Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 6, 2016

Book Giveaway: Toby by Hazel Mitchell


Congratulations to Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell her wonderful new book named after and inspired by her dog, TOBY. The love Hazel has for Toby shows through in every word and her beautiful illustrations through out the book.

All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back on September 19th to discover the winner.

Toby Cover RGB


When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all?

A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.


Many people on social media know about Toby, who’s a real dog, but for those who don’t, let me fill you in. Toby’s a white, miniature poodle, rescued from a puppy mill situation in Aroostook County, Maine in 2013. I fostered him, but soon fell in love with him. My husband and myself this was his forever home. When he came to us he was a very scared and fearful dog. It’s taken a long time for Toby to find some confidence. This wasn’t helped in the summer of 2014 when he was lost and people over the world followed his story on social media. Luckily he returned to us!

Let me tell you a little bit about the book and how I wrote and illustrated it. It’s my first book as both author and illustrator, so it was a learning process for me. It began with me doodling around with little scenes of things Toby would do; hiding under the table on a chair, licking my hand when I was asleep or just curling up and not looking at us. Then I drew some of the things he did as he got more confident; running around the garden, sleeping on the end of the bed and taking treats from us. It was Harold Underdown who said to me at a retreat ‘Why don’t you write about him? Everyone loves Toby!’. My answer was ‘But everyone writes about their dog!’ But then, not all dogs are Toby. He’d really captured people’s hearts in my online posts about him.

Toby Rake Tree Boy

I started to think about a story. Me, my husband and Toby didn’t seem interesting. I couldn’t think of a story arc and I didn’t think it was enough to capture the interest of a reader. So I decided to fictionalize the setting and gave Toby a young friend, the boy in the story. In the first dummy he’s living with his family, but after the story was bought that changed quite a lot!

I’d created the dummy, now I needed to find a publisher. I didn’t have an agent, but had an open door from a previous submission to Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. NYC. To my delight she signed me on the strength of the dummy. That was so exciting! Ginger submitted ‘Toby” to Candlewick Press when disaster struck – the real Toby went missing! After eight long days Toby was found and we all breathed again. Liz Bicknell (editor at Candlewick Press) bought the book and the rest is history (all most).

There were several redraws of the original story as I worked with Liz and Ann Stott, art director. Rather than have the boy living in a family setting we changed it to show the boy having just moved house with his single dad, he’s feeling lonely and he wants to adopt a dog. Throughout each revision we simplified and cut unnecessary moments in the story, making it much easier for a child to follow on his or her own. Originally I’d included very little text, just dialogue. The final book has more text and it works better. There’s more for parents to read aloud and for children to engage with.

tobyShelter Colour

A little about my working process:

To create the characters in the book I did a good amount of photo searching to find the right kind of look for boy and dad. Toby was Toby and I’d already doodled and sketched him a great deal. When I had them all in my head and on my sketch pad, I started work on the first dummy.

tobyA lot of drawings

There were several dummies until we got to the final version. I’d thought of doing the whole book in graphite with red as a highlight colour on the boy’s shoes and Toby’s collar (as an emotional connection between boy and Toby), but in the end I tried several colour ways and we all decided a light colour wash worked.

tobyB&WColour sample 1My technique in Toby was to do the final pencil drawing first (usually about 6B on Fabriano hot press 140lb), then a watercolour wash in one colour only (burnt sienna in this case). Lastly I scan at about 400dpi (not too small as to keep the roughness of the texture) and then I add a digital colour overwash in photoshop. The pages are set up ready for text when I send them to the production manager. I think I worked on the book for a year and a half. It goes by so quickly and finally a box of books arrives on your doorstep!

toby Colour Sample 3

My overall goal for Toby’s story was to show the emotional changes in the dog and boy. The boy never gives up on Toby, however frustrated they become and keeps on trying when Toby needs help adjusting to his new life. That’s reflected in the style and use of colour, I hope. I think it’s unusual to have a single dad on his own featured in a children’s picture book and I wanted to show that parents have issues too. But Toby wins out in the end … just as he has in his real life!

Hazel and Toby close up


Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated many books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? ‘Toby’ is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press. Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental, Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles Charlotte/Mecklenburg , Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended art-college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips, but is learning to love lobster. Find out more about her at and is represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd., NYC.

Thank you Hazel for sharing your journey with us and offering a book to one lucky winner.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I also adopted a shelter dog when my son was still at home, and relate well to many of the quirky fears she had, and things we did to help her feel more relaxed. I was especially impressed that my son had ideas for acclimating her in unusual ways to some things that frightened.

    • Children sometimes seem to know instinctively what will calm an animal down. Thanks for rescuing dogs! Hazel and Toby xo

      • My daughter is the big dog rescuer! Has had three – two of them now – and she lives in Brooklyn. She also posts dogs needing adoption periodically on her facebook page. ❤

  2. A great interview thank you for hosting! (By the way, there should be an apostrophe in the heading books journey.)

    • Jessica,

      Thanks for the heads-up – made the correction.


  3. Ohh, I want this book!

    • Good luck, Carleen! Hazel and Toby xx

  4. It’s always fun to see Toby show up on Hazel’s feed…and now he has his own social media accounts which are must-follows!

  5. I’ve been excited for this book. Thanks for sharing insight into the process!

    • You are welcome! Hope you enjoy it!

    • Claire,

      Congratulations! You won the book giveaway. Please send me you address, so I can send it to Hazel.


  6. I also tweeted about this post.

  7. What a great story, Hazel, complemented by your perfect illustrations. I love that an agent took it and sold it quickly to Candlewick! Major congrats!

    • Thanks Carole! I appreciate your kind comments .. and yes for quick sales!

  8. I love dogs! And Toby and his boy look adorable. Congrats, Hazel!

    • Me too! Thanks so much. Hazel and Toby xo

  9. Can’t wait to read this book to my two rescued dogs! I’ve flunked Fostering 101 as well (with dogs and house rabbits). Paw waves to Toby:-)

    • Good luck, Nancy! Yep, fostering is the hardest. Waving back. Hazel and Toby xo

  10. LOVE IT!

  11. I’d love to win this book for my dog-loving granddaughter. I’ll share on FB too! Thanks, Carol

    • Good luck, Carol! Hazel and Toby xo Thanks for sharing.

  12. This looks adorable — congratulations! We have a Havanese who melts our heart. I always tell people that she chose us, not the other way around.

    • Thanks, Heather! And I know what you meaning about them choosing you. Hazel and Toby xo

  13. Thanks for sharing your story Hazel. I think your book will really resonate with young readers. Good luck!

    • I do hope so! Thanks for your kind words. Hazel and Toby xo

  14. Congratulations and thanks for sharing! I shared on Twitter also.

    • Thanks Kristi and thanks for sharing! Hazel and Toby xo

  15. Love to know that there is a real Toby! Congratulations!

    • Thanks so much, he is very real! Hazel and Toby xo

  16. I remember Hazel from before she was published and am so thrilled to see her dreams coming true!

    • back before there was electricity, right?? Thanks, Lynne Marie! Hazel and Toby xo

  17. Can’t wait to read it! Congratulations Hazel.

  18. Congratulations, Hazel! Looks like a wonderful book.

  19. I love the tone of this book and I enjoyed reading about the journey to publication.

    • Thanks, Sheila. That’s a lovely compliment! Hazel and Toby xo

  20. The book sounds absolutely adorable! Like the progression of both boy and dog. Congratulations.

  21. Congratulations to Hazel on a wonderful book with beautiful illustrations. A heartwarming story with a happy ending for all.

  22. Congratulations on your sweet book. I look forward to reading it.

    • Thank you Lindsay, I hope you enjoy it! Hazel and Toby xo

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