Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Peg Sundberg: Living her dream

Featured in the Winter 2008 issue of the Wyoming Library Roundup
It was Peggy Sundberg’s life-long dream to write children’s stories, and after 20 years she reached that goal. Now she is helping children realize their own dreams.
Sundberg knew at a young age that she wanted to publish children’s books, but she wanted to make sure that her books had a positive message.
“I would read stories to my children and wonder ‘why did anyone publish this story. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a bunch of words,’” Sundberg says.
She wanted to ensure her books weren’t just words, making sure they taught children life lessons such as responsibility, respect and individuality.
Although Sundberg knew the kind of books she wanted to publish, she had yet to find the perfect story. That was until she took in a lost horse that became the inspiration for her first book Lonesome the Little Horse—His Mountain Adventure.
“The sheriff in our county knew I took in rescued horses, so when he called me,
I was more than happy to take in the horse,” she says.
The horse was lost and Sundberg planned to take care of it until they found the owner. Once, they found her, she told Sundberg of how the other horses had really picked on this horse. The horse was smaller and had a bit of a limp.
“He finally went through the fence and got away. It was then he got lost and ended up getting into loco weed.”
Loco weed for horses is much like drugs for humans. It’s very addictive and because of this the horse was in pretty rough shape once he got to Sundberg.
“If someone wouldn’t have found him, he probably would have died,” she says. Sundberg used the horse’s story to create a book for children about not being a bully and the importance of staying away from drugs.
“In the story, I talk about this grass the horse keeps seeing and how his mother keeps telling him to stay away from it. He decides to go ahead and try it anyway making himself very sick,” she says.
“There’s one line in the book where he says, ‘I should have listened to my mother.’ Parents love that.”
The difference between Sundberg and many other writers is that she’s self-published. Because she’s selfpublished, she has to fight an idea that self-published books are not as good as books with publishers. Sundberg says she knew her books would resonate well with schools, so she used the school systems to market her book.
“It started by my telling a few teachers about this book I had written and wanted to know if I could come in and sign some books and speak in the classrooms. From there it grew as teachers told other teachers. Now I’ve traveled across the country sharing my stories,” she says.
While traveling, Sundberg developed another skill she didn’t know she had, a knack for public speaking.
“I’ve never used cards or notes,” she says.
“I’ve always spoken from the heart.” Sundberg made a cameo in her first book and once she released her second book her series became aptly titled “The Cowgirl Peg Series,” because not only are the animals in her stories real, but so is the Cowgirl behind them.
“The horses are real even if sometimes the stories are not. Cowgirl Peg is real and students have made that connection,” she says.
At the end of her books she features real photographs on the horses.
Maybe the book that is the most real to Sundberg, and by far the hardest to write was Jazmine’s Incredible Story, a book about her beloved German Shepherd, Jazmine.
“We got Jazmine for me to travel with because I drive all over the country and I’m by myself—sometimes in inner cities where it’s not safe for me to travel alone. We got her from a shelter and it became obvious very quickly that she had been abused.”
The dog was scared of people and rather skittish. As time went on, Jazmine had a heart murmur and her veterinarian decided it would be best to run an X-ray to see if her heart was ok.
“We were shocked because we actually found a bullet in her rib. That’s how bad her life was,” she says.
One school let Sundberg bring Jazmine inside and Sundberg would tell Jazmine’s triumphant story. The more schools she went to and the more times she told Jazmine’s story, the more people requested a book about Jazmine’s adventures.
“One thing I always teach students is that to develop stories you have to paint pictures with words. But this was hard because it was all true. I wanted to teach kids that animals have feelings and to respect animals.”
Sundberg says there’s only one sad page, when they find the bullet, and she made the next page funny, so children wouldn’t dwell on what just happened.
“I wanted to send a message but not in a preachy way. If you’re shooting a dog with a BB-gun, the dog does hurt and feel pain.”
Jazmine has since semi-retired after working with Sundberg for about four years. Sundberg shows no sign of retiring soon. She has released a book every year since she started selfpublishing and only plans to slow that down so she can focus on her school visits.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve work for in my life. I’m living out my life-long dream and I’m getting to have a positive effect on kids. That’s what makes it all worth it.”

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