Maia Haag was on maternity leave with her first child. But she never stopped working.
As a gift, she’d received a personalized baby book for her newborn son. Though it was special to see his name on its pages, Haag, who had been an English major in college, and her graphic designer husband, Allan Haag, knew they could create something even better.
So she spent the next three months strolling around Bde Maka Ska, then known as Lake Calhoun, with her baby, coming up with story ideas and writing a business plan. She never went back to her job in marketing at General Mills.
“For a child, seeing their name and even photo throughout the story brings the book alive and makes it all about them,” said Haag, who lives in Deephaven. “Having the book be personalized encourages reading and really makes that child want to enjoy the story over and over each evening.”
Twenty years on, Haag is the author of 40 titles under her publishing company, I See Me, that can be personalized for any child. And now, any dog.
In an effort to promote both child literacy and animal rescue, Haag’s latest book, with illustrator Susan Batori, “If My Dog Could Talk,” integrates the family pooch into the story.
“It occurred to me that pets are just as much children in the family as the actual children, so I wanted to celebrate that bond that happens between the pet and the family,” Haag said.
A portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to a different animal rescue organization around the country each month. So far, Haag has raised thousands of dollars.
Late last year, the beneficiary was Eden Prairie’s Secondhand Hounds, an organization that orchestrates animal visits to assisted-living communities and provides hospice, foster care and special medical attention to sick pets.
For Secondhand Hounds, Haag created a book that featured two of their “ambassador” pets — a German shepherd with a short spine and an English bulldog with spina bifida.
“It raised awareness for sure,” said Sarah Condon, Secondhand Hounds’ events manager. “Many of our fosters are people who have lost their pets and thought this is a nice way to honor and make a tribute to them.”
It was Haag’s family dog, a five-year-old golden retriever named Jet, that inspired her latest tale. The story imagines what a dog is thinking and feeling as it watches its human companions live their strange lives. Customers can choose from depictions of 10 different dog breeds and five colors to make a fairly strong match of their own dogs.
Bringing dogs to her line of children’s books made sense to Haag, who has seen the effect Jet has had on her own three kids.
“We have found that having a dog is a very calming influence in the family,” she said. “If you ask the kids what their favorite part of the day was, many times they answer it was coming home and seeing our dog and giving him a hug. That relationship between kids and dogs is so strong.”
There is also a connection between dogs and children’s literacy, Haag said.
“Many times kids will read to the dog, because they don’t worry about being corrected or having the recipient wonder what they meant by this word or that word,” she said.
For that reason, Haag looked to partner specifically with animal rescues that also run youth reading programs.
While Secondhand Hounds doesn’t have such a program yet, they hope to in the future, Condon said.
Haag’s next title, out this summer, is all about cats.