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A Dog's Life 

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Chagrin Falls author Sandra Philipson is used to wide-eyed audiences encountering her work. Whether it's the lay public trying to wade through a medical informed-consent document she helped a doctor dumb down or a child entranced by tales of her springer spaniels, the level of concentration is similar for both groups. It will be the latter audience she greets Saturday morning at K&M Books in Shaker Heights.

"Writing for children is a very interesting challenge," says Philipson, a doctoral candidate in medical literacy -- helping doctors write for their patients, not their colleagues -- at Kent State University. Her debut writing for children is two books based on her real-life pets: Annie Loses Her Leg but Finds Her Way and Max's Wild Goose Chase. "It was kind of a natural progression, as strange as that may seem, from this very esoteric field to writing about my springer spaniel who lost her leg."

In Annie, the subject has a leg amputated due to cancer, and she -- and her family -- must come to terms with the change, while Max's story is much lighter fare, based on the devilish antics of her younger spaniel. Annie's story was written as much to help Philipson and her family deal with the decision to amputate as it was to teach kids about overcoming obstacles, and Max's story came along as sort of a counterpoint to the seriousness.

"We were all moved by [Annie's] plight," Philipson explains. "I thought, gee, this might help kids, if they lose something, to look at what you can still do, rather than at what you can't do anymore. And I thought, if they like Max in one book, why not have another book with that funny character?"

The two books are much more than bedtime stories for Philipson, however. They are part of a project she has developed with area schools in which she talks to kids about reading, writing, and the imagination, as well as trying to balance society's views of beauty. "It's really neat to have an animal image out there that is something that's cuddly and playful, and still not have everything that all the other animals have," she says. "You'd be amazed at how the kids just love her."

Philipson has two other Max and Annie manuscripts in the works, as well as her career in medical literacy. Who knows, maybe colorfully illustrated informed-consent documents with small words and big letters are right around the corner. -- Powers

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