Tricia Brown says she didn’t know her book about one of Juneau’s most famous dogs had been discontinued until told by the person who illustrated it — and he found out from local booksellers saying they needed more copies, but were unable to order them.
Brown, an Anchorage resident, has written nearly 30 books, including the children’s story “Patsy Ann of Alaska” first published in 2011 that details the real-life adventures of the deaf English bull terrier who became famous after arriving in Juneau in 1929. She said the call from the illustrator, Jim Fowler, about a year-and-a-half ago was surprising news, although an author not being told by a publisher when a book is being discontinued is a standard practice.
“So I called the publisher and found out that it was no longer available, and arranged to get our rights back,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
As a result, a new version of the book with some slight cosmetic changes is scheduled for re-release by Seattle-based Epicenter Press on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
“I get really attached to my books, they’re my kids, so I sure didn’t want to see it dwindle on out,” Brown said. During her frequent visits to schools as an author “the kids will always ask ‘what’s your favorite book of all the children’s books you’ve written?’ And I’ll just say ‘that’s like asking your parents who their favorite kid is. I love them all.’ So she’s one of my kids and I’m glad she’s still going to be around.”
According to a publisher’s summary of the book, Patsy Ann arrived in Juneau “with an independent streak as big as the territory. The English bull terrier cycled through a couple of households, running away each time, making it clear that she was nobody’s dog. She was everybody’s dog.”
“Meet the canine free spirit who went from tethered pet to official town greeter at the docks, meeting every ship that came to port for all of the 1930s. Although she was impaired, somehow Patsy Ann knew whenever a ship was coming. A bronze statue of Patsy Ann stands at the docks today, still looking up the channel for the next arrival.”
Among its literary notices, “Patsy Ann of Alaska,” was selected by the Alaska Association of School Librarians for early elementary readers in the Alaska Battle of the Books.
The first indication the book was vanishing from store shelves came from the merchants themselves, said Fowler’s wife, Susi, in an interview Tuesday.
“We heard from a couple of local businesspeople who were really concerned about it,” she said.
Brown said the former publisher, Seattle-based Sasquatch Books, didn’t give her a specific reason for discontinuing the title, but it appears the publisher is focusing elsewhere due to a perception “there’s less interest in Alaska than there used to be.” While that decision was made more than a year ago, when lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were still felt, Juneau during the past year saw a record number of cruise ship passengers, with similar numbers forecast this year and next.
Also, Brown said she tried over time to emphasize the book should be distributed in airports and bookstores in other Alaska destinations people stopping in Juneau were likely to visit.
“The one thing I do know is that tourists that go up the Inside Passage don’t just turn around and go back home,” she said. “They often go to Fairbanks, Anchorage or far beyond. And if they see the Patsy Ann statue in Juneau they very likely will remember it and want to buy a book later if they didn’t get one at the time…So I think it probably would have gone longer if Sasquatch had realized the importance of the Alaska market, how it works.”
There are some minor differences between the new version and old, the most immediately noticeable of which is the new version is slightly larger. One drawback, Brown said, is the new version doesn’t have text on the spine so the title and contributors’ names can’t be seen if it’s on a bookshelf. She said the typography is also slightly different for copyright reasons.
Also, not surprisingly, the $16.95 price tag is higher than the original version.
“On the plus side in the new version we added that photo in the back that shows Jim and I by the statue,” Brown said. “I talk about the statue and people say ‘I want to see the statue, how come it’s not in the book?’ I said ‘OK, I’ll work on that for next time.’”
There’s no official release event planned for the book — Brown said she’ll be doing a children’s book writing workshop in Kotzebue that day — and she isn’t familiar with the publisher’s marketing plan for new version. But she said her experience with the company makes her optimistic about a happy ending for the story.
“They’re serious about distributing throughout Alaska and I have laid out my argument for this — don’t forget why this book needs to be everywhere,” she said. “Because it’s a dog story. It’s not a Juneau story, for crying out loud. She lived in Juneau, she was a sweetheart of Juneau, but everybody loves dog stories.”
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