ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET… AND WE SHOULDN’T EITHER by best-selling children’s author, television writer-producer and SCBWI leader Lin Oliver

Lin on safari with husband Alan Baker

I recently returned from a three week safari in Botswana, a beautiful country in Southern Africa where the dawns break pale lavender and the golden sunsets fill the sky with flaming orange clouds. In other times, people used to go on safari to hunt and kill wild animals. I would never do that. Never. The purpose of my safari was just the opposite—to observe African animals in their native habitat, to admire them, to pay them my deepest respect.

Every day, we’d go out with a licensed guide in our four-wheel-drive jeep and roam the bush. We were lucky enough to see many of the native species as they went about their day: lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, impala, hippo, hyena, kudu, baboon, crocodile, monkey, birds of prey like vultures and eagles, and birds of beauty like storks and lilac-breasted rollers. But of all the creatures we saw, it was the elephants that touched my heart the most. These gentle giants made me feel how closely we creatures of the earth are bound to one another.

The African elephant is the largest living land mammal on Earth. When you observe one up close, you are awed by its massive size. As a relatively small two-legged creature, at first I didn’t feel like I had much in common with the elephant—those grey wrinkly giants spraying water and dirt on their backs with their muscular trunks, gobbling down 300 pounds of grass and bark a day, flapping their ears to keep cool in the blazing African heat. But the more I sat and observed the elephants, the more I lost sight of the external differences between us. They began to feel so human to me. Or maybe I began to feel more elephant. I couldn’t help but immerse myself in their experience, their communities, and yes, their feelings.

photo by Alan Baker

As a mom myself, the first thing I noticed was the way they care for their young.  Elephants travel in maternal herds, with the young calves always on the inside, being guarded and protected by the other females. The matriarch, or dominant female, is the backbone of the family. You can actually see the elephants interacting with one another, sharing duties. If a calf becomes orphaned, the others will adopt it. If they come across the bones of a dead elephant, they will stop and fondle them, in what seems to be a process of grieving, or at least, remembering. In so much of how they behaved, I saw our human behavior at its best.

That made it even more shocking to discover that the African elephant—these wonderful, sensitive, robust creatures—are in grave danger, largely from two sources. The first is the destruction of their habitat. Elephants require a great deal of space to graze and find sufficient food. As the population grows, and as industrialization spreads, their habitat is being eroded by human development. Simply put, they are running out of land to find food so that they can survive.

The second threat to the elephant population are the huge scale losses they have suffered at the hands of poachers, who slaughter them for their ivory tusks. Many societies admire ivory for its beauty and for its supposed medical uses (although there are no proven medical benefits from ivory). Consequently, there is a huge demand for ivory, and illegal poaching is still prevalent. We have evidence of poachers engaging in mass shootings of herds of elephants, of using poisoned arrows, of cutting off the elephant’s faces to retrieve their tusks which are partially embedded in their heads. How cruel! How useless! How unthinkable!

Elephants are crucial to life in Africa. They are known as a keystone species, which means they play a critical role in maintaining a whole environmental community. Known as the “megagardeners” of Africa, elephants dig water channels for other animals, disperse tree seeds, and clear grasslands for firebreaks. If they disappear, the ecology of Africa, as we know it, will be severely compromised.

And think of it. The extinction of elephants means that none of you will have the opportunity to see and experience for yourselves the wonderment that these creatures provide.

No. No way. That can’t happen.

Say to yourself, “That won’t happen, not on my watch!”

To protect the future of the elephant we have to do four things:

photo by Alan Baker

(1)  Stop the ivory trade.

(2)  Protect the elephants’ environment to give them adequate room to feed and survive

(3)  Make and enforce the strongest possible anti-poaching laws

(4)  Let everyone know how important elephants are in our world, and how we have to protect these intelligent, emotional, social and necessary creatures.

You can help with this.  Check out organizations that protect wildlife, like the World Wildlife Fund or The African Wildlife Foundation.  Donate some money, no matter how little, to a group that protects elephants and other wildlife.  Read about elephants.  Tell everyone you know about the poaching problem.  Write to people in power.  Speak up!

Remember that everything you do makes a difference.

Oh, and if you ever get a chance to see elephants in the wild, and I hope you do, please tell them I love them.

Lin Oliver is a children’s book author and writer-producer of television series and movies for children. With Henry Winkler, she writes the New York Times best-selling book series, Hank Zipzer: World’s Best Underachiever, which is also a hit television series on the BBC. She is also the author of the Who Shrunk Daniel Funk books, Sound Bender and The Shadow Mask, middle grade novels she coauthored with Theo Baker. Her latest works are the Here’s Hank chapter book series (with Henry Winkler) and the highly praised Little Poems for Tiny Ears, illustrated by Tomie dePaola. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Learn more at www.linoliver.com

 

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LET’S ALL GO SMALL by best-selling illustrator and funny guy Jim Paillot, who has festooned over 60 kids’ books with his clever artwork

I’m a pretty small guy. As a kid I was always the shortest guy in class. From kindergarten right on through high school. You know those signs at carnivals that say, “You must be at least this tall to ride this ride”? Those signs were my arch enemy. Here’s a little tip: you can gain an extra inch in height if you wear extra long bell bottomed pants to hide the fact that you are on your tip toes when the carnival ride gatekeeper measures you. I’d like to tell you that one summer I hit a miraculous, crazy growth spurt and finally made the basketball team but this is real life.

I think you get the picture—I was little.

I’m still a small guy. But here’s what I have learned to embrace as I grew up. Small actions can make a big difference. I’m not talking about how planting a seed can bring forth a mighty, majestic oak tree. That’s true but that’s not what I am talking about at all. I’m talking about how if you see someone who is having a bad day you can step up and remind that person how wonderful they are. Sometimes people need to be reminded about what their soul already knows. That’s the kind of small act that can bring about big changes. You could help a friend with their homework, plan a community garden, go to a local shelter and walk dogs or help a neighbor bring her recycling to the curb. Small actions to you and I might be huge for the one you are helping.

You can make a world of difference no matter where you are. When I think of the world I am in I imagine that I have a direct impact on roughly the area around me as far as I can throw a rock. That’s the part of the world I have a little control over at any given moment—a circular perimeter based on how far my voice and actions can reach. And that circle follows me where ever I go. I try my best to be kind and polite to people, animals and our planet in my “as far as I can throw a rock” world. In that small world, I can pick up litter, help old ladies carrying groceries, rub dogs’ tummies, recycle, plant flowers for bees, conserve water and mostly just try to be a good guy.

I figure that if everyone made these small differences in their own “as far as I can throw a rock” world then this planet would be a pretty GREAT PLACE TO LIVE! You can tell I mean it because I wrote it in all caps—the tallest letters in the alphabet.

Jim Paillot is the illustrator for the funny My Weird School series by Dan Gutman and the popular Secrets of a Lab Rat series written by Trudi Trueit. He has illustrated more than sixty books. Among other awards, Jim was the recipient of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for his artwork for the Grubtown Tales books written by Philip Ardagh. To see more of his work go to www.jimpaillot.com or www.drawger.com/paillot/

 

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A NIGHT INSIDE A CAGE by Israeli children’s author-illustrator Miri Leshem-Pelly

It’s nighttime in the Israeli desert, and I’m inside the sand foxes’ cage! When I entered, the foxes were curious about me, but now that their food has arrived, they ignore me completely and for a short, scary moment, they start fighting each other over the food. A few minutes later, one of them is happily eating the meat, while the other one runs to a distant corner and starts digging in the ground to bury a piece he managed to snap. I’m busy taking pictures and almost forget I’m in a zoo, feeling like I’ve witnessed a glimpse of true wildlife.

This exciting experience happened when I was researching my book Lon-Lon’s Big Night, about a sand fox cub who lives in the Israeli Negev desert.

For my next book, I chose a very different habitat—the Jordan River, in the green Galilee mountains. The main characters of that story are two river otter cubs. Over the course of the research, I was invited to join a nature researcher on a day of field research, as he went looking for otters in the rivers of north Israel. I was disappointed when he said, “Don’t expect to actually see otters today.” What are we looking for, then? I wondered. To my surprise, I ended up feeling just as excited as he was… when we discovered otter droppings! Who would have thought?

So, again, in order to see river otters and take pictures, I was allowed inside the otters’ yard in a zoo. I even got to open their sleeping box to discover four sweet cubs (and one angry mother).

So… why do I do this?

As you can probably guess by now, I really love wild animals and nature. Israel is blessed with a wide variety of species, as the meeting point of three continents and several different climate zones, all packed into a very small territory. But the small area means that the population of each species is limited and many animals, such as the Negev sand fox and the river otter are facing the danger of extinction. I use literature to turn a spotlight onto some of these interesting creatures.

It is important for me to research thoroughly, so I can “get inside” the animal’s skin while writing and illustrating: I want to see the world through its eyes and feel the world through its senses. My goal is to create authentic and interesting animal characters, which can capture children’s imagination and maybe even inspire them to take part in nature preservation in our country and around the world.

Miri Leshem-Pelly is an Israeli author-illustrator of 13 children’s books, mostly about nature and animals. Her book Lon-Lon’s Big Night was published in English by the American publisher Milk & Honey Press. Among her other titles are Luty & Tery the Otter Cubs and the 7-book non-fiction series “Pitzponteva” (Tiny-Nature Professor). She is the Regional Advisor of the Israeli chapter of SCBWI. Take a look at her website: www.mirileshem.com/english/english-books

 

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2015 A4ED team supports global conservation to the tune of over $11,000!

It’s that time again! Time to express thanks and kudos to our annual A4ED team and celebrate our collaborative success.

Going year-round was a good thing. Participants did A4ED visits over several months and each generously donated money from their speaking fee to a conservation organization selected by a student vote. Across the country, tens of thousands of young readers took part in this special life experience!

MEET OUR 2015 PARTICIPANTS (click links to see photos and blurbs from our events): Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Barbara Gowan, Barb Rosenstock, Brooke BessesenConrad Storad, Dan Gutman, Debbie Dadey, Deborah Heiligman, Elissa Brent Weissman, Jennifer Swanson, Jody Feldman, Linda Boyden, Linda Crotta Brennan, Miranda Paul, Molly IdlePatricia Newman, Polly Holyoke, Sandy Asher, Suzanne Slade and Terri Farley. Happy fact: more than half the team has participated multiple years.

Together, school-by-school, dollar-by-dollar, we donated over $11,000 to non-profit organizations nurturing wildlife, humans and habitats in every corner of the world. Add that sum with previous years and our total A4ED contributions stretch to an impressive $44,121!

Words of gratitude from just a couple organizations that received support:

“Your proceeds are an outstanding achievement! Thank you so much. Let the children know every penny counts to us.”

“This is wonderful news! Thank you so much for the donation, and please thank the kids too.”

ORGANIZATIONS AIDED IN 2015: Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, For the Love of the Lake, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Greenpeace, The Honeybee Conservancy, Hug-It-Forward, Humane Society of the United States, Marine Mammal Center, Messinger Woods, Plastic Pollution Coalition, The Sierra Club, Ocean Conservancy, Pets Without Partners, Phoenix Zoo Conservation Fund, Rainforest Trust, The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute), Southwest Monarch Study, Tifft Nature Preserve, Viva Vaquita, Wild at Heart, Wildlife Conservation Society and The Wolf Sanctuary of PA.

It is a privilege to be part of the Authors for Earth Day coalition, to work in unity with writers and artists who are not merely recognized for their talent, but who are dedicated to reaching their readers, speaking to them, empowering them, and giving them tools to attain a brighter future. Please encourage book-lovers and educators to connect through our A4ED Facebook and our extraordinary multi-author A4ED blog.

As we prepare for next year, we extend our humble gratitude to everyone who has helped this coalition grow. It takes a village.

 

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IN MY NEXT LIFE, I WANT TO BE A TREE by the preeminent and prolific Bruce Coville, author of The Unicorn Chronicles

I used to be a gravedigger. A real one, working with pick and shovel, not a backhoe.

It was not a job I applied for, it was something I was assigned, as my grandfather ran the cemetery. Here is what I did when I dug a grave:

First I set down planks to mark the proper dimensions of the grave, making sure to keep it within the allocated spot. Next I removed the sod, setting it aside so it could be replaced as the top layer once the grave was filled. Then the real digging began, going down to four and a half feet. Yep, only four and a half feet, not the storied “Six feet under.”

That depth was more than sufficient, as you will soon see.

The following day, before the funeral procession arrived, a truck would come and lower a concrete vault into the grave. Once the vault was in place, the truck would move to a respectful distance.

Next came the graveside service, at the end of which the coffin would be lowered into the vault. Then the lid of the vault, also made of concrete and with a sealant around the edge, would be lowered to close up the vault.

And what was in that coffin? A human body pumped full of toxic chemicals . . . a body forever locked away from the earth.

Bruce on his grandparents' dairy farm (running the community cemetery was his grandfather's side job)

The film The Lion King featured a song called “The Circle of Life” that has been very popular.

But the American way of dying brings the circle of life to a  . . . well, a dead halt.

The real circle, for almost all forms of life, is that a creature is born, it lives, it dies, and then through a natural process of decay its body returns to the soil to enrich new life.

We have broken that circle, badly.

The current death rate in America is about 2,500,000 people per year. That means almost 7,000 funerals a day! And in the vast majority of those funerals the person who died has been sealed in a wooden box which is then placed inside a rigid, non-biodegradable “vault”, the main purpose of which is to keep the grave from collapsing so it will remain easier to mow!

Along with those two and a half million funerals we bury about 100,000 tons of steel, 10 tons of copper and brass, and 30 million board feet of hardwood timber.*

It is hard to imagine a process more removed from the natural world.

Happily, there is a better way.

We now have a growing movement for Green Funerals. Rather than removing your body from the natural cycle, a Green Funeral avoids embalming and lets you be buried in a natural container, one that will allow your body to return to the soil.

My favorite version of these burials involves planting a tree above the burial site . . . a tree that will be nourished by the gift you give of returning your body to the natural world.

I am of the world. I love the world. And I want to remain a part of the world when I die.

In my next life, let me be a tree!

Bruce Coville has written over 100 children’s books with 15 series, including The Unicorn Chronicles, My Teacher is an Alien and Magic Shop, middle grade novels like The Dragonslayers, picture books and nonfiction. Plus plays and e-stories. AND he is the founder of Full Cast Audio, which creates unabridged recordings of books for young readers. See it all at www.brucecoville.com.

*  Figures from www.beatree.com

 

 

 

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GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY! by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park

photo by Sonya Sones

One of my favorite things to do is eat. I have a lot of favorite foods, but at the top of the list are the things I’ve grown myself.

I’m NOT a good gardener. In fact, I’m a terrible gardener—I have the opposite of a green thumb. A brown and shriveled thumb, maybe? Even so, I’ve managed to grow tomatoes in several places: in my back yard, in a raised bed, in a tub on the small deck of a city apartment. The tomatoes I’ve grown myself are the best I’ve ever eaten, red and ripe, sweet and tangy, juicy and sometimes still warm from the sun.

My other favorite thing to grow is raspberries. Picking raspberries is like a treasure hunt. There are thorns guarding the berried treasure (berried treasure, get it?), and the fruits themselves are like rubies. Better than rubies, really, because they’re just as beautiful, but so good to eat!

What does this have to do with Earth Day? By growing my own food, I’m learning a lot about plants—and animals (squirrels, birds, worms, bugs…). I’ve gained respect and admiration for the farmers who grow our food. Most important, I’ve learned that for us human beings, healthy soil is the start of the food chain: Without soil that’s free from harmful chemicals, we don’t get delicious and healthy tomatoes or raspberries.

Or burgers or fries or pizza! Those foods start out as plants that grow in the ground: potatoes (fries), wheat (the flour for burger buns and pizza crusts), the grass and corn that feed beef cattle. All of it begins with good healthy dirt! In fact, I’m so interested in healthy dirt that I wrote about it in my book PROJECT MULBERRY—see Chapter 11.

Many fruits and vegetables, like raspberries and tomatoes, need good soil, room to grow, and plenty of sunshine, as well as a gardener who will watch over them and water them when they need it. Maybe you don’t have the space to grow these kinds of plants, but there is a food that you can grow no matter where you live: Sprouts!

Sprouts are easy to grow. There are many different kinds, some mild, some spicy, all delicious in salads and sandwiches. All you need is a plastic food-storage container, paper towels, water, and seeds. Look up ‘growing sprouts at home’ on the internet, and you’ll find many sites that give you detailed instructions. Easier still, you can grow sprouts on an ordinary sponge: http://www.pbs.org/parents/crafts-for-kids/sponge-sprouts/ Best of all, it doesn’t take long: You’ll be eating sprouts in just a few days.

Growing your own food, even something as easy as sprouts, is FUN. I hope you’ll try it!

Linda Sue Park is the author of both picture books and novels for young readers. She has written many award winning and best-selling titles, including A Single Shard (2002 Newbery Medal), When my Name was Keoko (PW and SLJ Best Book of the Year) and A Long Walk to Water (NYT’s Bestseller).  Enjoy exploring www.lindasuepark.com.

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FINDING NATURE IN A BOOK; FINDING A BOOK IN NATURE by best-selling children’s author, Alyssa Satin Capucilli

This photo of Huckleberry and me was taken by Jennifer Parris, Celebrity Parent Magazine

Growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY, it was not always easy to be in touch with nature. Sure, there were the billowing roses that a neighbor let us smell on the walk to school, there were the summers spent in “the country”—(actually New Jersey)—where hour after hour was passed creating magical worlds and stories as we romped unattended over steep paths and through tall grasses. Closer to home, there were Sundays spent in the rolling green grass of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

But for me, I can honestly say that a simple book from my childhood led me on a path to eventually appreciate the world around us in a way I never had before. That book, was Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. When Henry carried Ribsy home in a cardboard box (I’m sure it was recyclable) that read, Don’t let ‘em call you baldy, I was sure I had met my soul mate. Oh that lucky Henry— if only I could have a dog follow at my heels like he did.

Fast forward to nearly 20 years ago when after living in a small village outside of NYC for over a decade, I wrote my first story about a young girl and a small yellow puppy who loves nothing more than to follow at the heels of his owner, no matter where their adventures take them. Of course, I couldn’t let my character have all the fun, so I convinced my not-so-sure husband and my totally-on-board children that we should rescue a pup of our own. Huckleberry, a loving Chocolate Labrador Retriever, thrust me into the heart of the natural world with all four enthusiastic paws. His energy and love of the outdoors brought us to a quiet woods near my home where we would walk, no exaggeration, 365 mornings a year. How, I wondered, had I not walked these trails before?

In the fall, I discovered the awesomeness of the foliage as Huckleberry romped through a carpet of gold and yellow leaves from birch, hickory, and poplar trees, the red and maroon leaves of the red oak, dogwood, ash, sweet maples and sumacs, and my favorite, the glorious orange stars of the Japanese maple.

When the snow and ice fell, I strapped on my “Yak Trax” and headed over the hills and paths. As Huckleberry gleefully discovered the joys of stepping out onto the frozen pond and rolling with abandon in the snow, I noted the tracks of squirrels, raccoons, deer, and the occasional quiet trickle of water running over the rocks. I learned that metamorphosed gneiss with bands of quartz were brought into the area during the Wisconsin glacier, some 10,00 to 13,000 years ago.

In the spring we sat at ponds edge and listened to the song of the migratory birds—okay so Huckleberry did go for a splash and a swim every now and then with the ducklings! We admired the brilliant yellow forsythia, the tulip trees and the sweet cherry trees. And in the summer, we visited the now dry Vernal Pond, where the deer stood silently, looking at their once full watering spot, and the summer hare sat quietly nibbling in the grass.

Day after day, year after year, we walked through over one hundred species of trees, ferns, grasses, herbs, sedges, and rushes. Why hadn’t I walked these trails before? It didn’t really matter. I was walking them now, with Huckleberry, or I should say, thanks to Huckleberry, most joyfully at my heels.

People often say that writers are observers, and I believe that is true. And whether watching a chrysalis miraculously cling to a leaf somehow becomes a story of a dancing duck cast in the recital as a caterpillar who emerges as a spring butterfly, or a stray cat passed on a walk becomes an “alphabet of cats” rescued by a woman with a very big heart, well…you get the idea. In some way, every day is Earth Day for this author. We just have to discover our place in its wondrous story. And it’s never too late.

Alyssa Satin Capucilli is the author of two beloved children’s book series: the romping Biscuit, (with 17 million copies in print) and the dancing Katy Duck. Alyssa herself was a professional dancer and her love of movement shows in joyful frolicking of her characters. Follow the author and her books at alyssacapucilli.com

 

 

 

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Best-selling Frindle author Andrew Clements strives to help the environment and live more sustainably

We hear a lot these days about how bad the environment is getting.  Sometimes it can feel like it’s all so overwhelming that nothing I can do will matter, that nothing I can do will end up making enough of a difference to really help—but that simply isn’t true!

Good old Mother Earth appreciates every little bit that each one of us does to help make the air better to breathe, to help make the waters better for drinking and swimming, and to help make our forests and farmlands safer and cleaner.

It was our own children who helped my wife and I understand this.  Almost fifteen years ago our sons were very upset about pollution—particularly about how much bad stuff regular cars spit out into the air.  We told them that good people all over the world were really working hard to make things better, and our oldest son said, “Yeah, but what are you doing?”

We needed a new car at that time, so in 2001 my wife and I traded in our old minivan and bought one of the first hybrid cars ever available in the United States—a car which traveled three times farther on one gallon of gas than the minivan had!  We saved money, and our driving put much, much less pollution into the air.  Since then, we have bought only hybrid cars.

Another even simpler thing our family did about fifteen years ago was to get serious about recycling paper and glass and metal.  All it took was setting up some bins in our garage.  And since then I know we have kept many, many tons of waste from being dumped into landfills and incinerators.

So the next time you feel like you can’t do anything to help the Earth out, think again.  I know you’ll be able to find new and interesting ways to use less energy, conserve water, and keep the air cleaner.  And remember, every little bit truly helps!

Andrew Clements is the author of more than 75 books for young readers. His incredibly popular title Frindle has garnered 16 state book awards, sold over 2.5 million copies, and been translated into several languages. Learn more at www.andrewclements.com.

 

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FINE FEATHERED FRIENDS by Caldecott Honored illustrator-author Molly Idle

A new family recently moved into our neighborhood… a family of woodpeckers.

Living in the middle of a city, that is in the middle of a desert, this family’s arrival came as something of a surprise… albeit a pleasant one.

They are fun to watch, these birds are. Their movements, their mannerisms, their seemingly effortless flight.  And one morning, a few weeks ago, while watching them covertly (like any good nosy neighbor) over the rim of my morning coffee cup, I thought…

“Birds! I should make a book about birds!”

Then I stopped. And I thought.

“Um…. Wait a sec.”

Because, you see, I’ve already made Flora and the Flamingo, and Flora and the Penguin, AND I am currently working on Flora and the Peacocks

Birds!

Birds!!

And more birds!!!

But the thing is, it had never occurred to me before that, that I was making books about birds.

I thought I was making books about relationships.

To me, the winged characters in those books, are just like people. Like friends… who just happened to have feathers.

So the realization that I was already making books about birds, came as much of a pleasant surprise as my new fine feathered friends, who have taken up residence in our neighborhood.

I’m glad they’ve moved in.

I hope they’ll stick around.

Maybe I should bake a them a coffee cake, take it over, and introduce myself. You know, make them feel welcome.

Or better yet, maybe I’ll plant them another tree in our yard, so their family has room to grow. Then, I’ll eat the coffee cake, whilst enjoying the company of our new neighbors over my morning cuppa joe.

It is for my neighbors (avian and non) that I participate in A4ED. One book, one school, one neighborhood at a time we can all help make a difference for the better.

Friends of a feather flock together!

Molly Idle began her art career as an animator for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios, where she earned film credits on movies like Spirit. She is now the illustrator-author of over a dozen books for young readers. Her fresh illustrative style has garnered broad attention, winning her a 2014 Caldecott Honor for her picture book Flora and the Flamingo. Find more at idleillustration.com.

 

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THE GREAT WHALE RESCUE by multi-award winning ecologist-author Carl Safina, who wrote a delightful chapter book for young readers

I recently traveled to Hawaii to lead a writer’s workshop. We went to the Big Island to see the volcanoes, then to Kaua’i for the workshop—which was wonderful—and then Honolulu for another workshop and university talk. All around the islands at that time of year (winter), humpback whales who have spent the summer feeding on herring, sandeels, and other small-size, high-volume prey along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia are very much in evidence. They come to Hawaii to breed and give birth. Males sing and display. Their song is unique in all the world. All males sing the same song. But the song changes entirely, year-to-year.  Males and females mate. Females watch over their infants. It is the circle of life on a grand scale.

The circle had nearly been broken.

Whale hunting’s havoc very nearly emptied the Pacific and the world of humpback whales. Each spout, each breaching individual, each set of diving flukes, is a whale that represents survival from an industrial-scale extermination campaign as ruthless and soul-less as any other mass murder of the Twentieth Century. In some ways even more soul-less than the mass murder of humans, because the whale killers and those enabling the hunting saw nothing at all wrong with it.

It is happy that things are better now and we in the United States at least leave the whales to their peace, and they have known what to do. They do what we all do: try to live, attempt to stay alive, and try to protect our children.

The main threats to them now are far less vile, but in some ways no less thoughtless. In 2005 off San Francisco a humpback whale had gotten near-fatally tangled in crab traps weighing thousands of pounds, with miles of rope. Like many that get tangled in our fishing gear and the debris of our times, it certainly would have died. This time though, divers were called and they were able to rescue the whale. I based my children’s book, Nina Delmar and the Great Whale Rescue, on the event. Nina is a fictional girl. But what the whale did is a matter of factual record as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It stayed still for over an hour while the divers worked to free it, seeming to understand that aid was being given. And then it did not swim away. It swam to each diver in turn, nuzzling each with its huge head. The divers said it fully seemed that the whale was expressing thanks. And then, finally, yes, it did swim away.

Dr. Carl Safina is the author of six highly-acclaimed books—including Song for the Blue Ocean, Voyage of the Turtle and Nina Del Mar and the Great Whale Rescue—and more than a hundred scientific and popular publications. He is the founding president of The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute) and has been name among “100 Notable Conservationists of the 20th Century” by Audubon Magazine. Carl is also the creator-host of the PBS series Saving the Oceans with Carl Safina. Follow his adventures at www.carlsafina.org.

 

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