| November 2011
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By Olivia Boler
More Than Puppy Love: Michelle Diaz Cannon has written a children’s book, started a publishing company, and launched a dog forum with husband Ben Cannon.
It’s been a whirlwind year for debut children’s book author Michelle Diaz Cannon. The Noe Valley resident started a publishing company and launched the first book, Ben Not a Puppy!, which she also happened to write. And she got married on the Fourth of July.
In fact, it was her husband, Ben Cannon, who inspired the title of the former preschool teacher’s first foray into fiction. “We have two dogs, Buster and Rosco. And one morning, I said to Ben, ‘Stay!’—the way we do with our dogs. And Ben said, ‘Ben not a puppy!’ and I thought, That’s it! That’s the title of my book!”
The 22-page picture book is a conversation between a little boy, Ben, and his mom, in which he asks her to guess what he is. Whenever she makes a guess, such as, “Are you a tree?” Ben replies, “Ben not a tree!” The illustrations show the boy flying like a plane, galloping like a cowboy, dressing up as a ghost, and more.
For Cannon, 30, the book is about the importance of the childhood game of pretend. “When I was a preschool teacher, a lot of the kids would play pretend, and some parents understood it, and some didn’t. When kids pretend, they’re figuring out what they want to be when they grow up and who they are.”
The book is geared toward 2- to 6-year-olds, and Cannon put a lot of thought into its design. It’s large with thick pages, but not too thick, because as toddlers grow into children, they begin to think of board books—with dense cardboard pages—as “baby books.”
“Two-year-olds will listen, rapt at attention when I read the book to them, and it’s a pretty long book,” Cannon says. “Four- and five-year-olds, will start to say the words aloud with me. And kids around age six take the book away from me and want to read it themselves.”
The illustrator, Beverly Sage, is a friend of Cannon and her husband. Sage lives in Los Angeles and is a 3-D animator for Nickelodeon, the children’s television and film company. Because they were pressed to get the manuscript to the printer, Sage did not have time to fill in the color of her line drawings, so Cannon stepped up, color pencils in hand, and did it herself.
That can-do spirit has been there from the start, including the decision not to pursue traditional publishers. “I did a lot of research on Google about big name and alternative publishers. In the end, I wanted creative control.”
Since publication, Ben Not a Puppy! has made its way into libraries, bookstores, and preschools—and kids (and “dogs”) are lapping it up. “The children in my class enjoyed this book very much,” writes Sahara Gonzalez, a teacher at Las Americas Early Learning School. “They had a great time guessing what new character Ben would try to be next.”
Meanwhile, Cannon is working on her second book and is on the lookout for other children’s book authors to publish under the Cannon Books imprint. She says she likes stories that are uplifting. “I want kids to feel empowered at the end of a book. They should feel like they’re capable, that they can do what they want to do.”
Noe Valley merchants have been supportive of Cannon’s book. The first store to carry it was Just for Fun (which still has some autographed copies), and it’s also in Ladybug Ladybug and Small Frys. “It’s available on Amazon.com, too, but I hope people buy locally,” Cannon says.
Although she grew up in Daly City and Sonoma County, Cannon spent most weekends at her grandmother’s house on Alvarado Street, playing with her many cousins (her father was one of nine children). The kids would ride bikes and stroll around 24th Street. In 2009, she and Ben moved to the neighborhood.
Cannon’s husband, a tech consultant, has been her partner in publishing. “Ben loves starting up businesses,” she says with a laugh.
The couple recently launched a website, BusterPages.com, which Michelle describes as a “dog forum. We aim for it to be the next Yelp.com for dogs. We’ll share things about dogs that we discover on the Internet like, Why do dogs yawn, and we’ll have ‘Best of’ lists for dogs.”
To find out more about Cannon Books and Ben Not a Puppy!, visit www.bennotapuppy.com. For upcoming Ben events, go to the Facebook page www.facebook.com/BenNotaPuppy.