When Cloquet native Burton Laine saw the difficult experiences children were facing in today’s world, he decided he wanted to help provide them with a way to understand and talk about the fear they may be feeling.

He decided to write a children's book.

Laine and his wife, Debra, have been involved with church communities throughout their lives, and spent a lot of time coming up with ways to help parents in the church handle the behavior of their children.

When Laine decided to write a book, he said wanted to focus on helping kids work through feelings of fear — a mission that became even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m really hoping kids can be helped with this one,” he said. “They’ve got all of these things going on, and they don’t really understand why.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Arya watches over a flock of sheep. She has never had any training; protecting them is an instinct. (Photo courtesy of Burton Laine)
Arya watches over a flock of sheep. She has never had any training; protecting them is an instinct. (Photo courtesy of Burton Laine)

“Arya The Protector," which took nearly two years to write, centers around a brave and loyal dog who works to guard over sheep on a farm.

The 24-page book, featuring photography by Laine and his wife, was awarded the first-place Children’s Book Award from the 2020 Christian Author Awards.

It is meant to serve as a message of hope and a reminder that “God keeps us safe,” Laine said in a press release.

Laine has spent his whole life on his family's farm, located just north of Cloquet. He said experiences on the farm with his animals and his family are driving forces behind his writing.

More than a dog

The fearless character of Arya is based off of the various shepherd dogs that have guarded the family’s sheep throughout the past three decades.

“The book follows the puppy’s move to its new farm until it takes over as the protector of the farm flock of sheep.,” Laine said. “It also includes how Arya has a relationship with every age of sheep, from lambs to adult sheep.”

The most recent dog on Laine's farm, Arya, has been with Laine and his wife for 12 years.

“She serves as a protector,” Laine said. “She protects the sheep and ... also protects the wolves and the coyotes from getting into trouble.”

Laine’s family uses the maremma sheepdog breed on the farm, as it is uniquely developed to protect livestock. He said they have never had to train the dogs, and that protecting the sheep is an instinct.

Generations of stories

Along with the dogs, human members of Laine's family have also greatly contributed to his work.

He raised his son on the farm, and always took great care to read to him each night. He often said he will revisit the stories when working on a new piece, and can learn a lot from old books, as well as new ones.

Some of his favorite books to revisit are "Owl Moon" by Jane Yolen and "Barn Dance" by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.

In addition to reading for research, Laine shared that he attends conferences and tries to keep updated with the style of children’s books.

“We have to adapt,” he said, explaining that social media and evolving culture play major roles in how children learn in today’s world.

Burton Laine poses for a photo with his dog, Arya, at their farm in Cloquet. (Photo courtesy of Burton Laine)
Burton Laine poses for a photo with his dog, Arya, at their farm in Cloquet. (Photo courtesy of Burton Laine)

Another way that Laine learns about today’s children is by spending time with them.

His son is now an adult with five children, all of who take turns visiting the farm from their home in the Twin Cities.

Laine pays attention to how the children act, and will oftentimes read them what he has written before it’s published.

“Seeing how they interact with things helps me to understand what they might relate to,” he said.

Professional connections

Laine said his experience as an editor at the Senior Reporter magazine have helped him tremendously with the process of publishing, and he enlisted the help of one of his close colleagues, Zachary Hitchcock, with designing the book.

Hitchcock is an Esko resident and has worked with Laine at the magazine for about five years. Laine said their experiences working together has led to a bond, and that he sometimes feels like Hitchcock can read his mind.

"Burton's a great guy to work for," Hitchcock said. "We're on the same page quite a bit."

Laine is grateful for local stores, like The Bookstore at Fitger's, that placed “Arya The Protector” on their shelves.

The next book planned for release will be the beginning of a children’s book series, Laine said, and will include more farm photos and characters.