Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Aimee Veile

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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! As a part of our ongoing interview series, we at Mom’s Choice had the privilege of speaking with Aimee Veile, a classically trained musician who has turned her talents to writing. She’s with us today to talk about her Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, Christmastime for Sawyer. It’s a tale about an Old English Sheepdog who winds up in an animal shelter on Christmas Eve. There, he befriends a homeless dachshund and has his eyes opened to the world around him—and the true spirit of the season.

MCA: Aimee, we’re so glad you could join us today! Please tell us about yourself.

I began playing the cello at the age of ten and am now in my 20th year of teaching as an orchestra director. I teach fifth-grade orchestra, and eighth-grade orchestra, direct two high school orchestras, and work with an honors after-school orchestra. I serve as the principal cellist and education liaison of the Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra. I have a degree in cello performance from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Master’s in Education from The Boston Conservatory. I have also served on boards for our Missouri music organizations, including the Missouri chapter of the American String Teachers Association and the Missouri Music Educators Association.

Throughout my career as an educator, I have had a blast helping young people find their musical voice through orchestral string instruments—violin, viola, cello and bass! It has been a real gift to be a part of the lives of so many young people and their parents!

MCA: Since you’ve spent years as a symphony orchestra member and music teacher, what was your path to becoming a writer like?

The idea of being a writer has always intrigued me, but until now I didn’t have inspiration for what to write. The old adage says, “Write what you know.” I know music, especially orchestra music, but have always been more interested in teaching orchestra and performing on my cello than writing about it.

Ever since I was a kid and saw my first picture of an Old English Sheepdog in a book about dogs, I have been in love with these large, fuzzy creatures. Almost every Christmas I asked my mom and dad for an Old English Sheepdog (OES) puppy, but Santa said our house was too small for one! I never actually had an OES for a companion until I owned my own home and was in my second year of teaching. Then, it wasn’t until our second Old English Sheepdog named Sawyer spent his first Christmas with us that I became inspired to write my first story.

Sawyer was very confused about why we were changing so many things around the house. He had just become acclimated to his surroundings after coming to live with us a few days before Halloween. I scribbled the story into a spiral-bound notebook a few days after that Christmas, but it wasn’t until Sawyer’s passing after a long-term illness that I turned his story into a book. Between my husband, Sawyer’s doctors, and I, we did everything we could to save him. In the end all we could do was extend his life by about a year. I decided that I didn’t like how Sawyer’s story had ended and that while I couldn’t give him more life, maybe I could give him a bit of immortality through the story I wrote about him. I always loved how much people’s faces would light up when they saw Sawyer. The sheer joy of seeing a large, boisterous, fuzzy stuffed animal come to life. I hope that he is able to bring that type of happiness to people through his book.

Plus, writing this story felt right when keeping in mind the idea that you’re supposed to write about what you know. Christmas and Old English Sheepdogs are two things I have become very familiar with and which hold treasured memories for me.

MCA: It’s such a charming story. What would you say are the key lessons it imparts to young readers?

The key lessons in this book are first, to have empathy, and second, that kindness and caring are two concepts deeply embedded in the heart of Christmas. These two ideas are emphasized by Sawyer’s realization of how others’ lives are different from his own and the feeling of empathy he develops after meeting Tonks the dachshund and spending a night in the animal shelter.

I think, as humans, we are always trying to find a way to better understand and connect with each other. It is challenging to place yourself in the shoes of another person as well as try to learn something about them and their life so you can appreciate where they have been, what they may be going through, and who they are. During the course of his book, Sawyer gets to do something not a lot of us have the opportunity to do: walk in someone else’s shoes to some extent. If Sawyer’s book can help people, especially children, walk away with a little bit more empathy, kindness and caring in their hearts, then Sawyer has done his job.

MCA: What kind of response have you received for your book?

The response from readers has been great! Sawyer’s book has received comments such as, “This book was just adorable and a fun read.” as well as, “This book is so heart-warming and a great read to read to your kids. Teaches the true meaning of Christmas.” So far, everyone who has read the book has loved it. Sawyer, the Old English Sheepdog, is finding his way into more hearts every day!

MCA: Sawyer is such a wonderful character—do you have any new projects in the works featuring him?

Sawyer’s tale, Christmastime for Sawyer, is Book 1 of the Old English Sheepdog Stories. I have completed the story for Book 2 about my first Old English Sheepdog, named after one of my favorite poets and titled Wordsworth Goes to School. I still have a way to go in regard to completing the illustrations. The cover for Wordsworth’s book is complete, but I still have about 11 illustrations to create. I steal moments outside of my time as an orchestra teacher to work on my books. During the summers I have more time to work on my books, but my students receive first priority during the school year. I should have Wordsworth’s book completed by the end of August 2024, just in time for next school year!

Wordsworth Goes to School is a story of adventure and curiosity about Wordsworth, the Old English Sheepdog. His people, Eric and Aimee, are teachers who head back to school every August where they spend a lot of time. Wordsworth desperately wants to know what the place called “school” is like, so one day he escapes from his backyard and sneaks onto a school bus. This launches Wordsworth into a school day adventure!

Eventually I am going to start on a story for my current Old English Sheepdog, Alfred, who we’ve helped learn how to manage anxiety. I think it would be great to explore the topic of anxiety through the eyes of an Old English Sheepdog. Many of us deal with anxiety on different levels. My hope is that Alfred, in his book titled Anxious Alfred, will be able to help kids know they’re not alone in any anxious moments they may have and that everyone deals with some level of anxiety. The key is in how we manage it.

MCA: It’s so terrific that, with your solid grounding in the performance arts, you then went on to write children’s stories. We wish you the very best, Aimee—and and hope you had a very merry Christmas!

You can learn more about Aimee Veile and her award-winning book, Christmastime for Sawyer by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

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