Friday, May 27, 2011

Midland resident turns her dog into fashion model and the subject of a children's book

by Janet I. Martineau
Clara J del Valle and Gisselle
A fashion model with an Internet following is headed to Midland’s Creative 360 for a special program on Saturday, June 11.
Gisselle is her name, and she is a 12-year-old beige and white bearded collie who is both a therapy dog and the elegantly-clad star of a children’s book titled “Gisselle’s Adventures in Color.”
“She has quite a following among children,” says Clara  J del  Valle, with whom Gisselle lives in Midland. “And when we come home from doing our programs she is bushed -- because she knows she has been working and she has been on her best behavior.”
From 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. on June 11, del Valle will read to children from her “Adventures in Color” book, with Gisselle at her side as always. Each child will receive a copy of the interactive book to take home -- autographed by the pooch -- and will participate in a color-mixing exercise from the book.
And then they and the dog will pose for a group picture, taken by del Valle who will send  a copy to each child via a jpeg.
The cost is $20, with pre-registration required by calling (989) 837-1885 or online at Creative 360 is located at 1517 Bayliss St.
Del Valle is a former chemist with the Dow Chemical Company and NASA. A chemist with passion for dogs and photography. She continues to earn her way in the world translating technical works. 
But since the mid-1990s, she has turned Gisselle and Lilibeth, a 17-year-old westie, into fashion models, Internet stars and therapy dogs, as well as honed her own non-canine photography skills into artistic award-winning pieces.
“I call Lilibeth the brains of the family and Gisselle the beauty. I created this book as a tribute to my girls.” (Lilibeth is the other dog seen on the page depicting a picnic.)

“Adventures in Color,” released in 2010, finds Gisselle dressed up in the midst of 15 colorful surroundings as the book helps teach youngsters about color as well as learning to identify nearly 200 objects seen  in everyday life (with the help, hopefully, of their parents or other adult companions like del Valle).
Among her guises are Gisselle as a nurse in white, mermaid in green, cowgirl in grey , Egyptian in gold, princess in pink and sailor in blue.
“I designed all the outfits you see on Gisselle in the book and took all of the pictures of her,” says del Valle. “The beads in one photo are from New Orleans. The fox sculpture is from the downtown Midland sculpture contest they have every year.
“She loves getting dressed up like this ... she learned it from her sister.”
What is unique about the book, says del Valle, “is these are photos vs. illustrations. They are reality. This is a live dog that people can meet.
“And what I am finding is that sometimes parents keep the book for themselves. The design of the outfits is lost on the children. They just see a dog dressed up. The adults seem to appreciate the effort, the thought, the details in the book.”
The cover of the children's book 

Del Valle admits, however, she has a lot of fun sitting on the floor and reading the book to  children “because you never know what kids will say. We got to the pink page one day recently and one little girl said about the cotton candy (words), ‘I ate cotton candy and threw up.’”
As for Gisselle’s therapy work, it is with a group called Dog Tales that takes canines into schools and libraries for one-on-one reading sessions.
 “The children pick a dog to read to for 20 minutes, and sometime they don’t want to stop after those 20 minutes. When a child reads to Gisselle, they often show her the page they are reading and she actually pays attention.” 

She is also known, on occasion, to plant kiss on some of the children.
Also on the schedule for Dog Tales workers are annual end-of-semester visits to Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, to combat what is called stress week. 

“It is not unusual to have the 12 dogs we take see 100 freshmen who sit on the floor and play with them.
“Some are missing their dogs because they are away from home, and some cry because their dog has died. The girls want to brush them. And the young men participating outnumber the girls.”
“Gisselle’s Adventures in Color,” geared to pre-schoolers through early elementary, is priced at $14.95. It is available through and on Gisselle’s web site The book won first prize last year in a Tawas art show.


  1. Congratulations CJ, Gisselle and Lilibeth! Kisses from Willow to all, Angela.

  2. You're all doing a splendid job !!! We're very proud of you.
    Love Lynda and Rio XXX

  3. Clara,
    We are all so proud of you and the "Girls"! Reading and dogs, two of my favorite things, throw in some eager learners and the picture is complete!
    Love, FGM

  4. You girls make us so proud! Great work!

  5. Maggie, Bridie and QuinnMay 30, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    What a wonderful trio you gals make, doing wonderful things, sharing your A B C's (Ability, Brains/Beauty, & Compassion)!

  6. Sandi and MacGuyverMay 31, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Congratulations Clara, Gisselle and lilibeth!
    We are so proud of you. Love and hugs...

  7. Hi Janet! I love your blog, as it introduces so many great things going on around the Midland area that I never would hear about otherwise! I am the director for the Curtain Call Community Players, and we are doing our summer show out of the Library. I didn't really know of a more appropriate way to get a hold of you, but we would love it if you would come and review our show! Performances are the 16-18, but it would be especially helpful if you could come to either the Tuesday or Wednesday night dress rehearsals. You can contact me at Either way, thanks so much!