NJ Natives Create Children’s Book About a Dog Searching for a Home

By Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

Ann Brasco and Denise DeBiasi-Costantino with copies of Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State. Photo courtesy of Ann Brasco.

Two New Jerseyans have created a children’s book, weaving a tale through the state about a dog, Sweetie, who is in search of a home, incorporating state facts and places. The pair is donating proceeds from the book to the animal shelter where the author adopted Sweetie.

“We see Sweetie as such a role model of courage. After everything she endures, she loves again and trusts again, after being disappointed. So to share that message outside of my home is really special,” said Ann Brasco. Brasco, along with artist Denise DeBiasi-Costantino, created Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State, a children’s book based on her dog Sweetie, which she adopted from Eleventh Hour Rescue in Randolph. One dollar from every book sold will be donated to the organization. Brasco and DeBiasi-Costantino are both natives of New Jersey so the book features not only Sweetie and Eleventh Hour Rescue, but also sites around New Jersey and state facts.

Brasco said that she has always had a background in writing. She currently writes for NJ.com and The Seabrooker newspaper in South Carolina, as well as other freelance articles. Sweetie’s is the first book that she has written. DeBiasi-Costantino said that she has always been an artist and has worked in different areas of art, including fine art and illustration. She said a couple of years after she started focusing on illustration, she met Brasco and through conversation they decided to come together with their ideas and create the story of Sweetie.

Brasco adopted Sweetie from Eleventh Hour Rescue about 10 years ago when Sweetie was about 3 years old. Unsure of the story of Sweetie’s life before her adoption, Brasco wrote the book filling in the beginning of Sweetie’s life before becoming a part of the Brasco family. “With a lot of rescue dogs, a lot of owners agree that they have strong and distinct personalities. In collaborating with Denise, we wanted to capture Sweetie’s personality. She is very spirited, very courageous. Plus she had some injuries so we knew she had a history with a lot of challenges that she overcame. That is why we chose a real dog,” said Brasco.

In the story, Sweetie is a dog with a big heart but she does not have a home, said Brasco. “Sweetie sets off on her journey looking for where her forever home will be and she meets a cast of characters that are very spirited and kind of direct her but she finds in the 13 places that she visits that until the end that no place is quite home. It may be beautiful or there may be wonderful things about it but it does not really fit for her. She takes a lesson and learns different information from each setting but she moves on forward,” said Brasco. “There are also little trivial facts. Like what is the state seashell of New Jersey? It’s the conch shell. There are fun facts with each site. And all of that coordinates with the story line. There is a huge educational component with New Jersey, and the history and the nature behind it all. At the end of the story, after she visits a diner, she visits Eleventh Hour Rescue and she meets her forever family and at that point she realizes it’s the people that make the home and she ends up with a family.”

Illustration from Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State of Sweetie by Denise DeBiasi-Costantino. Photo courtesy of Ann Brasco.

Sweetie visits many New Jersey landmarks on her journey to find her home including the Jersey Shore, the Stony Pony, Washington’s Crossing and Liberty State Park, as well as Garden State farms. “The landmarks were in honor of New Jersey. We are both born and raised in New Jersey so we had many memories of growing up and collaborated on a lot of sites and places that we visited. When you are really little you are going to these places and we were going through certain spots just to commemorate north, middle and south. As the book goes on it brings you all the way back home,” said DeBiasi-Costantino. “It does envelop the journey that we take from early on until adulthood, that is to find the perfect place or person that you belong to or belong with and New Jersey has a meaningful touch to us in that sense. And being that it is home where Sweetie is born and she basically traveled, we brought it all together. Did we pick any specific spots? Not necessarily. We tried to envelope the whole state. We mark the 350th anniversary of New Jersey and that being said, New Jersey has so much history. There were so many different areas that we could have gone with and we did choose a lot of the dominant areas and dominant spots, and a lot of fun other towns that kind of just came to our interest.”

Along with the New Jersey facts included in the book for children to learn from, the book also offers a few messages for its readers. Brasco said, “I would say to treat life as an adventure and embrace the adventure. There is a spirited journey. The other message is Sweetie is looking for her forever home and what makes a forever home. It’s not necessarily the place that may be interesting, it is a combination of the place and the people that you encounter. Sweetie never gave up. She was full of hope.”

DeBiasi-Costantino added that another message is, “To really never give up because there are a lot of lost souls and its [Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State] heart is basically to just keep going and eventually you will come back to you in a very spirited way. As a child you learn that you fall you get up, you try again, so with many of the places that Sweetie visits we try to give her that push of that may not be it but lets try again.”

“The other nice thing about the book is that it’s a learning experience even for adults,” said Brasco. “So many adults, moms and dads have said to us that they didn’t know certain factual information about New Jersey, so it is fun. Even us in researching it, we learned something new.”

Brasco chose to use the setting of Eleventh Hour Rescue, where Sweetie was actually adopted from. “Animal rescue is a big issue for me, a personal issue. I have three rescue dogs, including Sweetie, and I rescued all three animals through Eleventh Hour Rescue which is featured in the book. Also we are donating a dollar of each book to them. It seemed like a great way to honor an organization and bring the issue of animal rescue into family’s homes and children’s lives,” said Brasco. “They are a real shelter that has been in operation for 10 years. In 10 years they have saved over 10,000 dogs and cats. They are a very big organization and I know first hand that the work they do is really meaningful. That’s why we chose to honor a real organization. It’s a real dog and real places in the book, and it’s a real organization.”

Eleventh Hour Rescue has been very supportive of the book, said Brasco. “Who would have thought when I took Sweetie 10 years ago, that it would come full circle? That’s a beautiful thing. Eleventh Hour Rescue has been helpful in getting the word out about Sweetie. The money raised will be really instrumental in building their new physical facility,” she said.

Brasco said that the community’s response to the book has been incredibly positive and she and DeBiasi-Costantino have been welcomed by several places in the community such as coffee houses, stores and schools to present the story of Sweetie. DeBiasi-Costantino said, “We are taking the adventure on a lot of different levels and we are really having fun with it and approaching the book with a different style. We like to set up different events so that children to come out, have fun, get a chance to meet Sweetie — the dog and the book. So it is a lot of fun, especially with a lot of the different things that we do.”

When asked what the most rewarding part of creating Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State is, Brasco said, “I would say that it is not the finished product that is the rewarding part, it is the process and feeling a calling to do something. I feel that I am a writer no matter what I am doing. When your career and your calling come together, it’s such an exciting time. The joy is in the production and even in overcoming different obstacles and finding creative solutions to things, that is all really interesting to me. Also, as a mom of three girls, it is really a wonderful thing for them to see me creating something and following through on the project. Even the kids we meet are like, ‘Wow, you can be a writer and you can make a book’ and we talk to them about how they can write their own stories down and it is something they can start at any age, which is exciting also to interact just with them.”

Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State. Photo courtesy of Ann Brasco.

DeBiasi-Costantino said the most rewarding part for her as the illustrator “is the thinking process, how you get to it. There are going to be a lot of bumps, so you have to go back to the drawing board and reapply your ideas in a different way and the end of the product is not so much the product itself but it’s the sense of the reaction that is taken from the viewer. That in turn gives you satisfaction because you are seeing it on many different levels. Where you began and what you had to go through, they are seeing it but through different eyes. That is what I think is beautiful about the whole artistic aspect of it. Both from the writer point of view and from the artist.”

As for the future, Brasco and DeBiasi-Costantino said that they would love to move Sweetie to another setting and also introduce other rescue animals and shelters and the other 49 states.

Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State can be purchased from the Sweetie Tales website, as well as Sweetie stuffed animals and other Sweetie items. There is also an option to donate a book to a school, library or hospital which includes a book plate that commemorates a person or pet that it is in honor of. There is a book event on Sunday, Nov. 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cheese…Please! located at 26 Eastman St. in Cranford. The event includes coloring pages for children and reading of excerpts from the book. Sweetie’s Search for a Forever Home in the Garden State is now available on Amazon.com in hard cover.