THE STORY BEHIND THE BOOK
In 2018 editors and I discussed several possible animals as the next subject in my "secret life" series. The word "sloth" sparked enthusiasm, especially from the marketing department. "Sloths are hot!" And they are, thanks in part to slow characters in animated movies. (Watch the DMV scene in "Zootopia.") Images of these appealing mammals appear on mugs, greeting cards, jewelry, bed sheets, towels, slippers, socks, and other clothing worn by people, from infants to adults.
By mid-June I had a contract to write this book, and soon began research. Since this title is one of a series of narrative nonfiction books that are solidly nonfiction and yet focus on one animal that is like a character in a fiction story, I needed a name. I like to have the animal's name derive from its scientific name; for examplle, Bella the woolly bear caterpillar, Otis the little brown bat, Lutris the sea otter. However, the sloth's scientific name wasn't much help. Part of it is "Bradypus," so I could have written about a male sloth named Brady. However, I wanted the book's character to be a female that would have a baby. Fortunately my daugher Heidi knows Spanish well, and suggested "Pereozso," Spanish for sloth--a good name for the sloth in the story.
I sent in the manuscript in early September 2018. Many steps had to be taken before the finished book was published in April 2021. One was finding an expert to check my words and the art. That person, fortunately, was Dr. Rebecca Cliffe of England. She is sometimes in Costa Rica, but our paths did not cross when my wife Susan and I were in Costa Rica in April 2019. We were on the Pacific coast; Rebecca's Sloth Conservation Foundation is near the Caribbean coast. In Costa Rica I took photos of trees, vines, and the forest floor; some of these pictures were useful as artist Kate Garchinsky sketched and then painted the lush tropical rainforest home of Pereozso and her son.
As usual, some changes were needed in my manuscript. My editor at that time suggested some that improved the text. However, she had little experience or knowledge with science-oriented text and, as a result, she told the artist, "unfortunately Larry's manuscript needs major revision." Her main complaint: the text needed more action! For example, she urged that Pereozso somehow be more active when a harpy eagle, searching for a sloth to eat, flies near. That moment is, of course, a vital time for a sloth to stay perfectly still. The editor pointed out that my previous books about a caterpillar, red fox, and a bat had plenty of action. I explained: sloths are not anything like those creatures. They are the most inactive of all mammals! Since I aim for scientific accuracy, I resisted magically making Pereozso more lively.
A "major revision" was not needed. The best idea for a change came from artist Kate Garchinsky. By combining the text I had written for two spreads (4 pages in a finished book), a 2-page spread was freed to be used in a different way. That space was used to tell about Pereozso's close call with a jaguar. When I write about a few months in the life of an animal in "secret life" books, I often include a scary time--a close call with death--in their stories. Pereozso escapes from danger twice.
Yes, Pereozso is slow, the essence of slothiness. However, I hope that readers will grow fond of her as she swims, eats, travels, escapes danger, and especially as she is a good mother to her son.