Wednesday, October 14, 2020

From Blog Post to Book (And Now Available for Pre-Order!)

The final jacket proof of Ciao, Sandro!, by Steven Varni and Luciano Lozano

Every native Venetian knows there’s far more to their famously beautiful city than meets the eye, but none better than a keen-eared, sharp-scenting little dog named Sandro, who leads us all around his maze-like hometown--and even out to Murano--on a top-secret mission.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of a new children's picture book I've written and Luciano Lozano has beautifully illustrated that will be published by Abrams Books for the North America market on June 8, 2021.

The book's been a long time in the works, five years to be exact, and the eponymous protagonist on the jacket cover above may look familiar to some of you, as he's modeled on an actual gondolier's dog I first wrote about on December 21, 2015 who knew how to take the vaporetti all around the lagoon--from the Venice's historic center to Giudecca and Lido--all by himself. 

That post was entitled "Venice's Greatest Explorer Is Four-legged" (from which you can see an image below). And about a month later I salvaged what I could from some research video I shot of Sandro and combined it with the audio of an interview I did with his gondolier companion Nicola (in preparation for writing the first post) and put up a two minute video (with English subtitles) in which Nicola recounts the first time the captain of a vaporetto called him to tell him his little dog had come aboard by himself: "A Dog About Town."

These two posts were the inspiration for the book, but the book itself has a story of its own, which benefits immensely from the illustrations of the Barcelona-based artist Luciano Lozano. Luciano, as you can see from his website, has produced an impressive body of work over the years (including some freshly published books, Boys Dance and Mayhem at the Musuem, I'd highly recommend), and I was thrilled when my editor told he he'd agreed to illustrate my text of Ciao, Sandro!

I was happy to leave all questions of exactly how to illustrate the book entirely up to him. My editor at Abrams had seen the blog posts that inspired the book, but whether she in turn would show them (with their images of the real-world Sandro) to Luciano was entirely up to her. My text described the dog only as being small, beyond that he could look however Luciano thought it best for him to look. In fact, I wouldn't have minded if the male dog of my original text had become female. I was looking forward to being surprised, and based upon what I'd seen of Luciano's work and of the people at Abrams, I had no fear that the surprises would be of an unpleasant sort. 

My job was done, and I hoped that the text already contained a certain subtext I only became aware of in its writing: which was a story of how, in a world overwhelmed by visual images, and in a city famous for its celebrated sights, we make our way in the world and know our place in it with the use of all of our senses

For Venice is not just a famous collection of stage-sets for selfies--though it is that--but a city with its own distinctive sounds and smells and textures and tastes. From my observation small children in Venice, just like small dogs, are well aware of what seems like it should be quite obvious, but it's an awareness that can diminish as one grows up.

So, really, Ciao, Sandro! is not just about the Venice of the five senses, but perhaps might serve as a reminder in this image-driven age of ours that all of our hometowns, no matter how celebrated or obscure, have their own distinctive sensory experiences.  

Or, more simply put, I'm fairly confident that of all the thousand of books published on Venice Ciao, Sandro! is probably the only one that features an espurgopozzineri boat and driver. (What's that, you may ask? Well, it has something to do with a topic of some interest to most kids: poop.)
CIAO, SANDRO! can be pre-ordered now on the Abrams Books website (the "PRE-ORDER" button will give you a selection of stores to place the order with online).  

Perhaps in a future post I'll write a bit about the days in early October 2019 when Luciano came to Venice to research his illustrations for the book, and the walks around the city we took, and maybe, with his permission, post some of his first sketches.
It was actually only on the day that Luciano arrived here in Venice, before we'd even met in person for the first time, that he sent me an image of his first sketch of what the character of Sandro would look like, which he'd just taken in a Venetian setting. You can see it below:
photo credit: Luciano Lozano


  1. How wonderful! You must be bursting with delight. It sounds absolutely great. Love the dog, although I'm a cat person myself.

    1. Thanks, Ella, Would it help if I told you the protagonist is a rather cat-like dog? This may even be kind of true.

  2. your sales rep michael gourley showed us the cover yesterday! congratulations!
    gary and beth at gulf of maine books