The Helper

By Caitlyn Zhu

About The Book

Padfoot, a young pup, is stolen and taken away from his home in the South and placed in the cold North to work as a sled dog. He is, unluckily, sold to three people who are incompetent to take care of dogs. They have a far too heavy load and don’t know how to pack up their belongings, ration the food properly, or navigate trails, among other problems. Padfoot knows he could and should run away from this disaster of a life, but he stays to help his teammates. He also knows that by helping his teammates, he’s draining himself, bending the rules of being a sled dog that so many before him had followed. Will Padfoot choose the life of a true husky. . . or will he choose friendship?

Sales of Caitlyn’s book, The Helper, will support the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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From the Book

Somehow it was the wrong laugh. A cold laugh that was fueled by anger and not poked out of him from joy. Like before, before he was thrown into this vicious cycle of hunger and imprisonment, where he had to steal to keep the breath in himself. A place where Padfoot didn’t want to die but didn’t want to live, but secretly, he was getting his wish. 

About Caitlyn

Caitlyn loves reading and playing tennis. Books and online articles inspire her. Her favorite subject in school is writing. She lives with her parents and two brothers, one older and one younger. Caitlyn likes to write stories from the perspective of animals because it is important to her to be a strong voice for the animals. In general, she is passionate about animal and environmental science.  At the time of publication, Caitlyn is 11 years old and in 6th grade.

Q&A with Caitlyn

When did you start writing? Do you remember an early story that you wrote?

Technically, I started writing in preschool, but not a lot. I started free writing for things other than school in third grade. One of the early stories that I remember was one about a chimpanzee who worked in a circus. He was friends with three rats who stole a key for him and the four escaped. The chimpanzee was going to stow away in a suitcase on a ship, but then I stopped writing the story there.

When and how did you decide to write and publish a novel?

The idea was first exposed to me when I joined Young Inklings in fourth grade, but for a while I thought I couldn’t write a novel and kept restarting my writing pieces. Then, once I’d finally settled on a story, I began to think about it more and I liked that idea.

How did you decide to write a book featuring a sled dog?

Well, what I learned from my writing is that everything revolves around the character. Usually the character develops during the story and learns more or becomes more inclined to do one thing than another, and that means events have to happen, which makes a plot line, which makes the story. And I wanted my story to be about teamwork and friendship. The “who” in the story, I realized, had to be shaped from the “what”. A sled dog best fit the “who” I wanted Padfoot, my main character, to be.

Writing from another person’s perspective is difficult, and it’s even harder to write from the perspective of an animal. How did you step into Padfoot’s paws and know how he might act or feel?

I’d always written about animals. Usually what I would do was to make up the things that I wanted my main character to go through, and then I would imagine how I would feel if I was to go through everything my main character was going through. Also, when I was in third grade, I’d had strong feelings about animal abuse, and during car trips to school, to the market, anywhere really, I would have a little chat with my mom about animal rights. Through that, I learned that feelings were not as persuasive as facts because feelings are immune to facts, but only for the person with the feelings, and if the feelings can’t spread, then it will get hard to convince people that anything is true. But with writing, it’s like a gentler, quieter way to convince people that something is true because it can mix facts and feelings together, which is very convincing. That’s what I like about writing.

Do you have a favorite scene in your novel?

Yes, at the end where Padfoot thinks about the lessons he’s learned and some other things, like looking back but not to the actual events. I like it because I think that it is the most nicely written part of the story.

Did you ever get stuck in the drafting process? If so, how did you get unstuck?

Not really, but I had a problem with writing half a story, thinking of another story, and starting to write that one. Several times, I almost did that with The Helper. To get unstuck, I would think of something tragic to happen. If there was another me that wanted to give up and I could go back in time to them after the book launch, I would tell them “It’s going to turn out good! Think of another idea.”

How did you approach the drafting and revision process with your mentor?

During the week, I would write a small amount, usually 5-10 pages. Once, I wrote 35 pages when I was really engaged. Meanwhile, my mentor would read and comment on another piece, usually not the one written that week, and we would chat about the comments during class. That brought along what I thought was the hardest part of the revision process–deleting my own writing. The biggest piece that I remember taking out was a five-page-long piece. One class, my mentor very politely implied that the scene was just maybe not needed, and I was kind of hoping she’d change her mind. But two weeks later, I got the hint and deleted it. I think it was harder than most of the other stuff I had to do, but it was worth it in the end.

Do you have any advice for other youth writers who want to publish a book?

Yes. I think that the first problem with trying to write a book is that people think that they can’t, that they’re not a good writer, or something else. Don’t think that. I think writing is like singing. If you took a group of singers and made them sing a song, it would still sound different because each person has their own voice. It’s the same with writing. Finding that voice can be difficult, but it’s well worth it because then, it’s your best writing. And once you start writing, don’t think about book launches or publication yet, because when writing starts, it’s not for anybody else or the readers or people who will or will not like it. Writing is for you. It starts with you, and then you don’t have to worry about what anybody else thinks.

About Your Name in Ink

In the Your Name in Ink Program, professional writers mentor youth through a 6-9 month revision process which results in a printed or published book available through independent bookstores and other retailers. Through Your Name in Ink, youth writers:

  • experience the editorial process
  • take their writing skills to the next level
  • learn the ins and outs of how the publishing world works
  • support a cause they believe in with the proceeds of their book

“Youth authors have important stories to tell,” says Society of Young Inklings Executive Director, Naomi Kinsman. “By publishing their novels, we celebrate their enormous accomplishment. Their gift of perspective and the funds they raise make an impact on causes close to their hearts.”