City Lights: Children go nutty for Nutter's tale

One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from the 19th-century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who said, "Easy reading is damn hard writing." That may be the mantra of anyone who has ever attempted to write a children's book. When I was in college, a member of my creative writing workshop once brought a fairy tale to class — and accompanied it with a page of testimonials from kids who had read the story, as if to convince us discerning adults that second-graders would go for it.

It's hard to write a book of any kind, but if you set out to pen a romance novel or a thriller or even the next "Ulysses," you're at least playing to an audience of peers. Trying to sell a story for a younger mindset can be an added challenge. So when Jeannine Thomas launches her first book Saturday at the Huntington Beach Central Library, she'll feel particularly vindicated after those years of tightening every line.

Thomas, who lives in Surf City and teaches elementary school in Santa Ana, has spent the last seven years writing a series based on Nutter, her French bulldog who died half a decade ago. The first installment, "Nutter the Survivor," tells the semi-true story of Nutter's escape from a puppy mill — represented in the book as a big, green ogre — and her journey before being rescued and adopted.

Until Oklahoma-based Tate Publishing & Enterprises issued "Nutter" this month, it lived for seven years in Thomas' three-ring binder. And it made plenty of rounds around the neighborhood as the author read it for her nieces and nephews, neighborhood kids, students and anyone else who would lend an ear.

Thomas, who has written unpublished adult novels before, found it a whole different process.

"Every single word has to be meaningful for the story, and it has to move the story along," she said. "Every word matters. Every single word matters."

It may have taken a while for Thomas to hone "Nutter the Survivor," but along the way, she found that her story resonated for a lot of kids. As a teacher, she often deals with students who face bullying or teasing and feel like outsiders, and the book's repeated theme of "survivors" is meant to encourage them to take heart.

Now, Thomas has completed five Nutter tales and is beginning to enjoy the life of a published author. Traci Jones, a marketing representative at Tate, said the company is busy setting up appearances in the community and making the book available to retailers.

Above all, the author hopes her series will keep the memory of her dog alive. Saturday, she plans to show a video of the real Nutter, who had a litany of medical problems by the time she was rescued and died four years after Thomas adopted her.

"She was the celebrity around town when I had her," Thomas said. "She always put a smile on people's faces."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

If You Go

What: Book release for "Nutter the Survivor"

Where: Huntington Beach Central Library, Tabby Storytime Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave.

When: 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday

Cost: Free ($10 for the book)

Information: (714) 842-4481

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