Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Today we’re sharing another post in our interview series where we talk to the creators behind some of our favorite products. For this interview, we were lucky enough to chat with Tracy Mattes, author of the award-winning Church Dog Book Series! Each story in the Church Dog Series contains a playful and endearing adventure that uses biblical foundations to teach moral lessons about real-life issues children face. The books are perfect for igniting conversations around subjects like bullying, grief, forgiveness, fear, and fighting temptation. Equally important is stressing the power of being kind, compassionate giving, standing up for one another, and having self-esteem. The Church Dog Series invites children of all ages to look at themselves and others through the eyes of a loving Father, as royal Princes and Princesses of a Heavenly King. Keep reading to find out more about Tracy and how she came to write such a special series!
MCA: Hi Tracy, thank you for speaking with us today, and congratulations on your multiple Mom’s Choice Awards! Each book in the Church Dog series is so heartfelt and sweet, it really reflects who you are as an author. Can we first start the interview off by finding out a little bit about who you are as a person?
Tracy: I have been blessed with an amazing career in sport, in business and now as an author. Being part of the Olympic family for more than two decades has given me the opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures, languages, and customs. As an athlete, I learned the importance of the Olympic values – Excellence, Friendship, and Respect. These values crossed over into every aspect of my life and helped me reach the highest levels in sport, education, and business and led to three Hall of Fame inductions and being valedictorian of my MBA class. While those were amazing experiences, I wanted to give back and do more to make a difference for other people. Through my work as a professional athlete and goodwill ambassador, I focused on the advancement of young children through the values of education and sport. Having traveled to more than 74 countries around the world, I discovered that sport plays a critical role in the education of children and young students as it leads to a holistic growth of developing minds, fostering key skills, and learning the importance of determination, teamwork and so many other values that are needed in everyday life. The children I worked with have inspired me more than I can say and I wanted to contribute to helping them have a better future. Books were a big part of this. One of the United Nations programs I was proud to work with was called “Thank you Small Library” and built small libraries for children around the African continent with an aim to enhance reading skills and promote cultural diversity. I saw universally how much children enjoy reading books and telling stories. I kept a journal of many of these experiences. In 2010 I produced, edited, and narrated an internationally award-winning documentary film called the “Power of Education through Sport,” which was filmed on location at one of these small libraries in Mozambique. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Traveling around the world also allowed me to share my Christian faith with athletes, coaches, and children. All these experiences have led to my passion to write faith-based children’s books. God has blessed me with so many incredible opportunities and I really want to write books that inspire children to look at themselves and others through the eyes of a loving God who adores them and created them for a very special purpose.
MCA: Wow, you’ve had some incredible accomplishments throughout your life, it sounds like you are truly living your own version of a Disney fairytale! What was your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?
Tracy: I’ve always loved writing, even as a young child, and always had a vivid imagination. I remember after handing in English or History papers, my teachers always told me, “Tracy you have an amazing gift of writing.” Many years later in Los Angeles, a pastor told me that that I had an anointing to be a writer and that I should seriously consider using this God-given gift to write inspirational books about my faith. While during those phases of my life, I didn’t have the time to write books, I always kept journals. My travels and work with children around the world inspired me. Even in some of the most difficult situations, I was always amazed at their strength in the face of adversity. I wanted to write books for all the young boys and girls out there to encourage them and let them know how loved they are by God. Because there are so many times in their lives where they’re told otherwise. But God created each precious child in love and for love, and He has a great plan for their lives. Getting this message to as many children as possible is what has inspired me to write.
MCA: As one of the reviewers of The Church Dog has said, your books have a very beautiful way of telling their readers about God’s love. Tell us about the inspiration behind the character of “The Church Dog” and how you came to write a book centered around him!
Tracy: The Church Dog is actually based on a real dog at a real church in Celebration, Florida- the town that Disney built. His name is K’noot. When he was a puppy, our pastor would hold him in the nook of his arms during the prayer. It was so cute. I adopted him and continued to bring the puppy to church. He would greet people with his little paw. Then during the sermon, when Pastor said “Amen”, he barked-which made everyone laugh. He had such a positive effect on people, and his love made everyone smile. Church members started referring to him as “The Church Dog.” He has been part of the landscape of our church ever since. That is what gave me the inspiration to write these faith-based children’s stories with a loving puppy as the main character. Dogs are the one species on earth that are known for unconditional love, so what better character to tell the story of how God loves us unconditionally. And dog spelled backward is God. So, it was the perfect inspiration.
MCA: Dogs can be such a great source of inspiration! We talked a little about how each book in the series center around topics that are real issues children face. Can you tell us about some of those topics and how they were inspired by real-life experiences?
Tracy: Yes. This has been so much fun. The first story tells readers how K’noot becomes church dog and what his purpose is. After being sent down from Heaven, he is an earthly dog, so he’s flawed, and he makes mistakes and learns along the way. So, children immediately connect with the puppy. As his journey continues, K’noot’s Heavenly superpowers begin to develop, and he understands his purpose to remind people how precious they are in God’s eyes.
This sets up the next books in the series that deal with subjects like bullying, grief, prejudice, forgiveness, fear, and fighting temptation. Equally important is stressing the power of being kind, compassionate, giving, standing up for one another, and having self-esteem. With each book, we have a downloadable discussion guide that allows parents and educators to delve deeper into a conversation about these topics that are very real and present in the lives of children.
The second book, “Church Dog and the Big Bad Bug,” deals with the fear and anxiety little one’s face during a pandemic. This is obviously truly relevant for our world right now. It’s a beautiful lesson of faith over fear, and deals with questions children have asked me, “Why does God let people get sick?” And “where is God when I’m scared?” So, we wanted to create a fun story where kids go on this journey with K’noot and his furry friends and hopefully come out with a better understanding that God is bigger than any giant that they will face. A fun fact of this book is I got the premise for this story from a little boy whose mom had referred to the Flu as a bug. In his little imagination, he really thought it was a real bug. So, he went looking for it. In this story, the dogs do the same thing and it’s hilarious and fun and they learn some valuable lessons.
The message of the third book, “Church Dog & the Invisible Man” is no person is invisible to God I had a little girl, who had been struggling with family issues ask me, “Does God even see me?” That really tugged at my heart. Because there are so many children and adults that feel this way. It’s our human nature to want to be seen and feel loved. And we know that doesn’t always happen in life. Often little ones feel like they don’t fit in-maybe they look different or act different or they’ve suffered a loss and feel like no one understands. They feel invisible. In the story, K’noot encounters this situation and at first, it makes him sad, but then he remembers his purpose and wants to let all people know that there is a loving God who not only sees you and adores you, but He created you for a purpose. And that He is with you even in the hard times. It also touches on the importance of being kind and compassionate because we don’t know what other people are going through. Small acts of kindness can change the entire atmosphere in a person’s situation. It drives home the message no matter what you face in life, nothing can change your identity as a precious, beautiful, valuable child of God.
MCA: Who are all the characters that can be found throughout each book in the Church Dog Series?
Tracy: K’noot is the main character of the book. He is a little, fluffy white Maltese puppy. Jesus is a central figure in the book, showing up to explain things to K’noot and help Him along his journey. Other main characters are Pastor William; Tracy, his owner; Shep, a retired military German Shepard, the canine friend he always goes to for good advice, and Chester, a loveable but opinionated hamster. Other supporting characters are K’noots pack of dog buddies, each has its own unique characteristics and flaws which make them loveable and relatable.
We are introducing new characters in each book. Our Christmas book, “Church Dog and the Shiny, Royal Christmas Box,” introduces Royal, a charming but entitled King Charles Spaniel. Together they discover the true meaning of Christmas. And for Valentine’s Day 2022, we will release “K’noot meets a Marshmallow,” where we introduce the girl Maltese puppy, Marshmallow, who will become K’noot’s best friend and crush. (Puppy love). And the lovable cat characters are coming in 2022 as well. We have an amazing illustrator, Justin Greenly who does a beautiful job bringing these lovable characters to life.
What’s fun is when we do story readings at book signings, libraries, or schools, the real K’noot comes along, and the kids just fall in love with him. He’s a very playful pup. In fact, his popularity with children has sparked us to create a plush toy of the Church Dog to go with the books.
MCA: That is absolutely adorable and we cannot wait to read K’noot meets a Marshmallow! What kind of response from readers have you received?
Tracy: We have received amazing responses from our readers, which is really humbling. Parents from all over the country send us letters, post on social media, and share adorable photos of their children with the Church Dog books. We’ve posted many of them on our website. It really makes all the hard work worthwhile knowing the stories are having a positive impact on so many children. A recurring response we also get is that the messages of the books are just as important for adults as they are for children. So that was good to hear, as I remember those precious moments of storytime with my mom and dad and grandparents. I am happy to hear they are also enjoying the books as much as the children are.
MCA: If you could ensure readers of your books could walk away with one main lesson for each book, what would those lessons be?
Tracy: I think the consistent theme that runs through all the different stories is that God loves you just as you are, He created you to be uniquely you for a purpose that no one else on Earth but you can fulfill. And nothing can separate you from God’s love. It doesn’t matter how the world views you or judges you, the truth is, every beautiful child is a son or daughter of the King of Kings and that will always be their real identity. There is so much negativity in the world today and children need positive messages. We want children to be able to face anything in life knowing how loved and valuable they are to God. That is the message of this book series.
MCA: That is a wonderful lesson to leave us off with, thank you Tracy!
You can learn more about Tracy Mattes and her award-winning Church Dog Series by visiting her MCA Shop pages.