“The Main Line Mutt” Teaches Children the Value of Being Different

Nancy Schwartz's latest book shows kids how to value the differences between themselves and others.

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Author Nancy M. Schwartz, 55, sat down to read her new book, The Main Line Mutt, to students at David’s Nursery School in Radnor. A hush rippled through the audience of around 100 children and, after finishing her reading, Schwartz was enchanted by the insightful questions posed by her young listeners.

“Why did you pick this story? Why this dog?” Schwartz recounts. “It was so beautiful the way they thought about it.”

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Released in January 2024, Main Line Mutt is the first book Schwartz has co-written with her husband, Michael S. Schwartz, 58, and it’s available on Audible, Amazon, and at Main Point Books. The story is for readers between the ages of five and eight, and it follows the escapades of Maggie, a mixed-breed dog who encounters snobbishness from purebreds after moving to an upscale neighborhood.

Previously, Schwartz had two nonfiction books published: Up Not Down Syndrome: Uplifting Lessons Learned From Raising a Son With Trisomy 21, released in December 2020, and Up Bow Down Bow: A Child With Down Syndrome and His Journey to Master the Cello, co-authored with April E. Beard and published in 2022.

The Main Line Mutt has been in our minds and hearts for almost 30 years,” says Schwartz, “so when my publisher liked the idea, we got excited.” The tale draws from autobiographical experiences but utilizes artistic license. When the Schwartz family moved to the Main Line around 30 years ago, they really did have a mixed-breed dog called Maggie and felt that some of the other dogs in the neighborhood, especially purebred ones, were standoffish in getting to know her at first. 

Nancy and Michael Schwartz at a bookstore event to promote Main Line Mutt.
Nancy and Michael Schwartz at a bookstore event to promote The Main Line Mutt.

Of course, the story exaggerates this dynamic. Shining a light on moving someplace new and feeling different is all part of navigating and becoming part of a group. It’s something many children can relate to growing up around the Main Line.

When Maggie feels sad about being excluded from playing with the other dogs, there is scope for readers to identify with that feeling, perhaps after starting a new school, moving to a different home, or coping with social circles evolving and changing on the playground over time. The underlying message is that you can feel different from those around you while accepting yourself and still being able to connect deeply with others. Schwartz’s collaboration with an illustrator based in India who is affiliated with her publisher resulted in vivid illustrations that capture the feeling of the text and emphasize key points and emotions throughout the story.

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The writing process has differed for each of Schwartz’s published books. Her first two involved a deep editorial process. For Up Not Down Syndrome, Schwartz worked for 10 years collecting ideas and thoughts in a notebook about being a mother and raising her son, Alex, who has Down Syndrome, before partnering with a developmental editor to craft the book’s central narrative. Her second book, Up Bow Down Bow, details how Alex, who didn’t yet walk or talk, flourished while learning to play the cello. There was a momentary kink in the process of writing that book, though, when every writer’s nightmare occurred and Schwartz lost the first draft of her manuscript due to a technical glitch—but fortunately, Schwartz came to view the second version as even stronger.

Nancy M. Schwartz with her three boys, Josh, Sam, and Alex, alongside Josh’s Best Buddy, Will, and the family’s dog, Calder.
Nancy M. Schwartz with her three boys, Josh, Sam, and Alex, alongside Josh’s Best Buddy, Will, and the family’s dog, Calder.

Before turning to writing, Schwartz trained as a teacher of English as a second language. Studying in New York at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Schwartz was influenced by Pam Allyn, a visiting speaker who discussed how loss helps us be kind.

“We understand even more when we lose something,” Schwartz says of the influence this notion had on her, and how the idea of a curriculum of kindness means that anything taught in schools should be rooted in compassion. “Everyone is important. Everyone has a gift. We have to look for that,” notes Schwartz, who currently teaches at Tohickon Middle School and Bridge Valley Elementary School as an ESL Program Specialist.

“I have taught kids from Ukraine, Russia, South America and all over the world. One of the things I try to talk to them about is being kind to others. We record this on Post-it notes and write down if we saw something nice or someone who did something kind,” she explains.

Despite her love of teaching, it was almost inevitable that Schwartz would gravitate toward writing; her family, based in Cheltenham during Schwartz’s childhood, has a rich history of doing so. “My uncle wrote about Webster’s Dictionary the first time the F-word was included,” she shares. Her father, who served in World War II and received a Silver Star, went on to write about his experiences in a book now held in the Holocaust Museum. And Schwartz’s New York-based sister, Susie Gerber, is the author of several novels.

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It was after Schwartz welcomed her third child, Alex, and navigated the specific needs of his diagnosis and care, that Gerber encouraged her sister to create. “I never went to group therapy when I had my son,” Schwartz shares. “So for me, writing was that therapy: sharing my story, realizing I was just at the beginning of this wonderful, amazing thing that is the opposite of what I originally thought.”

The Schwartz family and Alex, along with pup Calder, are now based in Upper Merion, while the family’s eldest two boys, Josh and Sam, are away at college. Schwartz finds time to settle down in the morning to write before she teaches; it’s also a priority for her to participate in local literary events across the Main Line, such as those hosted by Main Point Books, Wellington Square Book Shop and Moravian Book Shop, the oldest book shop in America. “I have lots of friends who are authors who I reach out to often,” Schwartz says of the care she feels from the local community of fiction and nonfiction writers.

Nancy M. Schwartz promoting her previously published books.
Nancy M. Schwartz promoting her previously published books.

Connecting with readers is just as vital. During an evening at Main Point Books for her previously published work, Schwartz recalls the moment someone approached her. “Other moms who were pregnant or had a child with Down Syndrome said my book helped them. It was amazing. It helped me to help others. I felt, then, just how powerful writing can be,” she says.

The Main Line Mutt is a story about what really matters in life. After being refused entry to a dog show because she isn’t purebred, Maggie eventually wins the judges’ hearts and a blue ribbon for “best of all breeds” due to her warmth and charm. Readers will be thrilled to learn that Maggie’s adventures are only just getting started as a story sequel is on the horizon.

“We are working on another picture book with the same characters. It’s about Maggie’s life and what happens to her,” the author shares, and it will shine a light on the experience of those who think outside of what is considered normal.

Indeed, Schwartz is mindful of how essential these learnings are for children and at any age. “Community, unity, all of those things are just so critical right now,” she says.

Related: Little Party Playground Organizes Parties for Toddlers Around the Main Line

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!