HOW TO TELL THE STORY OF SEA TURTLES? by Steve Swinburne, award-winning author of over 25 nature books for kids

Where do you start? “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” That’s what Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland.

To tell your readers the story of sea turtles you must hook them at the start. Notice I said   story. Kids have always wanted and WILL always want: a story. A good beginning. A riveting middle. A satisfying conclusion. Kids want a page turner. An unputdownable yarn. Should nonfiction books begin with a great lead like fiction books do? Yes, yes, a hundred times yes!

“‘One egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle.” So says Dr. Kimberly Stewart as she gently places the leatherback hatchling, not much larger than a match-box car, onto the black-flecked sand. Its front flippers begin to beat, heaving the tiny turtle toward the sea and stippling the face of the sand with miniature tracks. “This could be the one in a thousand.’”

Dr Steward with a Leatherback; book cover; Steve holds a bag of sea turtle eggs

I had no idea how I would begin my sea turtle book as I traveled from my home state of Vermont to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts for ten days of research. That’s okay. Finding your leads (and middles and endings, too!) is an act of discovery. As I followed Dr. Stewart, my sea turtle expert, during nights and days on the beach, the story of her passion to save these magnificent endangered animals emerged.

I have always loved telling the story of ardent conservationists and wildlife biologists out there in the field enduring the cold, the biting flies, the crappy food, the crappier sleeping conditions, etc., in order to research and preserve endangered animals. Once A Wolf tells the story of Doug Smith’s lead role in the Yellowstone Wolf project. Black Bear – North America’s Bear highlights New Hampshire’s Ben Kilham’s passion to understand black bear behavior. In my book, Coyote – North America’s Dog, I followed the tracks of Dr. Bob Crabtree as he works to understand the relationship of coyotes and the newly-released wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

I love the great naturalist E.O Wilson’s gentle call to action when he says, “Ants make up two-thirds of the biomass of all the insects. There are millions of species of organisms and we know almost nothing about them.” He also said, “Go as far as you can, (young scientists). The world needs you badly.”

The Earth is such a cool place to live. It’s the only planet I want to live on. Forget about Mars, and I’m so over Pluto. So, get out there, you young writers and young scientists, go forth across the Earth. Be open. Be ready to be enthralled and engaged and keep telling the stories of this one-of-kind planet we call home.

Steve Swinburne is an author, photographer and musician with over two dozen children’s books and a very funny ukulele CD (“Poop-A-Lay-Lee”) to his credit. Steve travels around the globe to research his nonfiction writing projects. Learn all about the efforts to save the endangered leatherback sea turtle in Steve’s new book called Sea Turtle Scientist. Details at




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