The idea had been on my mind: a scratch-and-sniff children's book," author and publisher Margaret Hyde says. "It goes back to my third-grade teacher at St. Mary's school in Memphis. She'd put those stickers on our homework if we did well.
"I've got two boys," Hyde adds, "and I thought, what if I wrote a book about pirates — smelly pirates? But bad smells don't translate well as scratch-and-sniff. Then, in the middle of the night I remembered Mo. It was a wakeup call!"
Mo. That's short for Mahatma (or "Great Soul" in Sanskrit), and he's no pirate. He's one lucky dog. Hyde's longtime friend Amanda Giacomini rescued him at Citizen Canine, a "dog hotel" that houses strays in Oakland, California. Now he finds himself the inspiration for Hyde's latest children's book, Mo Smells Red, which follows Mo as he uses his nose to arrive at the meaning of red. Make that meanings.
Red is "sugary" in the form of a strawberry, "velvety" in the form of a rose, and "burning hot" in the form of fire. "Delicious, delightful, smokey, and sweet"? On the book's last page, Mo smells love. How so? Look to Giacomini's brush and ink drawings, which are delightful too. The "Press-2-Smell" technology embedded in the book's back cover is good for thousands of presses. And the text is by Hyde herself, who already has authored an art series for children and a modern take on the Goldilocks tale called Dreadlocks and the Three Slugs.
For an ecological take on book publishing, though, consider this: Mo Smells Red is printed on post-consumer stock. The inks are soy-based. The scent pouches contain natural essential oils. And a portion of the sales goes directly to the Best Friends Animal Society, which works with humane groups across the country. For biodegradable, scented "poop bags" and doggie T-shirts made from recycled plastic bottles, go to mosnose.com. But for Mo Goes Green, you'll have to wait until Earth Day 2009.
If all this sounds like a consciousness-raising Californian at work, you're right, because it's where Hyde, a native Memphian, went to boarding school and college and where today she lives and works as the mother of three.
Mothering and authoring aren't all Hyde does, however. She volunteers her time at a mentoring program called Writegirl for teen girls in L.A. County and helps to create educational opportunities for underserved children at the New Visions Foundation. She's a photographer who's traveled to Bhutan to view that country's emerging democratic government and to Liberia as guest of that country's female president. She's also the executive producer of a documentary called The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306, which focuses on the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles as the remaining survivor there with Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
The film, directed by Adam Pertofsky, won juror and audience prizes at this year's Palm Springs International ShortFest film festival, has gained the support of musician Ben Harper and actor Tim Robbins, and has just been short-listed for an Academy Award. It's a documentary made in conjunction with the National Civil Rights Museum and Hyde Foundation, which makes Hyde's participation all in the family — the Hyde family of Memphis and their commitment to the community.
"It's what's important to me: that all this work has a service component," Hyde says. "Giving back is what I've been taught. And as a mother, it's what I want as a model for my children."
What Hyde hadn't anticipated was the model Mo is offering for disabled children. "I'm like Mo," a sight-impaired boy said of the color-blind canine, according to Hyde, and that statement has led her to think of an edition of the book in Braille, which was not part of the original plan.
"I was just hoping to do some good with Mo Smells Red, to bring some joy to people in not-so-happy times," Hyde says. "But these additional benefits ... I could never have predicted them."
Margaret Hyde will be signing copies of Mo Smells Red at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on Monday, October 27th, at 4 p.m. For more on Mo Smells Red and its many product tie-ins, go to mosnose.com.