both. When the time comes, you don’t question whether you’re courageous. You just do it. If I had to do it again, I would.”
On a summer night Allen wrote about his adventure with Stormin’ Norman. The 60-pound Lab-Boxer mix ‘lap dog’, “who thinks he’s a lot smaller than he is,” sat beside Allen as he wrote. “Jumping into the creek and saving Norm was the most exciting and dangerous thing I’ve done, so far.”
His audiences at book readings and in the classroom love the story aimed at children in grades K-2.
“We absolutely loved it,” said Kim Melchert, production editor and project manager for Beaver’s Pond Press in Edina, Minn., which published Stormin’ Norman — The Soggy Doggy. Beaver’s Press receives about 50 book submissions a week and saw Allen’s potential when he approached the company with his book proposal about a year ago. Its staff helped choose an illustrator, Brian Barber of Duluth, Minn. Author and artist clicked, Allen said. Barber “did a really super job with the pictures.”
The story has appeal for various reasons. “For me, personally, it’s about going above and beyond for your friend. Andy risked his life for his dog. I think that speaks highly of his character,” said Melchert, who has shared the book with family members and her chiropractor’s office, which works with children. They’re all fans of the book, too, she added.
Plans are in the works for more stories about Stormin’ Norman. A second printing of the first book is underway and Allen’s second story is being edited. That story focuses on Norm’s encounter with a bully and gives kids strategies for dealing with bullies. “It talks about the Golden Rule — treating others the way you want to be treated. I hope it turns out as good as the first one,” Allen said.
Stormin’ Norman — The Soggy Doggy, by Andy Allen, $16.95, Beaver’s Pond Books, 2011, hardcover 32 pp., also available at Amazon.com for $13.22
Author’s father taught at Regina
Andy Allen’s father, John Allen, taught more than 30 years at Regina High School in Iowa City. The younger Allen, who has two older brothers, had his dad as a teacher for freshman religion and for anthropology.
“I remember being jealous at the time because he had just a great relationship with so many students … I look back on that now and see how awesome that was that he had an impact on so many people’s lives. Seeing that type of relationship really made me want to go into teaching,” Andy Allen says.