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Age Hasn't Slowed Down Fraser the Yellow Dog
By Stewart Oksenhorn

August 19, 2004
reprinted with permission from The Aspen Times

For a considerable number of people of a certain age, this is going to come as shocking news: Courtney is 18 years old and left Aspen this week for her first year of college in Florida. Fraser is in his 70s (that's dog years).

In real life, the kids have grown up, and the dog is turning gray and slowing down. But in the "Adventures of Fraser the Yellow Dog," local author Jill Sheeley's series of Fraser books based on her family and friends, Courtney and her companions Taylor and Katie have aged at a far slower pace. Fraser, the Sheeley family's yellow lab, is still up for adventures in the Colorado outdoors. And kids can still learn from Courtney's skiing, hiking and cross-country escapades, and be thrilled by Fraser's courageous rescue efforts.

Sheeley's fourth book in the series has just hit local shelves. "Rescue in Cougar Canyon" has the girls and Fraser - and Maggie, another yellow lab who is the latest addition to the Sheeley family - finding fun and facing fear as they run the white water of the fictitious Cougar Canyon.

author Jill Sheeley

Sheeley and Fraser will appear at a reading and book signing at Explore Booksellers on Friday, Aug. 27, from 5-7 p.m.

"Rescue in Cougar Canyon" offers the usual mix of outdoor discovery, childhood friendship, a slightly scary situation, lessons in safety, and detailed illustration by local artist Tammie Lane. But the biggest hook for the young reader, as always, is the uncommonly savvy and brave Fraser, who has rescued Courtney from a snowslide, led the girls out of a winter blizzard, and saved Maggie from a mine shaft on Aspen Mountain. Sheeley claims that Fraser has not been an act of pure imagination.

"I was always getting calls from neighbors: 'Did you hear what Fraser did?'" said Sheeley. In one episode, a neighbor witnessed Fraser dig a tiny pup out of deep snow and make a path for him to walk to safety; in another, Fraser prevented an impending Rottweiler attack on a small dog.

Books were always big in the family. Sheeley had written such locally flavored books as the cookbooks "Tastes of Aspen" and "Lighter Tastes of Aspen," and "Christmas in Aspen," which combined holiday memories of longtime Aspen families with recipes. When the family traveled, Sheeley always taught her daughter about their destinations through local Fraser books.

Following a trip in the mid-'90s, Sheeley noticed there were no Fraser books about Aspen. She knew that Fraser books didn't generally sell as well as cookbooks.

"But I just had one of those intuitive instincts that a Fraser book would sell well if there was an animal in there," she said. "And here I had a wonderful dog. Kids would just be drawn to him, and he had all these amazing adventures. I figured, why not write about him? And at the same time, Courtney and her friends were having these big adventures, skiing and hiking, that you wouldn't have, say, in Illinois [Sheeley's home state]."

Sheeley's first book, "Rescue on Snowmass Mountain," had Courtney getting stuck in a snowslide. (Courtney was only partly buried; Sheeley doesn't put too much fear factor in the stories.) Fraser became a hero in the book by alerting the ski patrol, and became a celebrity to the children of Aspen. (My 5-year-old daughter Olivia freaks out at her occasional Fraser encounters. And don't get me started on how often I have to pretend I'm Taylor or Maggie as Olivia concocts her own Fraser-based episodes.)

Sheeley says the books, which have sold some 50,000 copies, are about more than just a cuddly dog. They work especially well for visiting children, who learn about mountain culture and local landmarks. But Fraser - who can be seen as a stuffed animal, and on postcards, bookmarks and more - is what gets kids' attention.

"He can't go anywhere without people coming running," said Sheeley. "If we say his name, five families will come over and say, 'That's not the real Fraser, is it? He has a real star quality."

Stewart Oksenhorn's e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


©copyright Jill Sheeley 2004 -2012 All rights reserved.