How Mountain Animals can chase off those Winter Blues

Thank you to author Kevin Kurtz for today’s blog post featuring a few mountain creatures and their ways to weather the winter! 

Baby Owl Rescue_COVER

This winter, as you walk across the parking lot in your boots and winter jacket, be glad you are not a marmot. Like the other animals featured in my book A Day on the Mountain, marmots have to deal with a winter that may last from September until May. If you were a marmot, right now you would be in a state of hypothermia in a hole underneath a freezing rock, not really moving until you woke up some time in April.

MarmotaFlaviventris_3268Mountain animals must spend summer getting ready for the long winter. For marmots and black bears, this means getting as fat as they possibly can. They need to be fat in order to hibernate. Marmots pig out on grasses and flowers and black bears devour berries to build-up fat cells full of energy. When the mountain gets buried in snow, their bodies live off the energy in their fat until springtime.

Hummingbirds use a different strategy.  They spend the warmer months sipping nectar from the flowers that decorate mountain meadows. Then whenMale_Rufous_Hummingbird_(7172188464) the weather turns frosty, they do what pretty much every person over 70 in the northeast United States does: they head south for the winter. Instead of driving a minivan full of half their belongings down I-95, hummingbirds will fly their 0.2 ounce bodies hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to reach warmer climates during the winter.

One of the most amazing mountain winter survivors is the Clark’s nutcracker. During the summer, these relatives of jays and crows use their long beaks to pull seeds from pinecones. They eat some of them, but then fly around with the rest to 10-11_Clark-nutcrackerbury tens of thousands of them all over the mountain. In the winter, they can remember the thousands of places they buried the seeds and dig them out from under the snow to get the food they need. I can’t even find the remote control in my living room half the time.

As extreme as our winters can seem, they do not match the winters animals on mountains must endure. Because the high elevation of mountains affects the temperature, these animals live in Arctic climates within temperate latitudes. So think of that the next time you are 4-5_bearsshoveling snow. At least you aren’t doing it to find pinecone seeds.

Do you want to learn more? Check out Kevin’s book A Day on the Mountain at, then head to the coast with A Day on the Salt Marsh and into the sea with A Day in the Deep! 


A Conversation with Janet Halfmann, Author of “Home in the Cave”

Sylvan Dell is proud to introduce one of our great new spring releases, Home in the Cave!  Written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Shennen Bersani, Home in the Cave is the educational tale of Baby Bat and his adventures in the cave he calls home.  Through his exploration, Baby Bat not only learns about other cave critters, but he learns a lot about himself as well!

Janet Halfman is the award winning author of over thirty children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Home in the Cave, A Little Skink’s Tail, and Fur and Feathers.  In this interview, Janet Halfman shares her literary and creative experiences as she discusses her life as a children’s author with her fans and readers.


What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I like the surprises that occur as I’m writing my first draft of a story. Sometimes the characters just seem to come up with ideas on their own, such as Sophia does in Fur and Feathers when she adds her own special touches to the animals’ coats. But I think my favorite part of writing is the revising. I love finding just the right word to bring a character or action to life. I love making each sentence sound and flow just right.

What topics do you most enjoy writing about?

I enjoy writing about animals and nature. I never cease to be amazed at the intricacies of each animal’s life and how all of life is intertwined. For example, when researching and writing Home in the Cave, I was amazed to find out how important bat droppings or guano are to the other animals in the cave.

When did you become interested in writing?

I have loved to write all my life, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college and took a writing course by mail that I decided I wanted a career as a writer. To accomplish that, I went back to school and got a second degree in Journalism (I had originally studied to be a Spanish and English teacher). The second degree led to jobs as a daily newspaper reporter, managing editor of a national magazine for kids who live in the country, and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. When my position at Golden books was eliminated about 15 years ago, I set out to become a children’s author, my original dream!

What is a typical writing day like for you?

First, I check my e-mail and social media sites to see if there is anything I need to take care of right away. Then, If I’m working on a story, most of my day is spent on that story. To create the best story, I have to completely immerse myself in it and let it become part of me. Then ideas come to me while I’m taking a walk, or making supper, or doing any number of things. When I’m not working on a story, I promote my books through social media and other ways, look for new markets, fine-tune my old manuscripts, read picture books, etc. I work in an upstairs home office next to a window overlooking a huge, old maple tree. I spend 50 to 60 hours a week working on writing or business related to writing. And I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world—to have reached my dream of being a children’s author!

What is the most frequently asked question you encounter as an author?

People often ask me how long it takes to write a book. I tell them that each story is different. Many require lots of research. Even for a fiction picture book, I often have a pile of research books sev-eral feet high, in addition to research I do on the Internet. And often story ideas bounce around in my heard for a long time before I start to write them d
own. People also ask how I found my illustrator. I tell them that the publisher usually chooses the illustrator. The publishers know which of the many illustrators they work with will be best for the story. Usually, the artist and illustrator do not even meet. That way, the writer can do her creative thing and the illustrator is free to do his or her creative thing. And I’ve never been disappointed. Often an illustrator adds some touch that never even entered my mind. For example, in Little Skink’s Tale, illustator Laurie Allen Klein showed a caterpillar changing into a butterfly throughout the book. Children love finding this additional surprise!

Most of your books are about animals and nature. Why is that?

I grew up on a farm in Michigan. My dad loved farming, and I think his love for animals and nature rubbed off on me. After supper, the whole family would often pile into the pickup to go to the back forty to see how much the corn or soybeans had grown. Today, whenever I go on a walk, I have to pause several times to watch a dragonfly or butterfly, check out a new blossom or try to find the bird that’s singing. I’m constantly amazed by the stories that nature has to tell.

What tips do you have for parents regarding instilling a love of read-ing in their children?

Parents and other caregivers can give children so much by starting to read to them at a very young age. Reading opens up so many avenues for chil-dren and is a wonderful bonding experience between caregiver and child. A child who is read to is much more likely to become a reader. And a child who can read well is likely to have an easier time in school. Also, a story is a great way for everyone to wind down after a busy, hectic day.

A Conversation with Terry Catasus Jennings, Author of “Gopher to the Rescue!”

 Sylvan Dell is proud to announce one of our Spring 2012 new releases, with Gopher to the Rescue!: A Volcano Recovery Story. Written by Terry Catasus Jennings and illustrated by Laurie O’Keefe, this special picture book discusses, as the title suggests, the different ways that a mountainside returns to life after the destructive power of a volcano.  This story is also based off some of the surprising observations of Mount St. Helens scientists who observed the slow recovery of the mountainside after the blast.  Check out a more complete synopsis of this title, as well as teaching activities and other great freebies about the book here.  Read on for a special interview with Gopher to the Rescue! author Terry Catasus Jennings.

Terry Catasus Jennings is an arts and science enthusiast living in Northern Virginia.  Gopher to the Rescue!, a story about how gopher’s help a mountain-side environment to recover after an earthquake is her first picture book.

Gopher to the Rescue! is certainly not a traditional story for a picture book. What inspired you to write this story?

I was doing research for a non-fiction book about Mount St. Helens when I ran across the unexpected role that gophers played in the mountain’s recovery.  It was such a wonderful fact to know that such a humble little creature could have such a huge impact, that I knew I had to write about it.  The story came to me very quickly because the research was already done and all I had to do was put myself in the place of the animals that lived on the mountain.  It was downright fun!

How did you first become interested in writing, and writing a children’s picture book specifically?

When I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as a very young girl, I knew I wanted to be a writer, just like Jo March.  I believe though, that I would have ended up being a writer even if I hadn’t read the book. Stories are always rolling around in my head. Whenever something happens I like to report on it, like writing a newspaper story, in my head. I also like to figure out why people may have acted in a particular way, so I take what happens and I figure out a plot line that may have led them to their actions.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  What I like best of all is figuring out the very best way to convey each message—the best words to use, how to form each sentence and that is especially important in a picture book. I love to use the rhythm of language when I write a picture book.  It’s almost like writing a poem.

What do you hope children learn from Gopher to the Rescue!?

The most important lesson I learned in doing the research is how connected each part of nature is to the other.  That’s what I hope my readers learn.  The recovery after a volcano is not set, or planned, rather it is a jumble. Life returns when and where the conditions for that particular type of life occur.  A seed that finds a gopher tunnel will flourish, but a seed that lands on hard, crusty ash will not. Animals can return to the mountain only when they have food, shady places to rest and sleep, and places to nest. The interesting thing is that what happened in Mount St. Helen on a big scale happens everyday, everywhere in nature. Since all living things are so connected, it is important that we be very careful with each habitat and avoid taking actions that can harm Earth, our home.

What was the most challenging thing about writing Gopher to the Rescue!?

Not including all the fun facts that I knew about the mountain and the recovery.

When you tell people you are an author, what is the most frequent question you are asked?

How can you just sit and write, isn’t it torture? The answer is, not when you love it.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

I love to find an interesting nugget of truth, like the effect that gophers had on Mount St. Helens recovery, and weave a fun story around it.  

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write.  Look at the world with curiosity and try to figure out why things happen they way they do and why people act the way they do.  Listen to people talk. Pay special attention to how they move. Capture a scene as if you were a movie camera and store it in your mind.  You’ll use all those things that you have stored in your mind when you write your books.

What will your next project be?

I’m working on several projects right now.  My biggest project is a novel about a twelve-year-old girl who lives through the Cuban revolution from 1958-1961.  It’s very exciting to me because writing it has forced me to learn things about my heritage and about my country’s history that I never knew.  I am putting the finishing touches on two picture books. One about how wood ducks are born high up on trees and on their first day of life their mother pushes them out and they flutter down to the ground.  The other one is about how animals prepare for the seasons.  I have just started writing a picture book about “The Problem with Word Problems,” a book to help children figure out how to solve word and other problems.