Editor’s Note: ESPN and Babble are both a part of The Walt Disney Company.
Chances are, you know Mike Greenberg from his long-running career as a sportscaster (he’s co-hosted everything from ESPN’s SportsCenter and talk show Get Up! to the morning radio show Mike & Mike). Or because you read his hilarious parenting memoir, My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot. Or his novel, All You Could Ask For. But as he tells Babble, his latest writing venture — a children’s book he co-authored with his wife, Stacy Steponate Greenberg — hits closer to home than most of his previous work.
It’s called MVP: Most Valuable Puppy, and it’s narrated by Phoebe, a lovable Australian Labradoodle with a fluffy, pink tail who challenges one of her humans to step outside her comfort zone one day and try something new: soccer.
In it, Phoebe introduces us to her family — Dad, “The Man with the Beard” who spends his days talking sports from inside his box (AKA the TV); Mom, “The Lady Who Feeds Her,” her best friend and sister, who she calls “The Girl with the Curly Hair,” and her brother, who’s known simply as: “The Baby.” (According to Phoebe though, he’s pretty much the boss of the whole operation.)
If Phoebe’s family looks and sounds a whole lot like the Greenberg family … well, that’s not exactly a coincidence.
“The characters in the story are basically our family,” Mike tells Babble, explaining that while Mom and Dad are modeled after his wife and himself, the two kids were inspired by his own teenage children, Nikki and Stephen.
And as for the real-life Phoebe? Just like her illustrated counterpart, Stacy says the Greenberg’s lovable pooch Phoebe has a heart of gold — and even sports a pink tail sometimes!
“Phoebe is as sweet, gentle, and fun as they come,” Stacy tells Babble. “She will be 8 in October and yet she still bounces around and plays like a puppy.”
She’s also a certified therapy dog, which Stacy says allows her to visit hospitals, retirement homes, and even schools to comfort others.
“Study after study has shown that dogs can help alleviate stress,” explains Stacy, “and we like to think Phoebe does that the minute you meet her.”
The book blends together a lot of things that the Greenbergs value most, including a love of sports, animals, and close family ties. But it’s the story behind the book’s inspiration that ultimately gives it its real heart.
According to the Greenbergs, MVP was inspired by the passing of their close friend Heidi Armitage in 2009, who lost a difficult battle with breast cancer. At just 43, Armitage left behind two young kids and a husband, and her loss was felt deeply by everyone who knew her.
“When she died, it upset me in a way that was different from anything that had happened before,” says Mike. “It made me angry every bit as much as I was sad, because it felt so unjust. I knew I had to do something, and what I ultimately decided to do was write [All You Could Ask For].”
The Greenbergs founded the Heidi’s Angels Foundation in her honor, through which they donate 100% of the proceeds from Greenberg’s novel to The V Foundation for Cancer Research to benefit breast cancer. And now, the couple is once again donating 100% of their book proceeds to Heidi’s Foundation — but this time, the proceeds from MVP will fund pediatric cancer research.
“We wanted to keep the foundation active and continue the fight,” Mike explains, “so Stacy came up with the idea to do a children’s book starring our dog, Phoebe.”
Considering the major funding gap that exists between adult and childhood cancer research — with only 4% of federal funding going to childhood cancer research per year — the Greenberg’s mission couldn’t be more important to the millions of families who are desperately hoping for a cure. And that’s something they’ve certainly realized after seeing the devastating effects of cancer first-hand.
“Through my years at ESPN I have had the privilege of working with The V Foundation on many projects,” Mike tells Babble, “and there is nothing in the world quite like spending a day with children battling cancer and their families. It felt right with this project especially, since it is a book for children. We will donate every penny we ever receive from this book to the fight against pediatric cancer until, as I always say, the day they cure the disease.”
To date, the proceeds from All That I Ask For have helped donate over $150,000 and counting to cancer research, and the hope is that MVP will only help propel their cause further.
In sitting down to write a children’s book, Mike says he and his wife “probably wrote 10 different versions” of the story before they decided on one, which was later brought to life by illustrator Bonnie Pang. Ultimately, they kept coming back to one central theme that drives home an important lesson all kids need to learn.
“Failure is difficult for all people, of all ages,” says Mike, “but it is also the only proven method for getting better at anything.”
In MVP, Phoebe imparts this lesson upon her sister when she encourages her to try playing soccer and football, and it doesn’t go so well at first.
“We live in a culture now where I feel like young people too often believe they need to be perfect, when of course none of us of any age are ever going to be,” says Mike. “There is nothing to be ashamed of in trying something new and not being the best at it immediately. That is what our story is about … it’s okay to try even if you are a little bit afraid.”
In the end, the Greenbergs simply hope that kids (and their parents) get a little something special out of reading the story of Phoebe the dog, and that MVP helps shine a bit more light on the importance of childhood cancer research. According to Stacy, she thinks “Heidi would approve” of the sweet children’s story.
And after reading the heartwarming book myself, I certainly think she would too.