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In the lead up to The People’s Book Prize 2016 we caught up with author Rebecca J. Hubbard to talk about her novel
Texan native, Rebecca J. Hubbard is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over twenty years of experience working with children and their families. She began writing short stories as a child for her own amusement. Early in her career Rebecca discovered that she could facilitate the healing process of her young clients by writing stories for them and in 2012 she began writing for publication. Currently, Rebecca works at Spirit Reins as a clinician and as the clinical supervisor where she practices Natural Lifemanship, a Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy model.She enjoys spending time with friends and family, including her two dogs, Idgie and Sully, and her two horses, Cash and Cloud. She loves to read, paint and garden.
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Rhonda Smith is the CEO and founder of Spirit Reins, a non-profit that provides treatment to children and families who have experienced traumatic events. She interviewed Buck, a main character in the book, The Gift, at his home pasture for Spirit Reins’ Amplify Spirit Reins campaign for Amplify Austin. Alicia Nance is Buck’s friend and lends a hand as translator.
Rhonda: Buck, thank you for joining us via satellite for Amplify Spirit Reins. The weather looks gorgeous up there in North Carolina.
Buck: You are welcome Rhonda. I’m happy to do it and glad to help out a friend of Pip’s. The sun is shining today. It is very, very warm here. I like to stand down by the lake where the wind is a little cooler.
Rhonda: It is warm here as well. What do you think of the story that The Gift tells?
Buck: I think it is an important story that helps folks understand that just because they think something is one way doesn’t mean it is. All that time Pip thought I was a mean ol’ guy, and I’m not. I think that having friends and knowing how to make them is important. The part that I think is the most important for horses is we don’t like to be alone. We want to be with our herd—that’s where we feel the safest.
Rhonda: We understand from Pip that you like the song “Uptown Funk.” Can you tell us what you like about it?
Buck: I don’t know what that is.
Rhonda: (getting help singing) Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
Girls hit your hallelujah (whoo)
‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you
‘Cause uptown funk gon’ give it to you
Buck: Oh, yeah. I don’t understand the words but I love that music! When I hear it I prance around, strike out my hoofs, and toss my head. I can’t stand still. It makes me happy all over.
Rhonda: We asked some of our guests in attendance today for questions they would like to ask you. Is it okay if we read some of these from your fans and have you answer them?
Buck: Yes, that would be okay.
Rhonda: Melissa would like to know what it is like to ride in a trailer.
Buck: It is really weird to be moving and your feet are still! The wind is nice. But you go so fast you don’t get to see very much. It moves and shakes, so it is hard to feel safe enough to sleep. I’m glad I don’t ride in one very much.
Rhonda: Doc asks, “What will you do if Pip makes you mad?”
Buck: Hummmmmm. That’s a tough question. Let me see. I guess it depends on what she does. If she hurts me I might bite or kick her but she’s never done that. Sometimes she doesn’t bring me treats and that makes me feel a little mad. I check all her pockets then I go back to grazin’ and ignore her a bit. Sometimes she wants to do something that I don’t want to do and she keeps bugging me until I do it with her. I get mad about that sometimes. I do what she wants but I put my ears back and do it slow to show her I don’t like it none.
Rhonda: Buck, Doc has a follow up question, “Is it worth it to have a friend even if you get mad at them sometimes?”
Buck: Yep ‘cause you aren’t mad all the time and you can do a lot of stuff and have fun. I think when you feel mad and you can communicate about it and things get better it makes the friendship stronger. Also, having a friend means you are not alone.
Rhonda: Ali wants to know, “Do horses ever get tired of eating grass?”
Buck: No. Grass is the most wonderful thing in the world. Different kinds of grass have different tastes. It would be nice if grass and carrots grew together.
Rhonda: Tim writes, “Change is so scary, how did you get brave enough to try to trust Pip?”
Buck: I didn’t really think I was brave. I just started to feel comfortable around her once she stopped hollering and chasing me. I like the backup game. It makes me feel really good.
Rhonda: Rob asks, “Is there anything you are scared of now?”
Buck: I’m still scared of mountain lions, and coyotes.
Rhonda: Jordan writes, “What do you think of the name Buck? What were you called before you came to live with Pip?”
Buck: The man where I used to live called me Goose. My mama said it was because when I was little I would chase feed bags blowing in the wind, and butterflies. The man said I was a “silly goose” and the name stuck. I like the name Buck. It has a nice ring to it.
Rhonda: Erin wants to know, “What is your favorite candy?”
Buck: My very favorite is the white treats Pip gives me. I think they are peppermints.
Rhonda: Erik wants to know what brings you joy.
Buck: I feel joy every time I see Pip climb over the fence and when she spends time with me, just me and her together doing nothing.
Rhonda: Ralph writes, “If you had a herd now how would your relationship with Pip change?”
Buck: I would love to have a herd. Pip isn’t always here and I spend a lot of time alone. I don’t feel very safe alone. If I had a herd I could feel safe all the time and still be Pip’s friend. I think I would just feel better if I had a herd.
Rhonda: Nina would like to know if you miss your mom or just your friends.
Buck: I miss them all!
Rhonda: Scott writes, “Do horses have names for each other?”
Buck: It is hard to explain to humans, Scott. We don’t have names for each other like humans do but we know each other by the essence of our spirit.
Rhonda: Max asks, “Can I come over and play with you?”
Buck: I would like that. I like making new friends.
Rhonda: Can you tell us how your life has changed since the publication of The Gift?
Buck: Well, there are a lot more people coming up to the fence and hollering “Buck! Buck!” in a high pitched voice just like Pip used to do. It is rather annoying to have all that ruckus.
Rhonda: I can imagine that it is hard to have so much attention.
Buck: I like attention that comes with scratching under my chin and on my rump as well as carrots and sweet things. But I don’t like folks hollering at me.
Rhonda: I suppose that could be upsetting, especially if you are trying to nap.
Buck: My naps are often interrupted by squeals. Pip says they only come by because they love me.
I think that if they love me they would be quieter and bring more treats.
Rhonda: What is next for you and Pip?
Buck: Pip keeps saying something about saddlin’ up but I don’t really know what that means. Right now we are spending time together in the pasture and waiting for the weather to cool off.
Rhonda: Buck thank you for giving us some of your precious time and helping us celebrate the impact that Spirit Reins has on children and families.
Buck: Liked my time with you. You are welcome. Do you have any carrots?
Review Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed By Maria Beltran for Readers’ Favorite
The Gift by Rebecca Hubbard is a charming children’s book in which eleven-year-old Pip yearns for a horse. She was extremely delighted when her father presented her with one on her birthday. Things are not going the way she likes though, because her horse moves away whenever she approaches. The first few days are very frustrating for Pip because she thinks that Buck, the name she gives her horse, seems uninterested in being friends with her. Guided by her father, she sets out to gain Buck’s friendship, day by day. Young Buck, on the other hand, is separated for the first time from the other horses and it feels different to be in another environment. Lonely and scared, he also longs for a friend, but finds Pip to be a strange creature. Will the two eventually become friends?
Rebecca Hubbard’s The Gift is a children’s book that educates and entertains. It also teaches its readers a thing or two about making friends. Little girl Pip dreams of having a horse as a best friend and is elated when she gets Buck. Thinking that they will become the best of friends immediately, she finds out that she has to gain Buck’s trust before anything else, and this takes time and determination. Beautifully illustrated by Krickett King, the story is first told from Pip’s point of view and then switching to Buck’s, giving readers a glimpse of what is going on in both their minds as they interact. Perfectly written for 4th to 6th graders, The Gift also shows that friendship entails sensitivity and patience, and these are precious lessons that many adults can also learn from.
Review rating 5 stars
Reviewed By Jane Finch for Readers’ Favorite
The Gift, written by Rebecca J. Hubbard and illustrated by Krickett King, is the story of a young girl named Pip and a colt named Buck. The young horse goes to live with Pip, but is very frightened of his new surroundings and being taken away from the herd. Pip doesn’t understand this at first and thinks the colt doesn’t like her. Gradually both the horse and girl start to understand each other. Pip learns how to gain the colt’s trust, and Buck realises that the girl does not plan to hurt him. Although he is missing his horse friends, Buck finally understands that Pip can also be a friend.
This is a lovely story for young readers, and delightful in its simplicity. Rebecca J. Hubbard has done a very good job of explaining about friendship, and how one has to work at it and not expect it to happen without a bit of effort on both parts. But this is also a story about loneliness. Starting with Pip’s version, the story then examines the events from the horse’s perspective. This story is about understanding, companionship, patience, and love. Although the story can be likened to human relationships, it’s also about understanding animals and how to gain their trust and love. It’s a good life lesson that friendship and trust have to be earned. Giving the story from both the human aspect and the animal aspect is especially endearing. Apart from the life lessons to be learned, young horse lovers will empathise with this tale. Very nicely done.
Ravenswood Publishing, the publisher of my book, The Gift, nominated it for The People’s Book Prize, a contest in England. You can participate by reading the book and voting for it using this link http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1404
My work affords me opportunities to see the worst and best of human behavior. I am continually amazed at the cruelty of human beings and equally amazed by our ability to be compassionate, and loving. Some time ago I had the privilege to know two sisters who were victims of unspeakable acts of violence. I was sitting with the oldest, age five, playing a game. She drew a card that said, “Name 2 things you love.” The young girl looked at me with confusion in her light green eyes. “What is love?” she asked. Not too long afterward I watched her two-year-old sister gently touch the face of a crying child. Then she placed her tiny arms around the other child in an attempt to provide comfort. Where does the capacity for compassion and love come from when you have never known compassion and love? What creates this ability? What makes it grow and thrive in our lives? What snuffs it out?
Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist, says, “Compassion is always born of understanding, and understanding is the result of looking deeply.” I think he is saying when we look deeply within ourselves and at another being, we see our common plight. We know what it is to suffer. We understand that we are not different from one another. Being in touch with this knowing gives us compassion for others. The Little Prince reminds us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”
Are we born knowing how to be compassionate? Or is it only through being shown love and compassion that we can give love and compassion? If we can only know what we have been given, then how did that two year old girl give compassion when she had never known it herself? Is it both? We are born with the capacity to be compassionate and it grows when nurtured? And if so how much nurturing does it take? How does a person maintain the capacity for compassion when most of his experiences are painful, and degrading? And what drives compassion out of us?
Do we remove the ability to be compassionate when we teach children that their needs are more important than the needs of another? Or when we teach them that other beings are objects that they can use to meet their own needs? Or is it the small choices that we make every day that erode our compassion for each other? The averted gaze when we see a person who is homeless. The distance our judgments create between us and others we see who are suffering. Judgments like- “He wouldn’t be homeless if he got off his butt and got a job.” “It’s her fault he beats her, she won’t stand up for herself and leave.” “She would be able to feed her kids if she worked harder.” Or is it all of these things and more that steal our compassion for one another? Much like the power of tiny droplets of water that over time erode the surface of a rock.
In sixth grade my choir put on the musical, The Wizard of Oz. I loved to sing but lacked belief in my ability to sing. I felt I got away with singing in a choir because no one could hear me. I recall my choir teacher , Ms. Rose, asking me to try out for a singing part in the musical, specifically the part of Scarecrow but I refused. I was too frightened to sing alone. My younger brother had a beautiful voice and was often asked by relatives to sing and sometimes for me to hush when we were singing together with the radio. I am sure that those experiences did not help with my confidence.
I decided I would only be a part of the large ensemble pieces. When I learned that I had to sing in a small group of students to practice parts, I opted out of that too. I was going to be the only student who would not participate in the musical because I refused to sing when I thought people could hear me.
Ms. Rose was not okay with me sitting out of the production but there was nothing she could do to change my mind. I was terrified to sing. One day she came to practice with a new script. She explained that they needed someone to play Toto. I jumped at the chance. I could be a dog. Dogs don’t have to sing!
For my audition I crawled around on my hands and knees and did my best imitation of a dog’s bark. I even added the little tilt of the head that dog’s sometimes do when they are trying to get your attention. It worked. I was Toto! Of course now I realize that I was going to be Toto whether I had been good at playing a dog or not. Ms. Rose was not going to allow one student to sit on the sidelines.
I practiced and practiced. I tried different barks. I worked on my growl. I studied my dogs at home. I put my heart into the role. When the big night came I was ready. I wasn’t going to play a dog I was going to be a dog. I followed Dorothy everywhere. I growled and barked at the Wicked Witch of the West. I pulled the pants of the monkeys and the guards. I retrieved the oil can that was dropped. People told Ms. Rose how amazed they were at my performance. They asked,” How were you able to get her to act so much like a dog?”
This is both a happy and sad memory for me. I am proud of my role as Toto. I was an excellent dog! I am also sad that I felt so incompetent that I wouldn’t even try to sing. I am grateful to Ms. Rose for finding a way to include me and for encouraging me. She gave me the opportunity to shine in a way that felt safe to me. She also taught me the power of listening deeply, and the importance of understanding and responding to the unspoken need. And for that I am eternally grateful.
January 1st the day of New Year’s Resolutions. I am always uncomfortable when people inquire about what New Year’s Resolution I made since I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions years ago. I stopped making them because I never kept them. At some point it felt like I was lying to myself. I really want to be impeccable with my word like Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, The Four Agreements. That means that I have to keep the promises I make to myself, as well as the promises I make to others. I am much better at keeping the promises I make to others.
So, this year instead of a New Year’s Resolution I have decided I am making a daily commitment. It isn’t so intimidating to commitment to a behavior or task each day, as it is to say that I will make this huge change in my life. I know myself well enough to know that I will become overwhelmed by a large goal.
But what daily commitment should I make? I can think of at least ten things I want to change in my life. I can’t focus on all of them because that gets me back to an overwhelming place. How do you choose when all of them will impact your life positively? Should I be kinder? Should I meditate more? Should I eat better? Should I exercise more? Should I spend more time creating? Should I spend more time riding my horses? I don’t know how to choose between them. Maybe the answer is to pick one and begin and once it is established as a routine part of my life, move on to the next one. In this manner I would change my life for the better without making a promise I know I would never keep.
It takes twenty-one days to create a habit, so in theory I could do one daily commitment for twenty-one days and be able to move on to the next one. I know in order for me to do my daily commitment it has to be something I feel passionately about doing and that I see a benefit in doing . My greatest challenge in doing a daily commitment is I am passionate about the work I do and it takes up a great deal of time as a result. It also creates an imbalance in my life which is why I need daily commitments. Stopping my work at a certain time, going in later, taking a break in the middle of the day are all things I could do. I also know how very difficult for me that will be to do. I need to adopt the mindset that when I do my daily commitment it makes me better at my job. Being excellent at my job is a high priority. So, for me daily commitments have to be personal, and have meaning in order for me to be successful in doing them each day. It sounds like a recipe for success- now for the hard part- putting it into action and continuing to do it for twenty-one days!
Do you think it is possible for your soulmate to be a cat? Since I don’t really believe in reincarnation I am not sure what this question says about me. I would have never wondered about this, if it were not for my best friend, and spiritual buddy, Sidney, who just happens to be a cat.
Sidney and I met purely by chance. We became friends because of my instance on meeting him, then had the good fortune of his first home not working out. I wonder sometimes if kismet brought us together.
In October 2003 I walked out of my house and headed for the detached garage that butted up against the alley way that ran behind my house. My eyes drifted to the upper window of the abandoned house across the alley from me. Three baby kittens approximately four weeks old sat nestled together, as they looked out the window. I was immediately drawn to the black and white kitten with the symmetrical markings on his face. There was something about this kitten that pulled me toward him. I felt a strong need to meet him. Each day when I left the house, I looked up at that window, hoping to see him. And when I was lucky enough to see him, I stopped in my tracks, and watched him. The more I saw him, the stronger my desire to meet him became.
Meeting a feral kitten is no easy task. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence and some ingenuity. I tried placing a cat carrier bated with food on the roof of the house. But every time I tried pulling the door closed, the carrier moved, and out darted the kitten! So, I had to wait until he decided he was ready to venture from the roof.
One day I watched him shimmy down the tree that grew along side of the old house. He darted down and then back up again in that frantic, spastic, kitten way.
I sat the cat carrier up with food and waited. I had to wait a long time for him to explore the carrier because of the frightening rides he took in it on the roof. Finally, he darted in and I was able to close the door.
At last, we were going to meet. I opened the carrier and stared at him. My heart was beating so fast. I know his heart must have been beating fast too, to suddenly see this giant staring at him, and blocking his escape. I was completely in love. My partner and I had two adult cats and one dog, so getting my partner to agree to allow this new baby into our home was impossible. I tried every thing I could think of, but the answer was no. I found him a good home and said goodbye.
24 hours later my phone rang, telling me that this kitten was insane, wild and mean! I asked my partner to retrieve the kitten, so I could find him another home. When I arrived home after work, I found this insane, wild, mean, kitten lying on his back in my partner’s lap, staring up at her face. She looked at me and said, “This was a trick wasn’t it?” I was surprised. “No,” I said. “Mean? Insane? Wild? Really, that lady said all those things about this kitten?” “Yep,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders. I could tell by the look on her face that he was going to stay. My heart leaped for joy!
I think it took only seconds for him to wrap himself completely around my heart. When our eyes met something happened. My soul stilled. My heart was steady and strong. I felt surrounded by love.
The little fella grew fast. He was wily and brave. His favorite activity was to climb the curtains and leap from the top. He was vibrant and funny. He loved to chase sunbeams and lasers. When he grew tired, he climbed into my lap and snuggled.
He made fast friends with our old Shepard mix and even charmed his way onto the bed where our oldest cat held court. She was the queen of everything, and she had no problem informing him of her royal status. But that didn’t stop him from joining me on the bed. He was fearless!
When he was a year old I noticed he just wanted to lay on my lap all day. He did not want to climb curtains or chase sunbeams. He was just snugly. I knew something was wrong. I took him to the vet and was told that he was dying. “You can take him to the specialty hospital, but I don’t think there is anything they can do,” the vet said.
I had to do everything I could for him, so I drove him to the hospital. I sat in the waiting area holding him to my chest. My tears moistening his coat. When they took him from me, I felt my heart breaking. All I could do was pray and think about him. So, I prayed. I prayed so hard, that everything faded away. He was in the hospital for weeks, and I visited him every day. He had surgery on his eyes to correct the curving in of his eyelids that rubbed against his corneas. His eyes were stitched open. He had every test imaginable. When they discharged him, they still had no idea what really had been wrong with him. But, he was again doing fine and recovering well from his surgery.
I had to medicate him 4 times a day to keep his eyes from becoming infected. You would think this would cause a rift in our relationship, but it just made it stronger. There is no doubt in my mind that he understood what I had done for him and that I was continuing to help him.
Our relationship deepened. I would not have thought I could be any closer to him than I already was. But each day my connection to him grew stronger and stronger. I did not know I could love another being so much.
Sidney is now 12. He is never far from my side. If I am sitting down, there is a good chance he is sitting on me or next to me. If I am lying down, he is laying on me.
When I am sick or sad, he is my constant companion.
I tell him everything. He is my confidante, and my most trusted adviser. I strive to be as kind, and loving as he is.
Every night when I go to bed, he comes up and lays his cheek next to mine, and puts his paws around my neck. I fall asleep to his purrs. He is my heart and my best friend. I cannot imagine my life without him.
Sometimes when we are looking into each others’ eyes, I feel that I have known him for eternity. My heart is so full, and my spirit is so still. I do not know if we are soulmates, but I do know I am the luckiest girl in the world.
About this time last year I was working with illustrator, Krickett King, on illustrations for my book, The Gift. I had no idea what a journey that process would be or how publishing that book would change my life.
I remember the first illustration Krickett sent to me. It was of Pip holding Buck’s nose in her hand. It was so beautiful and tender, yet simple. It made my heart soar! It was just as I had pictured it in my mind. Krickett and I had not talked about the pictures, I might want for the book. I wanted her to read the manuscript, and decide, as the illustrator, what she felt should be illustrated. One by one the illustrations came in. Each one unique. Each one beautifully and simply done. Each one exactly what I would have asked for if I had asked for anything. I could not believe that two people could see the story in the same way without speaking about it. The illustrations beautifully brought to life the story of Pip and Buck becoming friends. The book was exactly as I had envisioned it.
Some reviewers have felt that the illustrations should have been in color and not in black and white, especially since it is a children’s book. I surely can understand that point of view. But it is not a picture book. It is a simple, straightforward story, that in my mind needed simple, beautiful, tender illustrations. Even though I feel that way, I sometimes doubt myself.
Recently, a ten-year-old girl asked me to sign her book. My friends have asked me to sign their copies, and I have done so with a huge grin on my face. But when I signed the book for this girl, I felt a huge responsibility. I wanted to say the right thing. I wanted to convey to her how important she was, how important it was to me that she read, and liked my book. I know she must have wondered why it took me so long to just “sign” her book. For me it wasn’t just signing, it was sending a message of gratefulness.
While I signed her book, I took the opportunity to talk to her about her thoughts regarding the book, since the book was written for children her age. I asked her, “Was there anything missing? Anything you wished had been in the book that was not there?” “Was there anything in the book that you wished wasn’t there? I asked her about the pictures. “Did you like them? Did you wish they had been in color?” She thought for a moment, then said she liked the story just the way it was. There was nothing she wanted that was not there, and nothing that she wished was taken out. She said she was glad the pictures were in black and white. “I can’t explain it,” she said, as she flipped through the book. “I just like them,” she said as she grinned at me. I understand that. I just like them too. They touch my heart in a way I cannot describe.
At first when people told me that they had read my book, I held my breath worried that the next sentence would be that they did not like it. Rejection is just part of writing I told myself. I was not prepared for the reactions people shared with me about the book. In the beginning when they told me how it touched them or how much they liked it, I was completely caught off guard. Now, I am just flooded with gratefulness.
The Gift is my first published book, and it is also a fulfillment of a promise I made to my papa a long time ago. I was in my early twenties and I was unsure of what I was going do with my life. My papa was dying. He asked me to keep writing, and to write books to help children. I remember promising him I would, but thinking I would never be able to keep that promise.
Thankfully, I was wrong because keeping my word is important to me. In my work as a therapist I found that it helped children cope with difficult things when I told them short, one to two minute, stories. Over time that evolved into writing therapeutic stories to help children heal after experiencing horrific, traumatic events. Some of my colleagues asked to borrow the stories to use with their clients. From those stories a series of picture books called the Healing Series was born. These books were written as tools for therapists to help children cope with traumatic events, such as filicide, since there are no other books on the topics in print. I wanted children to know that they were not alone, that other children have had this experience, and that healing was possible. The Healing Series books were the first books I tried to get published. I received rejection letter after rejection letter. I was told they were “well written” but not worth publishing due to their specialized use and potentially limited audience. It has been a heart wrenching experience. It was during this time of rejection that I began writing The Gift.
A friend of mine kept asking me to write a book about a kid and a horse. I kept telling her I couldn’t do it. I didn’t write those types of books. I told myself I am not a writer. I am a therapist! My friend persisted. One day I sat down to write the story my friend had been bugging me about, but no words came to me. See I told myself I’m not a writer! Not long after this experience, a line woke me up in the middle of the night. I wrote the line down and the next morning the story poured from me. Pip’s voice was just as clear as the other characters’ voices I had heard before.
As it turns out, The Gift is fun fiction and a therapeutic story. Although, I did not initially intend for this book to be used in a therapeutic context, it can be a very useful therapeutic tool. It can be used to explore relationships, and discuss what it takes to make, and be a friend. It can be used to help foster parents understand the grief that their foster children feel, and the importance of family to them. It can be used to teach children about cognitive distortions, and unhelpful thinking patterns; and how those negative thoughts can impact the way they see themselves, the world, and their lives. Recently, Tim and Bettina Jobe, the developers of Natural Lifemanship, wrote, “This book artfully shows the Natural Lifemanship relationship principles in a way that resonates with children and adults!” I burst into tears when I read that. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this little book would be more than just a fun story. I guess in the end my brain did what it knows how to do. It wrote a story that helps children, and in the process I discovered that I am a writer.
Currently, I am working on four new stories. Two more books about Pip and Buck, a picture book about a boy overcome with grief, and a middle grade novel about a mother with schizophrenia.