Literacy lesson goes to the dogs

Max and Annie visit a lot of hospitals and especially enjoy visiting cancer patients, their owner said.
CAMPBELL -- Two movie stars helped more than 300 pupils at Campbell Elementary and Middle School generate an interest in reading.
Max and Annie, the springer spaniel stars of "Miracle Dogs," released by TAG Entertainment in December, spent the day during a special program Tuesday with the pupils -- mostly third- and fourth-graders.
The children learned about the canines -- Annie's battle with cancer four years ago that resulted in her losing a front leg, and Max's wild escapades chasing geese and jumping into a fish tank -- and how they inspire their owner, Sandra Philipson of Chagrin Falls, to write children's books based on the lives of her two rambunctious pets.
Philipson's first book, "Annie Loses Her Leg But Finds Her Way," published in 1999, is based on Annie's recovery and is the basis of the feature film "Miracle Dogs." Max and Annie play themselves, Philipson told the children; human stars are Kate Jackson, Stacy Keach and Josh Hutcherson, a fourth-grader from Cincinnati.
The film was shot in May and premiered at Tower City Cinemas in Cleveland in December. During the premiere, Philipson said, there was a live feed to the Cleveland Clinic so children there could enjoy the film.
Max and Annie visit a lot of hospitals and especially enjoy visiting cancer patients, Philipson said. The dogs have also visited more than 100 schools, helping to inspire children to read and write.
Putting together a book
During their visit to Campbell, the dogs posed while Philipson taught the children how Robert Takatch, who illustrates the books, makes drawings starting with a simple circle and rectangle. Takatch also resides in Chagrin Falls.
Takatch starts with a simple sketch and then makes drawings with more and more detail to complement the story, Philipson said, showing the children samples of the artist's early work for one of the books.
Good writing also requires many revisions, she said, paging through a hand-written rough draft and then five typewritten revisions complete with notes for the children to see.
"When you start to write and your teacher asks you to revise it, think about how many times I had to rewrite," she said.
Philipson also helped the children learn how to develop story ideas. Pulling objects from a doghouse-shaped box helps her, she said.
Taking turns, the children pulled a variety of items from the box, including a spiny blowfish, a memory bag containing a pair of wax lips and a rain stick, a percussion instrument. Each item triggers a memory or an idea that could be the basis for a story, Philipson explained.
The wax lips, for example, make her think of being glamorous. The blowfish makes her think about nature, and the rain stick reminds her how desirable some things, such as rain, can be when one doesn't have them.
Grant for literacy
Philipson's appearance was made possible by a $66,000 federal grant to improve literacy through school libraries. The grant also provides for other literacy programs and guest appearances, will be used to buy books for Campbell's school libraries, and provides funding for extended library hours so the community can use the facilities in the evenings, said Margaret Ford, library/media specialist for Campbell City Schools.
Philipson, Max and Annie also hosted an evening program and book signing open to the public.
Philipson's books in the Max and Annie series are: "Annie Loses Her Leg But Finds Her Way," "Max's Wild Goose Chase," "The Artist" and "Max and Annie's Mysterious Campfire."
Rights to the film "Miracle Dogs" were recently purchased by cable television's Animal Planet.

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