By Roberta Binder
On the morning of November 6, Election Day, Suzanne Kline and I sat down to discuss a somewhat different Presidential Election than the one that was on most people’s mind that day. We had come together to discuss a feisty little Norfolk terrier, Cosmo, who is running for President on the Happy Party against Finnegan who is running on the Fussy Party.
It was through chance that I met Suzanne and heard bits of her amazing story; I was excited to learn more. Suzanne and Cosmo are seemingly unlikely entertainers and educators. Suzanne spent almost twenty years as a mortgage executive and ranked number one in her company for seven straight years. That high stress career came crashing to a halt the day of her near-fatal car accident that jettisoned her into several years of coping with cognitive impairment and depression.
About that time as Suzanne was hiding in her home not doing much beyond playing with her four grandchildren, Cosmo came into her life. Cosmo was a gregarious little puppy whose canine needs got her up and outside for daily walks, and slowly back to life – a new life. Cosmo helped get Suzanne out of her personal depression which led her to seek specialized medical care as she realized when she relocated to Asheville that she needed the help of a Neurologist and later had the testing to discover that she suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident, which had gone undetected.
With the realization that life was never going to be ‘what it was,’ Suzanne discovered a previously untapped creativity within her and slowly picked herself up and began to write. That did not come easily. As a mortgage executive she had strong math skills but was weak on the writing and grammar side. Undaunted, she kept pushing forward. Slowly, with Cosmo by her side, as his tail wagged the computer keys clicked, and soon the stories began to emerge. Suzanne was surprised that her writing was focusing on children’s books but quickly recognized that she was on
the path to scripting Cosmo’s Great Adventures Series (twelve books are currently planned).
Cosmo is a very sociable little being and the suggestion of turning to volunteer work with him in hospitals presented itself. That was nearly six years ago. Today Suzanne and Cosmo are not only entertaining and loving volunteers through Paws on a Mission, they are also welcome into classrooms where Cosmo sits quietly and with great appreciation as a child reads to him; a volunteer program to improve reading skills.
Again fate stepped in when Suzanne and a friend noticed Daryl Slaton drawing pet pictures at the Biltmore Village Craft Fair. She boldly introduced herself to him by announcing that he was going to be illustrating her book series which would be about dog stories. Initially he was reluctant to meet her but the two of them, Suzanne’s stories and Daryl’s illustrations bring the books to life, they have become a great team. (You saw Daryl’s art as it graced the cover of WNC Woman’s April 2012 issue.)
Needless to say, Daryl and Suzanne did joyfully connect and illustrator and author and the first book were introduced: Case of the Whatever Blues. It was inspired by the imaginary world of Cosmo being stuck in his little backyard. His friend Shirley Squirrel (who will continue with Cosmo throughout the series) pointed out his confinement, since she had lots of freedom. That first book held the lesson from Cosmo of: “… [if] he could dream it he had all the freedom in the world!” This opened the doors to a new stage of entertainment and education for the little dog and his beloved Suzanne. The two began a journey that saw them going to libraries, classrooms, anywhere a group of children would gather, Cosmo eager to please the crowd and Suzanne reading, instigating discussion and listening to the wisdom of the youth. They were a hit.
Then, as the United States was in the midst of their Presidential Elections, Cosmo and Suzanne were hearing confusion and questions during their school visits regarding the candidates. So with Cosmo’s growing popularity … Cosmo for President was born. The goal was to help youth understand elections and see another way to look at them by reaching
out in friendship rathehttp://www.wncwoman.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=page-flip-image-galleryr than slander or bullying others.
The book opens with Cosmo reading on his iPaw in the Doggie Daily News that Finnegan the wolf entered the election as the candidate for the Fussy Party. Later that day as Cosmo barked with his pal and mentor, Professor Charlie, the idea emerged for Cosmo to run for office on the Happy Party! The tale was an instant hit with Cosmo as candidate dressed in tuxedo and tie. Once again classroom doors were opening to eager audiences of children.
As Suzanne and Cosmo found themselves talking to over 2000 children across the country, they learned a lot from them about their daily concerns and questions. Mail was piling up in the mailbox, emails were coming rapidly, and phone calls for more guest appearances were being fielded. The children, teachers, parents and media watched, listened and responded.
“Some of the concerns we were hearing from the children included:
- What is happening to the Earth with climate changes?
- What is the real story on woman’s rights?
- Will equal rights for all people impact me in the future, or is it going to be resolved?
- Will war always continue? Why can’t people live in peace?
- How can I as a 10, 12, 14 year-old begin to create change?
Since the book addresses the topic of bullying, we found that was a source of grave concern for these amazing students. Over and over we heard the children asking questions that were being played out within the borders of the United States and around the world. The children are deeply concerned for their future and the future of the world,” Suzanne explained.
And it leads me to personally question: What is the world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren? Is it a world where the Happy Party can win an election? Is it one where friendly Cosmo in his tuxedo and cute tie can create the change we need in our world today?
As Suzanne and Cosmo traveled and shared Cosmo for President, over and over they heard from the students, ‘Why do candidates disrespect each other?’ With this constant adult disrespect, they wondered why they needed to respect their fellow classmates. Additionally they saw the President of the United States not being respected. “The students wonder why this is happening,” Suzanne states. “He is the President, they have been taught to respect him, and they wonder why it isn’t happening. The children also want to know what happens when a person gets elected? Do they just go to Washington and get a dog and go to meetings all the time and nothing really changes?” How do we answer that question? Cosmo For President is a great tool for starting those conversations and a lesson plan is available to teachers to help engage students in the process.
Suzanne continues, “We’re thinking that kids are in school all day just learning science and math. They are learning so much more than that in life skills such as how to select friends, what to do when you get discouraged, how can you evolve new ways to fulfill your dreams? Through Cosmo’s Great Adventure series, children can be entertained, while learning creative ways to think outside of the box.”
Recently Suzanne and Cosmo have partnered with Dr. Leslie Newman a licensed Psychologist. Suzanne presents the book and Leslie brings practical applications to the story’s lessons. The result is great bonding within a class of students. They learn trust of their classmates and gain comfort to share their inner dreams knowing they are going to receive support and positive feedback. “This is the bonding we see in the classroom that can last a lifetime,” Suzanne notes.
An amazing life and second-career has evolved for a strong woman and her gregarious little dog. They both excel in Entertaining, Educating and Comforting as they continue in the Paws on a Mission program working with children who are in cancer treatment; Cosmo works with students in the one on one reading program; and they can both be found in classrooms grades four through eight who welcome them time and time again.
Case of Whatever Blues and Cosmo for President can be found at Malaprops and other independent book stores or ordered online at: www.CosmosGreatAdventures.com. Schools or children’s groups can also find information for scheduling Suzanne, Cosmo and Leslie to visit for entertaining/education. As you are reading this, the election is over, a segment has been created in the Teachers section called Watchdog Kids, where the kids can keep an eye on, comment and have their voicesvheard in just how the government is doing.
Roberta Binder, Facilitating Clarity through Mindful Editing at RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change!