Scruffy Dog of the children’s book “Scruffy and the Egg” was not always scruffy. He used to have well-groomed chestnut fur and a bright blue collar with a shiny gold tag. He used to be Fluffy Dog.
In her debut as an author and illustrator, L.A. native Angela Sanchez tells the story of the dog’s transformation as he loses his family and home, navigates life on the streets and befriends and adopts a lost egg.
The cohesive, expressively drawn book, which Sanchez crowdfunded and self-published last year, has a surprisingly optimistic tone considering its exploration of difficult circumstances and homelessness.
The book is also partly autobiographical.
Sanchez, 26, grew up in Glendale, where she shared a two-bedroom apartment with her father, an architectural draftsman by trade.
For a single dad with no safety net, familial support or four-year degree, the Great Recession was a devastating financial earthquake.
Sanchez was a junior at Herbert Hoover High School in fall 2007 when an eviction notice appeared on the door of her apartment. A week before Thanksgiving, police officers came knocking.
“At the time I didn’t fully understand what the prospect of going homeless meant,” Sanchez recalls. “My dad had lived in that apartment for 25 years. I had lived there all my life. It was home. To lose it was a big blow.”
Sanchez and her father spent the 2007 holiday season hopping from one motel to another. By January their credit ran out and they landed in an emergency church shelter. The rules of the shelter were strict and comforts minimal. They slept on military-style cots a few feet from strangers. There was no privacy, no shower and no breakfast.
The high school junior kept her homelessness a secret from everyone at school except a supportive principal and a handful of advisors who helped her with her college admissions essay.
“I didn’t tell my teachers because I wanted to be treated like every other student,” she says. “I didn’t want to drag homelessness with me into the classroom. At school I got to be the smart kid. That was my identity. I didn’t have to worry about anything else.”
On the weekends, Sanchez and her father had nowhere to go during the long hours when the shelter was closed.
You don’t realize how much time you spend in your home until you don’t have one anymore.
“You don’t realize how much time you spend in your home until you don’t have one anymore,” she says.
To fill time, she and her father walked around Fremont Park or the pristinely landscaped Americana in Glendale, which to Sanchez “looked like Disneyland’s Main Street.”
As they walked, they made up stories about a scruffy dog that had lost his home and the vulnerable little egg he chaperoned. The characters’ elaborate adventures mirrored those of their creators. “Sometimes they were us not at our best selves,” Sanchez explains. “The egg would get bratty. The dog would bark at it. It was a way for us to have a narrative that captured our experiences.”
Sanchez began sketching cartoons of Scruffy and the Egg. By the time she and her father secured Section 8 housing in Highland Park near the end of her senior year, the characters had distinct visual traits and fleshed out plotlines.
In fall 2009, Sanchez enrolled at UCLA as a first-generation college student. While there she earned a bachelor’s in history followed by a master’s in education. She’s now a program officer at a local education-focused foundation, an author and a budding professional magician.
By the time she graduated with her master’s degree in 2015, Sanchez had completed the thumbnails for “Scruffy and the Egg” and obtained a copyright.
But tragedy had struck again. In 2012, her father was diagnosed with thymic cancer.
“He got to see me graduate from college; get my first boyfriend, who I’m still dating; finish grad school; and get my first job, which I still have,” Sanchez says of her father, who died in 2016.
And he got to see most of “Scruffy and the Egg.” Sanchez was able to show him the book before it went into production; “everything but the cover,” she says.
“For Dad, my Scruffy,” the book’s dedication reads, “and with special thanks to all the people who made sharing this story possible.”
Sanchez crowdfunded her book via Kickstarter; it’s now available via Amazon and at local L.A. bookstores Book Show, Caravan Books and Flintridge Bookstore and Coffee House. She is donating copies to shelters, homeless kids and the nonprofit organizations that support them.
One of those organizations –– School on Wheels –– is particularly special to Sanchez. It provided her with a calculus tutor when she was living in the shelter, and it was that tutor who first took her to visit a college campus. Last year she became the youngest person to serve on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Two weeks before Christmas, Sanchez held “Scruffy and the Egg’s” official launch party at School on Wheels’ downtown headquarters near skid row.
“I used to be a School on Wheels student just like you,” she told a group of students before she began reading them her book.
As she read, the kids munched on pizza slices and followed Scruffy’s adventures attentively. They giggled at the Egg’s demanding “Cheep, cheep, cheep!”
After the reading, each student was gifted a signed copy of the book. As one little boy thumbed through the colorful pages, he gave “Scruffy and the Egg” a concise, matter-of-fact review: “Yup. That was good.”
The adventures of Scruffy and the Egg are not over — Sanchez envisions this book as the first in a series. Her path forward as an author is bright: she’s at work on a young adult novel that was recently selected for a Work in Progress Award by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and also landed her a PEN Center USA 2018 Emerging Voices Fellowship.
But, she says, “Homelessness is something I never want to forget. Having stories that are able to address these difficult topics is one of the simplest and best thing you can give someone.”
Womack writes about art and culture in Los Angeles.