Guest Post: Author Jennifer Keats Curtis
Whenever we review a book on the Reading Tub, I send an email with the link to the publisher. When I published our review of Baby Owl’s Rescue, I sent the note to Sylvan Dell. Sara Dobie promptly forwarded it to Jennifer Keats Curtis, who promptly sent a note to me!
In our review we noted that the audience (in this case Catherine) wanted to know if baby owl ever learned to fly. Jennifer was writing to offer some additional details about the story and to please tell my daughter that baby owl did learn to fly. Catherine thought it was so cool that the author learned about her question and wrote an email “for her.” Having this new information prompted me to do something we don’t normally do – offer space to guests. So without further ado, Jennifer Keates Curtis.
A while back, kids starting calling me The Green Author, not because I write about frogs or grass or limes (although I would!) but because I write about the environment. An animal lover and nature person at heart, I have learned to use my journalistic skills to diligently research my topics and interview real experts, like certified master wildlife rehabilitator Kathy Woods. I find out as much as I can about a specific wild animal; problems that are affecting them; and the ways in which even the littlest children can help them. Then, I try to find a good way to teach kids about these animals and the issues in a “once upon a time” setting. I like to spin tales for children that entertain and educate; but, I do realize that if I preach, I might lose my young audience. Therefore, I try to engage them with interesting details, suspense about what might happen next, and beautiful, realistic illustrations.
Baby Owl’s Rescue is my fourth book. It which features a brother-and-sister duo, Max and Maddie, and their mom, who is a wildlife rehabilitator. In real life, Max is my daughter (and yes, I got permission to make her a boy!. The concept for the book came about after I’d spent some time talking with the remarkable Kathy Woods. As a rehabber, Kathy’s job is to help wild animals who have been hurt, injured, or orphaned and then return them to their natural habitat, where they belong. During the busy breeding season (March-September), Kathy rarely leaves her clinic.
From dawn until dusk, she feeds baby birds; repairs turtle shells; casts, splints, and bandages wounds on two- and four-legged animals; and medicates as needed. She cares for raptors (like owls, hawks, vultures, and bald eagles); reptiles of all kinds; mammals (like flying squirrels and baby rabbits), and scads of songbirds. She also answers over 60 calls a day from people who need advice—or directions to her clinic—so that the wildlife they have found can be properly tended.
The work of this incredibly dedicated woman, who used her own funds to launch the nonprofit Phoenix Wildlife Center in 2000, inspired me to write Baby Owl’s Rescue. She is, of course, the “mom” in the story who knows exactly what to do when her kids find that a Great Horned Owlet has fallen out of its nest.
When I first met Kathy and she started educating me about what she did, let me help a little in her clinic, and started teaching me about the animals that live all around me. I realized how little I really know about wildlife, despite my love for them. I also realized that if my kids and I should find an owlet (wild animals are becoming more common occurrences as our development encroaches on their habitat), we would have absolutely no idea what to do with it. While I could share with my children that it is a bad idea (not to mention illegal) to make pets of (most) wild animals, I knew I didn’t have the knowledge or expertise to do what was best for that baby bird.
I wanted Baby Owl’s Rescue to capture the essence of Kathy’s work to introduce children to the relatively new profession of wildlife rehabilitation; the idea that wild animals are not pets; and what they should do if they were to find a baby animal in need of help. Kathy and I consider this book “our book” because it is about her work. We were both incredibly thrilled by the awesome work of illustrator Laura Jacques. (Like most authors, I had very little say in the illustrations.) Kathy was also absolutely delighted that Laura was able to get the owl’s feet just right! Sometimes, owls are portrayed with “chicken feet,” much to Kathy’s chagrin. She says the furry feet are extremely important because what owls eat often try to bite them. That furry covering is what keeps the owls safe from the teeth and jaws of their prey, like snakes, skunks, and other animals.
The only downside to working with Kathy is that because I absolutely love learning “stuff,” I gathered far more information than I could ever use in a 32-page picture book. Since Kathy is such a great source, I had to edit, pare down, and remove chunks of information because the text of the book must, of course, fit within the allotted space. For example, the first drafts included details (I love details!) about the kids seeing whitewash (owl poop) and pellets (owl barf) as clues to the owl nest location.
It has been such an honor and pleasure to work with Kathy; together, we are hoping to bring more interest to the ways in which animals can be properly cared for and returned to the wild. To help her rehab animals and to educate the public, I donate half of the royalties of Baby Owl’s Rescue to her clinic.
As The Green Author, I remain committed to bringing kids exciting and interesting details about the animals that may live right in our backyards. My next book, about a lost little river otter, is scheduled to debut in 2010 followed by my first creative nonfiction, Seahorses, in 2011.
For more information on me, please visit my website, www.jenniferkeatscurtis.com and Kathy’s, www.phoenixwildlifecenter.com; or, check out her FaceBook page.
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