Book Signing at Loudoun Country Day School, Leesburg, VA 12/4/10


Librarian adds one of her own to the shelves
Obama family's dog inspired her to finish book

By James Hohmann

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Add Renee Kelahan's name to the list of people capitalizing on President Obama's brand.

Kelahan, 48, of Berryville, is the librarian at Loudoun Country Day School in Leesburg. She made an outline four years ago for a children's book about a Portuguese water dog. It gathered dust. Then Obama and his family acquired Bo, a dog of the same breed, this year.

"I said, 'I better get my book published,' " Kelahan said, adding that she sequestered herself around Easter to finish it.

The result is her first book, "Agua: The Mysterious Portuguese Water Dog." She spent much of last week signing copies at the school's annual book fair.

Kelahan self-published the book and has sold a few hundred copies for $20 each. She sells on, at Barnes & Noble stores and at Books-a-Million. She said she sent a copy of her book to the president's daughters, Malia and Sasha, just before Thanksgiving.

"I don't know how long it'll take to get through," she said.

Kelahan also sent a copy to Oprah Winfrey and one to Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Kennedy had three Portuguese water dogs.

The book tells about a dog that arrives on the doorstep of a home in a Portuguese fishing village and explores how he got there.

On Wednesday, children and their parents milled about the library at the school's new campus, which opened this year. They nibbled on cookies, including gingerbread men,

Mack Sawyer of Leesburg, a 5-year-old kindergartner, brought his copy of the book for the librarian to sign.

"I've been waiting for this for days," he told her, beaming. "Is it a real story?"

"It's historical fiction," Kelahan said. "So it's based on real things."

"Wow," Mack said, turning to tell his mom.

The book is written mainly for third- through fifth-graders. Kelahan included a timeline in the back and a source list so that she can use it as a tool to teach elementary students about the importance of citations.

The art in the 91-page book is by Penny Hauffe, a local illustrator.

Headmaster Randy Hollister said Kelahan, who has been at the school six years, provided the "added attraction" for this year's book fair. He said he hasn't had a chance to read her book because of four or five books he needs to get to first.

"I put out an e-mail shortly after the book came out in hardback," he said. "Everybody is very excited for her."

Kelahan lives with her husband, daughter, son and two golden doodles. The family also had a Portuguese water dog named Nalu that was euthanized. That experience shaped the story, she said.

"It's a happy ending," she said of her book, "because we need more happy endings with dogs."