Alum pens a mixed-breed read for children

by Kyle Labe / Beacon Correspondent • September 6, 2017

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Isabel Thottam self-publishes her first children's book.
Courtesy of Isabel Thottam
Isabel Thottam self-publishes her first children's book.
Courtesy of Isabel Thottam

Isabel Thottam ‘13 was first published in the seventh grade when Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul selected one of her poems. Now, the visual and media arts graduate is targeting an even younger audience. She is releasing her first book, The Labradoodle Who Lost His Doodle, this fall.

The illustrated children’s book follows a half-labrador, half-poodle, fashion-blogging dog named Joey who one day awakens to find that his signature hairstyle, or “doodle”, has disappeared. Stripped of his identity, Joey seeks to discover the dog he truly is on the inside.

“I thought, ‘What would be something different for a children’s book, and how would I make it a little more unique?’” Thottam said.

Thottam, a freelance writer, said she first came up with the idea two years ago.

She remembered a childhood pet, also named Joey. For years, her family had a running joke that he had no “doodle” in him because he looked like a labrador with “no poodle in him.”

“I really wanted to capture the memory of the family dog,” Thottam said. “[My family and I] always joked that he was this celebrity dog, that he had this secret life. The secret life of Joey that we didn’t know about.”

Thottam said that the first draft was a Christmas present to her parents. Once the kids had moved out of the house, her parents were left with an empty nest. And when Joey passed away unexpectedly of a stroke a few years back, Thottam wanted to surprise her parents with something to fill that void.

“I felt like I wanted to do something for my family, to make things happy in a sort of way,” Thottam said.

Thottam’s mother, Greer, won Joey at a local high school auction.

“First I couldn’t believe Isabel wrote [The Labradoodle Who Lost His Doodle], and I thought it was the most thoughtful thing, because she knew how much Joey meant to me,” she said. “It keeps Joey alive for me. It lets his love go on.”

Thottam said that her own identity as a woman of mixed-race is reflected in the storyline, as the mixed-breed Joey struggles with his self-confidence after losing his “doodle.”

Thottam also said she wanted to address gender and fashion norms in the book. As an online trendsetter, Joey dresses up in both tutus and suits, and is not treated differently. Thottam said she wanted to balance masculinity with femininity and make the book accessible to both boys and girls.

And, with the protagonist as a blogger, Thottam wanted to show kids that you can pursue your art for a living.

“When you go into the real world, it’s shocking in a way,” she said. “At least it was for me. I first went to Emerson thinking I’d write movies or TV shows, but my career changed.”

Thottam teamed up with childhood friend Sharon Teuscher, who provided the watercolor illustrations.

Teuscher, a ‘13 fine arts alumna of Columbus College of Arts and Design, met Thottam in the second grade. The two reconnected in college when Thottam sent Teuscher a message on Facebook asking her to join the project.

“It was the first thing like this that I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s really exciting now that we’re in the final stages.”

The book took nearly eight months to write. After a gap year, Thottam picked the project back up when she moved to Seattle two Augusts ago.

At first, Thottam’s dream was to have her book traditionally published. Upon completion, she sent The Labradoodle Who Lost His Doodle to book agents and both major and independent publishers.

However, she eventually made the decision to self-publish.

“I sat around with it for almost six months, and I never heard back anything,” she said. “It was disheartening. But I talked to some people who had done self-publishing before, and it sounded easier to do it like that. I could control aspects of something so personal to me.”

Through friends, family, and some Facebook advertising, Thottam has managed to tally over 100 pre-orders. First editions are looking to be sent out late September to early October.

Thottam’s debut book is only available to purchase online at $12.99, though some bookstores have offered to accept it. It will be in stores in Thottam’s hometown of Canton, Ohio, along with Seattle, Olympia, and Nashville.

Thottam has already planned another children’s book and said she might also pen a young adult novel in the future.

“I hope kids grow up with the mindset of, ‘I can be like Joey and do my own thing,’” she said. “Everyone of all ages can pick up something from it.”