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… 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