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My Last Book?

The Secret Life of the Flying Squirrel, published in April 2023, earned a strongly positive review from Kirkus: "An intriguing introduction to a nocturnal and secretive forest dweller." The review also praised the entire "secret life" series, the text, and Kate Garchinsky's art. I look forward to other strongly positive reviews. And the previous title in this series, The Secret Life of the Sea Otter, earned a STARRED review in School Library Journal (SLJ). The last line: "This is a juvenile nonfiction treasure, higly recommended to all libraries who serve children."


Many school librarians tell me that SLJ is their "go-to" main source for book-buying ideas. In my school visits this spring, librarians and students were enthusiastic about the "secret life" books, and nominated other animals they want to be featured. Nevertheless, the publisher (Astra) wants no more of this series. Why? Has the institutional market (libraries) changed? Is Astra incabable of selling books that earn strong reviews? When I was told that Astra wanted no more books in two series, I was assured that the publisher would actively promote the backlist of titles. Judging from the most recent royalty report of sales, there is no evidence of any such effort.

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Wonderful Reviews--and a Questionable Future

In each year, 2021 and 2022, two of my books have been or will be published. The reviews have been wonderfully positive. Most recently, The Secret Life of the Sea Otter was given a STARRED REVIEW by School Library Journal,

and was a rave review in other ways. Meanwhile Wolves! Strange and Wonderful was officially published on  November 2022. And Kate Garchinsky's art for The Secret Life of the Flying Squirrel is now complete, and ready for a spring 2023 publication.


This suggests a thriving career, but that is an illusion--I've had no new contracts to write a book for more than two years. Boyds Mills Press was purchased by Kane, then several other imprints were gobbled up, now under the overall name of Astra. No books from me are desired by Astra. If you look at the Kane backlist there are a few clues about why this is so. I'm exploring opportunities with other pubishers but have no solid, hopeful news yet.

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A Delightful Spring 2021 Book

Opening pages of text in The Secret Life of the Sloth

The delightful Secret Life of the Sloth was officially published on April 20, 2021.  Elephants! Strange and Wonderful was published in August 2021. As for Wolves! Strange and Wonderful, the expert who is checking my text and the art (by Meryl Henderson) 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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The next "secret life" book!

FLYING SQUIRRELS--delightful, fascinating tree squirrels that are active at night (and so have big eyes and good night vision). And a more accurate name would be GLIDING SQUIRRELS. Bats are the only mammals that have wings and fly. Flaps of skin between wrists and ankles on these squirrels can be spread out and enable them to glide for a hundred feet or more, and a flight path can include turns. I feel lucky to have these creatures near me. (They once spent a couple of months in the attic of our house, but that is a long story. The photo shown here is one that was loose in our house. It was caught and released outside.)
As usual I learned a lot from research, including the name for those gliding flaps, covered with fur on both sides of the squirrels. One is called a patagium, the pair are called patagia. Sometime in 2021 artist Kate Garchinsky will start working on the art (for a book that won't be published until 2023). The illustrations will be challenge because a lot of the images will be at night, or in a poorly lit den inside a tree. She deals well with this challenge--look at the illustrations in such other "secret life" creatures as the little brown bat, and the skunk.
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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 in 2019. 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, editors, 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 to a gloriously illustrated book in2021.

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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