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Future possibilities?

Opening pages of text in The Secret Life of the Sloth

Artist Kate Garchinsky is almost done with the illustrations of our Secret Life of the Sloth. Artist Meryl Henderson is well-along in the illustrations for our Elephants! Strange and Wonderful. In early January I delivered the manuscript of Wolves! Strange and Wonderful. The expert who will check my text and the art (by Meryl) will be Dr. L. David Mech, a guy I met at Cornell University long ago. We were both "Wildlife" majors. Dave went on to do a pioneering study of the wolves and moose on Isle Royale National Park, and to become a world-famous wolf expert.

And now I await decisions from editors about future projects...

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Another "Secret Life" book coming, about a Sea Otter!

The artist Kate Garchinsky urged that we team up on the subject of sea otters, and I finished writing the text a few weeks ago. (Alas, because of a merging of two publishers I had no editor to send the ms. to until two days ago.) I probably don't have to tell you how appealing sea otters are. The "secret life" books are narrative nonfiction, usually centered on a story about one individual. In this book she is Lutris (part of the sea otter's scientific name, the word "Lutris" is Latin for "otter").


Here is the beginning I wrote:  "Lutris takes a nap. She has been busy all morning, diving underwater to

hunt for food. Now she covers her eyes with her paws to shut out the light, and

falls asleep. Ocean waves rock her gently in her water bed."


Although here are many questions about my new, merged publisher, editor, etc. I'm hopeful about this book, partly because Kate will be the artist.


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Strong beginnings hook the reader!

In schools I often give a quiz: can you name the titles of books by recognizing their great first sentence or paragraph-- one that makes readers eager to keep reading? Once such first sentence is, "Where's Poppa going with that axe?" Many kids, in grades 3 and up, know those are the first words in E. B. White's wonderful book, Charlotte's Web.


However, on a recent school visit one boy had a surprise answer. He said The Shining. This book, by Stephen King, is a scary drama for adult readers. It was made into a movie. Yes, there is a father with an axe in the book, but not at the beginning.

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Microclimates, everywhere!

Why does snow only remain on the north side of these trees? I've long been fascinated by microclimates, and once wrote a book (Frost Hollows and Other Microclimates, 1981). Some early-in-the-book text: "Once you begin to investigate little climates, you may find that the climate varies between one side of a house and another, between one side of a tree and another, and even between one side of a leaf and another." Microclimates are often important factors in location of vineyards and ski slopes, not to mention architecture and highway safety. And, near the book's end there is this: "Even the human body has a range of little climates. A Scientific American article titled "Life on the Human Skin" referred to 'the desert of the forearm, the cool woods of the scalp, and the tropical forest of the armpit. Consider the fungi that normally lives between human toes and is not noticed. Occasionally it multiplies and becomes an itching, irritating infection. It is called 'athlete's foot.' No one ever has to worry about an outbreak of 'athlete's elbow' or 'athlete's earlobe,' because the fungi needs the special human microclimate it finds between the toes."
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Sloths and Bats--Oh, My!

Earlier this fall I researched and wrote the text of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SLOTH. An editor wondered why this manuscript had less action and drama than, say, my books about a woolly bear caterpillar, red fox, and little brown bat. I had to explain: it is a sloth! These mammals are the least-energetic and slowest of all mammals. So, in writing I could not use words like "leaped," "scampered," "raced," or many other action words. Nevertheless, readers will get to know, and become emotionally attached to, the female sloth and the young male she gives birth to. Artist Kate Garchinsky has started her research and sketches. This will lead, many months from now, to a gloriously illustrated book.

And speaking of bats, on October 24th a house painter removed our bat house from a wall of our home, and a bat fell out. I rescued it, putting it a nearby shed. The bat house was put back and on Halloween I looked in, seeing one sleeping bat. Perhaps it was the same one. This incident led me to watch for bats foraging in the sky, to see if they might still be out there hunting insects. They were--as long as the temperatures at dusk were about 60 degrees F. And I saw two sizes of bats, probably little browns and big browns. It never occurred to me to watch for bats so deep in the fall, so I thank the house painter for that.  Read More 

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AT LAST--a big writing job done!

Since November I've been at work on a book for somewhat older kids, 5-grade and up including middle and high school. The tentative title: ANIMAL MINDS: HOW ANIMALS THINK, USE TOOLS, PLAY, AND COMMUNICATE. This is such a broad, deep, fascinating subject, with new discoveries in the news almost every week. Some very smart humans are doing research, but--no surprise--they don't agree on what is known so far. I learned a lot, and keep doing so; no doubt that will be inserts and updates before this emerges as a finished book. That will take quite a while. Both an editor and an expert reader will no doubt find ways to change the text. Meanwhile I will be rounding up many photographs, which will be the main illustrations. I also look forward to my next research and writing project, which will be delightfully different because its intended readers are more in the first grade to third-or-fourth grade range.
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A Mangy Fox Saga

In the fall I began to see a red fox, and he did not look good. (I knew it was a "he" canine because of the way he peed.) He had mange, a terrible affliction that can cause a fox, dog, or other canine to lose much or all of its fur. Mites burrow in the skin. Feces and eggs (from the female mites) are in the skin, and guess what: it feels awful. So the canine can't sleep, and scratches and scratches. It can practically scratch itself naked. Our local fox was naked on its tail and rear, including all of its back legs.

Curious about mange, I did some research--and learned that a wild fox can be cured of mange! This involves having the fox come for food frequently, and giving it meat or other food with anti-mite medication in it. Mangy foxes are not good hunters so I was able to start feeding "our" fox every night. On Feb. 2 it had its first dose of medicine. It has had 14 doses since, now only once a week because all mites (and those that hatched from eggs) are almost certainly dead by now.

We see new hair growth on its rear, and hints of hair growth on its tail. But a full fox tail has hair at least 6 inches long, so months may pass before the fox looks totally healthy. We hope he'll still be around, deep in the summer, and we can see the glorious banner of a full tail. Ever since I wrote The Secret Life of the Red Fox I have been very fox-conscious. You could say that I'm a fox-lover.  Read More 
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On Feb. 2 a woodchuck (groundhog) emerges or is hauled out into the light. If it sees its shadow there will be 6 weeks of winter; otherwise, an early spring. This amazing
prediction depends entirely on whether it is cloudy (no shadow), or sunny (shadow).

No groundhog is needed! With our own human eyes and brains we can detect whether we sense sunshine and see shadows. Then we alone make the meteorological forecast (which is also nonsense but that's another story).

Sorry, Punxsutawney, it is just SHADOW OR NO SHADOW DAY.  Read More 
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A treasured book of my teen years

The Indians of New Jersey sounds like the title of a nonfiction book. However, there's a sub-title: Dickon Among the Lenapes. This book by author M. R. Harrington was first published in 1938 under the title Dickon Among the Lenape Indians. (It is still available from Rutgers Univ. Press, Amazon, etc.) When I was probably about 12-13 years old I borrowed it from the library of Honeoye Falls Central School.

The book is rich with details (and illustrations) of Lenape life, which appealed to my own nature-exploring adventures. However, I was especially drawn to its fictional narrator, an English boy (Dickon) who was swept overboard from a British ship in 1612 and lived with the Lenapes for two years. He has trouble with a bully but is lovingly accepted by others, and by a dog. At the book's end he makes a heart-wrenching decision. It made me cry when I was twelve, and probably can do so again now.  Read More 
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Writing can be hard work!

Though my spirits have been lifted these past weeks by seeing more monarchs on the move, heading for Mexico, my life has been dominated by a writing struggle. Yes, I say "struggle" because the book writing process is sometimes like that for me. It is somewhat like a roller coaster of feelings, and believe me, the low points are not fun. However, at some point--not yet reached--a writing project will give me lots of highs, and great feelings of accomplishment. And, by the way, I sometimes remind myself that many people have jobs that are so much more difficult, boring, and soul-destroying than mine.

A fall with far-above average temperatures has yielded some sweet surprises in nature: Green frogs still active in the garden pond. Katydids calling at night, even in early November. Ten or twenty years ago we would have had a killing frost well before Halloween. Our everyday lives show evidence of global warming, brought on by human activity. Some minor changes are welcome. The major ones are scary.
author in classrooms and libraries
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