In 2006 I wrote my first picture book. Then I wrote a couple more. Easy, right? Not at all. But I kept trying. Looking back, some of those first manuscripts were full of all the newbie mistakes that I just couldn’t see at the time. However, one of those (first written in 2007) wasn’t all that bad. Not good enough to get picked up by a publisher. But not awful. Over the years I edited and revised that manuscript, based on things I learned at various conferences, workshops, and online seminars. That story, then titled, The Princess and the Pirate, started to get some positive feedback from agents and editors. But alas, no one picked it up. Still, I saw the potential in the concept and kept working at it off and on. Then one day in early 2018, I thought, why not make the pirate a girl and turn the princess into a prince? Viola! That March I participated in the #PitMad Twitter event with a pitch for The Fort, and Courtney Burke of Page Street Publishing “liked” it. After a revise and resubmit, I was offered a contract in June. And now, almost 12 years after the manuscript was first written, I am excited that it’s finally cover reveal time:
I am grateful to be supported by the Page Street team and to have Adelina Lirius as the illustrator. She has taken the story and brought it to life beautifully. Now all I have to do is wait until April 21, 2020 to see it on the bookshelves!
Last month I went to Glacier National Park as part of an epic family road trip. Needless to say, the scenery was stunning. I also discovered a wildflower that was entirely new to me – beargrass. Beargrass is not actually a grass. It is a flower that belongs to the bunchflower family (who knew?) and looks remarkably like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. When we hit tree line, there were fields of them. And while the wide view was both comical and beautiful, the close up view revealed even further marvels.
In the Colorado high country there are hundreds of different kinds of wildflowers – certainly too many to highlight in this blog. Choosing which ones to showcase is difficult, yet this year a flower that I continue to see more often than I have in the past is the skyrocket, also called the scarlet gilia. They have a trumpet shape and are one of hummingbirds’ favorite flowers.
One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to hike in the high country and enjoy the wildflowers. It’s like nature is celebrating summer too. And these flowers, sometimes blanketing hillsides, are absolutely brilliant. Then a closer look reveals the delicate complexity of each flower. The first in my series is called a shooting star. They are found only in areas with a lot of moisture, along streams and in watersheds.
I’ve mentioned before that I am in the middle of researching and writing a series of picture books on animal adaptations, which has been so much fun. Deciding which animals to put in each book (I only get to pick 12-13!) was difficult, but I decided to put beavers in the mammal book because I don’t think they get nearly the credit they deserve.
First of all, beavers are ecosystem engineers. The dams they build create slow-moving ponds, which helps to reduce downstream erosion. They also provide aquatic habitats for countless other species, creating highly diverse biological communities. The dams themselves are an engineering feat. Built from downed trees and limbs, the dams/lodges are water-tight – sticks, reeds, branches, and saplings woven together and “caulked” with mud. They are ventilated by a small hole in the roof called a chimney. Oftentimes the entrance to the lodge is underwater, keeping the beavers safe from predators. Beavers even cover the floor in wood shavings that absorb excess water and provide a comfy bed. They really are amazing critters. And they’re pretty cute, too.
For my last ocean blog, I wanted to end with a truly mind-blowing thought. Phytoplankton, the microscopic, plant-like cells that live in Earth’s oceans (and lakes) provide FIFTY PERCENT of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s right. Even though we can’t even see them without a microscope, these minute organisms prove us with 50% of the air we breathe. Not only that, they take in carbon dioxide (this is the same process of photosynthesis that plants and trees go through). And if that isn’t enough, they also form the base of marine food chains.
Next time you are at the ocean, look at a drop of water on your skin – there will be thousands of phytoplankton in that single drop. Then, take a deep breath of air and thank these microscopic organisms!
“The oceans deserve our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it.” [Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist]
While I have always loved the ocean, the writing and research I’ve done in the past several years has given me a new, deeper understanding and appreciation. Not only is the ocean home to countless strange and amazing creatures, but it also plays such a vital role in the health of the planet as well as in the lives of billions of people. In honor of the oceans, I highly recommend two BBC documentaries: Blue Planet, and Blue Planet II. You will not be disappointed.
“In every curving beach, in every grain of sand, there is a story of the Earth.” [Rachel Carson]
Whenever I get the chance to go snorkeling, I’m always happy to see parrotfish. I’m not sure why I like them so much. Maybe it’s because they always look like they are smiling. Or that you can see their perfect teeth (which form a parrot-like beak). Or how colorful some of them are.
Recently I learned an especially cool fact about parrotfish – they poop sand. Like many people I’d always thought that sand was the byproduct of hundreds of years of erosion and the weathering of rocks. That is still true. But there’s more to the story. On some beaches around the world, the sand is the byproduct of parrotfish. Here’s how it works. Parrotfish scrape off coral with their beaks. The soft tissues of polyps, bacteria, and algae are absorbed. The hard calcium carbonate skeleton of the coral, however, is processed and pooped out as sand! A large parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand a year. I will never look at sand or parrotfish the same.
I’m in the middle of researching and writing a series of nonfiction picture books (for Nomad Press) about animal adaptations. One of those includes a book about fish. I honestly never had too much of an appreciation for fish that weren’t tropical fish until now. Fish actually come in all kinds of shapes and sizes with a myriad of bizarre adaptations.
In honor of Father’s Day, I present one of my favorites: the leafy sea dragon. They are peculiar and beautiful and wonderfully camouflaged. And, like seahorses (they are different species but are in the same family), the male sea dragon is responsible for taking care of the eggs (up to 300 of them!). He broods the eggs in a special pouch under his tail for about 6 weeks. That’s some kind of daddy daycare. Kind of makes you wonder where the mom goes…
I saw whales. Lots of them. In real life. And it was awesome.
While I am definitely a mountain girl, I do love the ocean and had the privilege of spending the past week on the Atlantic. One night, about a half hour before sunset, we looked out across the vast expanse of sea and saw a spout of water. Then another. And another and another and another. There were well over a dozen whales right there. As the falling, orange sun shined on the water, and the spouts and flukes of the whales rose above the surface, it was nothing short of magical.
June 8 was World Oceans Day. So in honor of the oceans and the whales that I saw, my next few posts will be about the marvels of Earth’s oceans. Stay tuned…