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Alligators and Crocodiles! Strange and Wonderful

The Story Behind the Book

Like all writers, I aim to "hook" readers in my first few sentences, luring them to keep on reading. Sometimes I think about this beginning, or lead, months before I actually begin all-out work on a book. I'm very happy with the way this book starts: with the sounds of baby 'gators, still in their eggs. And then--not by accident--page 3 ends with a question: "Where was their mother?" You have to turn the page, keep on reading, to find out if she shows up. And a little story continues, telling how Mom helps her young out of their eggs, and keeps on caring for them. Only on page 6 does the reader meet the first nonfiction sentence: "Few people know that mother alligators give tender care to their young."

As it turns out, this beginning caught the attention of a distinguished expert on children's literature, Kathleen Horning, Director of the Cooperative Children's Books Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the 2010 revised edition of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books, she quotes the book's opening sentences ("Erk, erk, erk" etc. through "Where was their mother?"). She writes, "Laurence Pringle is a master at writing dynamic prose in his science books for children." She adds, "In spite of the simplicity of the language Pringle uses, he does not talk down to his young readers. His tone shows that he has respect for their intelligence."

The book's cover shows heads of an alligator and a crocodile (the same art as on page 15). Many people wonder how to tell these reptiles apart, and an expert reader helped, telling me that the nostrils are a big clue. They are close together in crocodiles, farther apart in alligators. I added a sentence and a label to emphasize that. Also, in my research--in books and scientific magazines--I had read that American alligators can grow to be 20 feet long. However, a Florida biologist who checked my writing, and the art, said that the largest were 15 1/2 feet long. I trusted his judgment and experience, so the label on page 12 says 15 1/2 feet!