By Leslie Lindsay
A touching story for young readers about a little dog who saves the girl he loves when their house experiences a fire due to a gas leak.
Told in verse from the POV of little Digger, a blond terrier, and Kilee’s sidekick who watches as ‘his girl’ is badly burned during a home gas explosion. Digger barks and barks and barks, alerting neighbors that something is wrong, and waking Kilee when she falls unconscious.
DIGGER THE HERO DOG is intended for young readers and their caregivers. The illustrations are bold and colorful and portray a very close likeness to the real Kilee and Digger.The traumatic pieces of the story are glazed over but the important message is about gas safety and the love of a dog for his girl. The end of the book contains information about Shriner’s Hospital, gas safety (including a scratch-n-sniff sticker so kids can identify the smell of gas).
This is an important read and one kids—especially animal lovers—will identify.
May is also National Pet Awareness Month, so what better time than to share Kilee and Digger’s story?
I am so honored to welcome Kilee to the blog couch today. Please join us.
Leslie Lindsay: Kilee, welcome! I am in awe of your story. While traumatic, it’s hopeful, too. The gas leak/explosion happened when you were sixteen. You’re now in college. You were in critical condition as 45% of your body was covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns. How are you doing now?
Kilee: I’m doing great. It took about a year for the recovery process, but after that I was back to doing the usual teenage things. I was able to play my senior year of soccer, which was one of my goals. I made a full recovery and now I am a college student. It took a while to get through it all, but now I’m doing better than ever!
L.L.: Oh and Digger! What a sweetheart. I’ve been an animal lover since I can remember. It’s always been amazing to me that animals have a sixth sense about ‘their people,’ and are able to jump into action when they perceive a threat. Can you talk more about your connection to Digger and how he saved you that day?
Kilee: I have always been an animal lover, too. Digger and I have always had a special connection and it only got stronger that day. He was nowhere near me when I lit the candle and somehow he found me when he knew I needed help. He stood next to me where I had just fallen and hit my head, and he barked until I came to again. He ran out of the house with me and kept circling me letting others around me know that something was wrong. Somehow he knew things weren’t normal. He was the family dog along with his brother and he has always been protective of all of our family, even though he is only a 15 pound Yorkie – Chihuahua mix. Since he saved me that day, he has been all about me. He sleeps with me whenever I’m home, he sits with me on the couch, and if anyone were to hurt me with him watching, it’s hard to tell what he would do. He even goes as far as to sniff the vents everyday for whatever reason.
L.L.: One of the major points of DIGGER THE HERO DOG is fire and gas safety. Not all fires are the result of gas leaks, but it’s so l important to have a family plan and teach children about gas safety. What advice would you give families on this topic? What can parents do?
Kilee: I would advise parents to teach their children about all types of safety, even if it’s hard to help them understand. Many of us are aware that children don’t typically understand things like this, and that is why it was so important to add the safety portion of things to DIGGER THE HERO DOG. It is a very important message and children should be able to understand that bad things can happen if they were to make just one wrong decision. Safety is an important but very tough subject to teach to kids and parents need to do what feels right to them. There is no right way to teach children about these difficult things, but we hope DIGGER THE HERO DOG can help teach such topics to children in a fun and meaningful way.
[DIGGER contains a scratch-n-sniff sticker and instructional sheet on gas leaks. You might also like this article, from Very Well Family on Teaching Kids about Fire Safety. Also, this lesson planning guide from Scholastic on Gas Safety.]
L.L.: Speaking of parents, you and your mom, Lori Highlander, wrote BEAUTIFUL SCARS (2016) about your experience and recovery. What was that process like—did you and your mother grow closer— and can you tell us more about the book?
Kilee: My mom and I wrote BEAUTIFUL SCARS as a way to show others that may be in situations similar to mine that they can get through it. We saw so many children when I was in Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati that were struggling to get through their tough time. I was struggling to get through mine, but once I did I had a much better outlook than many have that have been through something like this. I wanted to be a model for people to look at and say, “If she can do it, I can do it, too.”
The message behind BEAUTIFUL SCARS was that anyone can get through anything if they just try and keep a positive attitude throughout the process. That was something my mom and I agreed on the whole time. We wanted people to benefit from this book in whatever way they could relate to it. The writing process benefitted both of us. We were already pretty close, but we definitely grew closer. We had a ghostwriter that put all of our thoughts – written and spoken – into book format. This allowed us to not read or hear what each other had said or written that was planned to go into the book, so we both read each others’ thoughts for the first time when we got the manuscript. There were things that I didn’t know happened when I was in the hospital that I read about for the first time, which I thought was pretty neat. It was a fun process.
L.L.: You’re now a college student. What are you studying and what do you hope to do after graduation? Do you still play soccer (my 11 year old is *crazy* about the sport).
Kilee: I am a junior at Xavier University and majoring in Communications. I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my degree, but I have learned a lot from doing many different speaking events and what-not, which is why I chose to study Communications. There are so many things that I could do and would feel comfortable doing with this degree, so I thank this whole journey for that. I played intramural soccer my freshman year in college, but I haven’t played organized soccer since then. Occasionally I will go outside when I’m home and play with my brother. I was lucky to heal fast enough to play my senior year of high school soccer though!
L.L.: Kilee, it’s been such an honor. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
Kilee: I think you’ve covered pretty much everything! If I were to say any last thoughts, I would say to anyone struggling with a tough time, even if it has nothing to do with being a burn survivor: you can do it. Keep a positive attitude and know that you are not alone. You can get through anything if you just try your hardest.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of DIGGER THE HERO DOG, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Before she was an award-winning author, Kilee Brookbank nearly died in a fire that destroyed her home and burned Kilee on nearly half her body. Just 16 at the time, Kilee was saved by her courageous pet, Digger, who barked until Kilee came to after the initial gas explosion. In honor of Digger, Kilee, who won a Benjamin Franklin Award for her memoir,Beautiful Scars, has written her first children’s book: Digger the Hero Dog. Kilee hopes to educate children on the importance of knowing which smells, sights and sounds might signal a dangerous situation. Digger the Hero Dog is a true story of the bond between humans and their pets with a happy ending and an important fire-safety message. Just as Digger did, kids will learn that even the littlest among them can make a huge difference in the life of a friend.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of KiCam Communications and used with permission. Image of boy in fire hat retrieved from, dog and cat from on 5.3.18]