LAURENCE PRINGLE'S BLOG
November 12, 2018
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. Soon artist Kate Garchinsky will start her research and sketches, leading 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.
August 11, 2018
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.
April 13, 2018
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.
February 2, 2018
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.
January 28, 2018
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.
November 8, 2017
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
August 31, 2017
The year 1997 stands out because my book AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE: THE STORY OF A MONARCH BUTTERFLY was published. In 1998 it won the Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction for children. And, remarkably, it is still in print, as a paperback from Scholastic.
My dedication in that book: "To monarchs--only butterflies, yet strong enough to lift the human heart." They continue to have that affect. Whether I am driving along a highway or fishing on the ocean's edge, the sight of a fall-migrating monarch stirs strong feelings--and cheers, as I wish the butterfly a safe journey to Mexico. But, thanks to humans, monarchs face many threats. Their numbers at overwintering sites have dropped lower and lower. The great migration has faltered. These past few years I saw no monarchs at all near home. visiting author
Ah, but 2017 offers hope. A few monarchs have appeared, visiting butterfly weeds and butterfly bushes. A milkweed plant volunteered in a flower garden, and has now been fed upon by 4 monarch caterpillars. Another fed on butterfly weed. Though I found just one chrysalis, I believe all 5 made it through to adulthood. In the weeks ahead I will be near ocean beaches along which monarchs traditionally travel as they head west and south from New England and New York. Hopes rise. I may have many chances to cheer and cheer and cheer migrating monarchs!
July 25, 2017
Nature gives my family and me some wonderful animal music: spring peepers, wood thrush concerts, chimney swifts twittering overhead, cicadas. Then each year about July 22-23, we hear the first katydids. A few have called from trees the past few nights; they will continue well into the fall.
However, katydids send a kind of mixed message. Many years ago I mentioned this to my wife, Susan. "They signal that summer is far along. Fall is coming." Susan was then a very good, dedicated school teacher--BUT she did not want to be reminded of autumn's approach. I believe it was my remark about katydids that led to a family rule: in summer vacation (until near Labor Day), we tried to avoid the S-word, the A-word, and the F-word. And those words were School, Autumn, and Fall. In general, though, from now on this summer we will enjoy the bittersweet music of katydids (the K-word).
July 6, 2017
On June 15 I wrote (below) about the disappearance of a very appealing feral cat that had been part of my life for about four years. He was last seen about June 3rd or 4th.
I suspected that he was dead, but each morning looked from a certain window to see if he was in his usual "waiting for breakfast" spot. At 7 a.m. on June 30 he was!
He had lost weight but was not "skin and bones." And, of course, he was still feral, not letting me get very close. He continues to show up, often twice a day, for a good meal.
And when I let some people know the good news, I included a link to "Happy," by Pharrell Williams. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM
June 17, 2017
Recently sent to my editor: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SKUNK. It was fun to research and write, particularly because it is narrative nonfiction. In the process of writing I discovered that I needed some specific details not found in my research. So I sent an e-mail to a woman biologist who lives and works on Martha's Vineyard, MA. (I met her ten or more years ago. I was fishing at night on an ocean beach; she came along with an antenna to help her locate skunks that carried little transmitters. We've been in touch ever since.) She helped with some skunk details, and she will also be the expert who checks my writing and the illustrations.
Writing a nonfiction story for young readers allows a writer to play with words. For example, there's this, when young skunks (kits) are led by their mother to a rocky stream: "For the first time the kits hear the music of flowing water. It tinkles, splashes, and sploshes. It gurgles, burbles, and babbles."
One more thing: my wife and I are members of a secret group of people, of unknown numbers. The secret: we like very much the strong, musky scent of skunks! (more…)