Book Launch: The Lucky Litter

LuckyLitterIt’s no secret; at Arbordale we are big fans of Jennifer Keats Curtis and her ability to write wonderful books about animals. This season she pairs up with John Gomes again to bring us The Lucky Litter: Wolf Pups Rescued from Wildfire. John’s beautiful photographs really bring out the personality in these cute pups and paired with Jennifer’s insightful words, this book is already getting praise…

“This is a charming tale full of child appeal for young readers who love true animal stories. The large font, bold type, and short but informative sentences make for easy, comfortable reading.” -Kirkus Reviews

Have you ever wondered how Jennifer begins a book, She was kind enough to share her process of creating The Lucky Litter:

JenniferCurtisLast year, a huge wildfire in Alaska consumed vast amounts of wilderness, forcing people and animals to leave their homes. I learned about this devastating fire from my buddy John Gomes, the Alaskan photographer with whom I’ve worked on Animal Helpers: Zoos and Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue. With John’s update came a tip –  the Alaska Zoo was expecting five wolf pups just rescued along the Funny River Horse Trail. John was looking forward to photographing the babies. Was there a story here?

I began gathering information about the pups and the rescue, tracking down the firefighters, wildlife biologists, vet, and keepers involved in helping these animals. I also connected with Alaska residents who had been affected by the fire. As it turned out, the adult wolves caring for those pups had been driven away by the heat of that massive fire. They were unable to return for the babies. Fortunately, a firefighter found one of the pups and rushed to get help. It is clear that Gannett, X-Ray, Huslia, Hooper, and Stebbins would not have survived without human intervention. There was indeed a story here. The Lucky Litter is the true story of the little pack’s survival.

This story almost wasn’t written. There was a question about whether wolves are a good topic for a children’s book. It turns out that people feel strongly about wolves and tend to fall into one of two camps: they love them or they hate them. Those who love wolves are awed by their power, beauty, and strength. Those who hate wolves believe these animals are frightening and view them as vicious, eating machines.

It is true that wolves are predators. But, they play a crucial role in the ecosystem. The gray wolf is a keystone species. A keystone is the big, important stone at the top of an arch that holds all of the other stones in place. The keystone anchors the structure so that it does not collapse. Keystone species are animals that help all of the other animals in an ecosystem stay in place. Gray wolves may be small in number but they play a big role from the top of the food chain all the way to the bottom. They help maintain the balance between predator and prey. When a keystone species is harmed, the entire ecosystem suffers. This important premise is beautifully shown in the video How Wolves Change Rivers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q) about the demise and reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park.

I am thrilled that this story has come to fruition. My goal in writing for children is to help young readers see what I’ve seen and learn what I’ve learned. For this book, I discovered a lot about wolves and wildfires. I had the opportunity to work with people who are making a difference in the lives of animals. The photos capture the personality of each of the wolves. What’s not to love?

Learn more about Jennifer and John’s work on the book’s page, but don’t forget to enter to win a copy of your own by commenting on this post!

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Baltimore is the place to be

This weekend the Baltimore Book Festival will be featuring three Arbordale stars Jennifer Keats Curtis, author of the Animal Helpers series, Dr. Ellen Prager author of Sea Slime: It’s Eewy, Gooey and Under the Sea, and Susan Detwiler illustrator of On the Move. 

Saturday Dr. Prager will be presenting on the National Aquarium’s Ocean Exploration stage. She will be talking about her middle grade series and sharing her expertise on ocean life and sharks. The author of Sea Slime is a highly regarded expert in marine science and her presentation is Saturday, September 27th at 2:00pm.

If you love animals, you won’t want to miss author Jennifer Keats Curtis presentation with the National Aquarium on Sunday, September 28th at 2:00pm. Jennifer will be talking about her books Animal Helpers; Aquariums and Turtles in My Sandbox. After her talk, the aquarium will have turtle hatchlings for kids to see and touch.

Jennifer presents in Maryland schools all year long, and she is also editor of a middle school based magazine My-Say. She has released seven books with Arbordale, and has two books set for release within the next year.

Illustrator Susan Detwiler will be signing books on Saturday in the festival tents. She has illustrated several books with Arbordale including: Panda’s Earthquake Escape, Big Cat, Little Kitty, and On the Move. Stop by and get her newest book.

See the entire schedule for the Baltimore Book festival here!

Find more information about these authors and illustrators as well as their books at Arbordale Publishing.

Meet Donovan, a Future Animal Helper

Arbordale Author Jennifer Keats Curtis regularly visits schools to talk about how she researches and writes her books about animals. During these visits, kids are often quite excited to share their own animal stories with her. Jennifer was particularly thrilled to hear about this 4th grader’s intriguing pastime.

Donovan Neuhaser with Sushi the sulcataAlthough he’s not quite 10, Donovan Neuhauser knows a lot about animals.

Perhaps it’s because the Joppa View Elementary School fourth grader is surrounded by them. (Literally, he’s surrounded. Look at the picture of Sushi, his Sulcata tortoise, climbing up into his lap so she can listen to the story he’s reading.)

Introduced to his first pet—a dog named Lowery—at the ripe old age of one, Donovan now shares his home with two dogs, three different kinds of turtles, a parakeet, and a hamster.

Sushi, the six-year-old Sulcata, is particularly sassy. Donovan’s mom, Melanie, was just supposed to foster the 27-pound African spurred tortoise, whom she’d received from a reptile rescue. But, the tortoise had such a bad attitude that the Neuhausers decided they had to keep her. When Sushi is hungry and apparently desperate for cherry tomatoes and broccoli, she rams the refrigerator. She’ll also push furniture…and other pets and people given the chance. The feisty reptile has also taken over the dogs’ bed, where she sleeps most of the time. At least Jake, the younger dog, shares. When he’s tired, he hops in and snuggles with her.

Because of her penchant for bright colors that may look like her favorite foods, Sushi has also been known to try to eat shoes and evensushi the six year old sulcata tortoise with jake the dogcolored toenails. Fortunately, she licks before she bites, giving her possible treats fair warning…and time to leap out of the way.

In captivity, Sushi will live about 60 years and will continue to grow. She could reach 100 pounds in her lifetime.

Unfortunately, Sushi is not a big fan of the other household tortoise, Sheldon, who is considerably smaller. At 20 years old and only a few pounds, the Russian tortoise is full-grown. To keep Sheldon safe, the Neuhausers make sure he is happy in his big box and away from Sushi.

The Neuhausers’ other turtle is aquatic; he’s a baby snapper whom Donovan rescued from a cat’s mouth last fall. Donovan carefully feeds Gimli mealworms every day, and may release him once he gets bigger.

As if the turtles don’t keep him busy enough, Donovan also cares for Ralph the hamster and Kernel the parakeet. Currently, the only phrase Kernel utters, in his high squeaky voice, is “Hi, Sushi!”

gimli the baby snapperNow, most kids might be wondering how in the world Donovan talked his mom into having so many pets. The truth is, he didn’t. Donovan’s mom, Melanie, also loves animals, and despite the hard work, especially cleaning up after them, they enjoy taking care of the animals together.

If you are considering getting a pet, or trying to talk your parents into letting you get one, Donovan offers some wonderful advice: “Research every animal before your bring it home. He visits his school library almost every week to check out a nonfiction book.”

When he grows up, Donovan would like to continue being around animals and to work in a veterinary clinic, like his mom.

sheldon the russian tortoise

 

Thank you Jennifer and Donovan for sharing this story with our readers. It looks like Donovan has a great head start on a career helping animals one day!

A Trip to the Zoo with Animal Helpers: Meet Turtle Back Zoo Keeper Erica Mueller

turtleback zoo erica What animals do you care for at the zoo? Are there babies and adults?

I take care of our jaguars, cougars, black bears, wolves, leopards, red panda, foxes, and groundhog. Right now there are only adult animals but we hope to have some babies in the future from some of our cats!

How long have you been a keeper?

I have been a keeper for about 6 years.

 

What is your favorite part of your job? Which aspects are most difficult?

 My favorite part of the job is getting to work with some of the coolest animals! I really love taking care of our cats and wolves especially but I enjoy taking care of all of the animals. I also like to talk with zoo visitors about our animals and how that species lives in the wild. One of the more difficult things about being a zoo keeper is that it is a very physical job, which can be very tiring, but getting to work with these animals makes it all worth it!

Please talk a little about your training (how you became a keeper) to help our young readers understand the process.

I have a college degree in Biology. A lot of zoos require that their animal keepers have a college degree in a life science. During college I volunteered with a place that takes in, cares for, and releases all kinds of birds. After this, I saw a job opening at a zoo in New Jersey. I applied for this job and got it. At my first zoo job I got a lot of experience with all kinds of animals. When I started working at Turtle Back Zoo, where I am a keeper now, I worked with all of the animals. I really liked working with the carnivores. When the zoo added jaguars and snow leopards, as well as a brand new cat building, they needed another keeper to help take care of all the new animals. Now I help to take care of our carnivore collection every day.
Please provide details on working with the animals under your care, including socializing, feeding, and enrichment. Do you create toys and enrichment items for the animals? If so, what are they?

All of our animals were born in a zoo so they are used to humans in their lives. Our cougars and wolves were hand-raised since they were very young. This does not mean that they are tame, like a pet dog or cat, but we are able to work with them more easily since they were introduced to keepers at a young age.

Most of our animals eat meat, and we feed them once a day. Sometimes if we are doing training they get a little part of their diet earlier in the day as we use their food as a reward. Our bears eat omnivore chow, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Once in a while our bears get fish, which they really love as a treat. Our red panda eats bamboo, leaf-eater biscuits, and grapes, apple, and pear. Our groundhog eats rodent chow, and fruits and vegetables.

Enrichment is a really important thing that we do for all of our animals. Most of them get some kind of enrichment every day. There are lots of things that we can do for enrichment, including scents, puzzle feeders, toys, different foods, and even TV and music. Our wolves love rolling on the ground where we put down perfume or spices, and the bears usually have fun trying to get grapes out of a ball-shaped puzzle feeder.

Some of the best enrichment comes from things that we create ourselves. Our cougars and jaguars love pouncing on and tearing up cardboard box “animals” that we put together from different sized boxes and paper towel rolls.

 

Do any of the animals’ behaviors make you laugh out loud? If so, what are they?

Our male cougar is very vocal, and it is almost like he is trying to talk. Sometimes I think he is trying to have a conversation with me, and it makes me laugh a lot.

How do you work with other zoo staff, including vets?

At the zoo we need to work with lots of different people and departments. We need to work closely with the zoo director, curator, and supervisor. Wehelp out other keepers who work in different sections, such as birds and reptiles, if they need a hand. The horticulture department helps us determineturtleback zoo erica2 what trees and vegetation can go in and around our exhibits. The maintenance team helps us when we need a repair and can use heavy-duty equipment to move things such as large tree limbs. We work very closely with our vet and vet-tech. Our observations greatly help them in determining possible treatment for an animal.

 

What behaviors and cues do you observe to help gauge the animals’ physical and mental health?

Each animal is different, so we get to know what is normal for each one. Any change in personality or behavior may be an indication that something may be going on. In all of our animals, we make sure that they are indicating that they are relaxed and comfortable in their environment. Loss of appetite, change in weight, and change in personality are some of the cues that we look at when gauging an animal’s physical and mental health.

 

Do you have pets at home?

Yes! I have a beagle, and an orange tabby cat.

 

For our young readers who would love to work at the zoo, how would you suggest they get started?

Work towards going to college for a life science, such as biology or zoology. Then, VOLUNTEER!! Most of the zookeepers I know, including myself, started out volunteering at places before becoming a paid zookeeper. Good places to start volunteering include animal shelters and wild animal rehabilitation and rescue centers. In high school, I volunteered at an animal shelter where I helped socialize cats and kittens for adoption.  In college, I volunteered at a bird rehabilitation center, where I helped take care of injured hawks, ducks, and songbirds.

To learn more about the Turtle Back Zoo visit their website, or for more information on Animal Helpers: Zoos check out the book homepage.

 

 

A Trip to the Zoo with Animal Helpers: Meet Austin Zoo Director Patti Clark

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a zoo? In the newly released Animal Helpers: Zoos, author Jennifer Keats Curtis worked with four zoos to learn more about the duties of a zookeeper and what it takes to care for so many different types of animals. This week we meet Patti Clark of the Austin Zoo and learn what it is like to be the director of the zoo, and why everyday brings a new adventure.

Patti Clark never fails to play the Texas Lottery.

As Director of the private, nonprofit Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary—a volunteer position that occupies her 364 days a year—she hopes to someday use those winnings to construct a new keeper building that would include keeper office space, food prep space, an infirmary, and onsite vet clinic for the animals.

austinzoo1Despite the tremendous number of hours she puts in, Patti never takes a vacation. “There is something magical about this place,” says Clark, who somehow manages to also serve on four other nonprofit boards in her “spare” time, “I’m afraid I’ll miss something exciting and fun!”

What began as a goat ranch nearly three decades ago has become a permanent home to more than 350 animals including big cats; primates; birds; reptiles; amphibians; mammals, such as llama and deer; and one marsupial—a big red kangaroo initially misrepresented as a much smaller wallaby.

With a meager staff of 26 employees, Clark and her crew ably manage to help these hundreds of exotic and animals, 95% of whom were rescued from neglect and abuse, unwanted by owners, or surrendered to Animal Control officers.

The Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, one of four zoos featured in the new Animal Helpers: ZOOS, differs from traditional zoos because the rescued animals are on exhibit to unescorted visitors. Guests have a chance to see these animals, to learn about different species, and to get first-hand education and information about the harm that exotic pet ownership and roadside circuses can cause for these creatures. Patti jumped at the chance to be part of this new book because education is a crucial part of the Zoo’s mission.

Even though there are days when she feels chained to her desk, Patti’s day is never dull.

In January, she says, calls from the 4-H Clubs roll in, as children realize that the animals they have raised are going to be slaughtered.

Last month, they took in a two-foot-long alligator, who arrived in a tiny ferret cage.

This week, she was heavy on tortoise calls. “People buy these tiny cute tortoises in pet stores,” she explains, “That animal grows, and it grows fast until it becomes two feet across or more and no longer fits into that small glass aquarium. Once he gets in the backyard and starts eating all of the vegetation, the owner does not want him anymore. We currently have 15 tortoises here.”

Patti also answers a lot of calls about unwanted birds and snakes, mostly big pythons and boas that apartment dwellers can no longer keep.

Most of the eight tigers and five lions who now reside at the zoo were purchased as babies and hand-raised by folks who thought it seemed like a good idea at the time. One trucker kept his tiger cub in the truck cab with him for company…until the feline became too big and aggressive.

image

Leroy the Lion (pictured) is one of Patti’s favorites, though he had a similarly troubled past. Leroy served as a “junkyard lion” until he was rescued and brought to his new home in Austin. At first, Leroy, who is maneless because he is neutered, was terribly thin and sick with mange, a skin disease. When he tried to stand, his anklebone shattered. Although scars from the mange still show under his coat, thanks to Austin Zoo vets and staff, Leroy is healed, happy and healthy. His favorite toys? Old tires, which he carries around the yard and guards as if they were prey. He then lunges at, bites and claws the durable rubber. “We get deer donated that have been culled from game management ranches and from a deer processor located close to the Zoo,” explains Patti, “Leroy is quiet while stalking his prey. It is amazing that such a large animal can move soundlessly across the enclosure yard. He does like to join in roaring with our two other male throughout the day.”

Since the Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary is currently at capacity for some species, Patti spends a portion of nearly every single day networking with other zoos and rehabilitation facilities to find permanent placement for these unwanted animals.

Despite some of the everyday frustrations that come with managing the staff and animals—and not having limitless funds—Patti clearly loves what she does. “In the Zoo, you won’t get rich with money, but your life will be rich,” she says.

austinzoo3

To learn more about the Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, please visit their Facebook page and website, http://www.austinzoo.org/.

If you want to learn more about the book Animal Helpers: Zoos go to the Sylvan Dell book page http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=AH_Zoos

Animal Helper: Victoria Campbell

Do you love animals, and want to help wildlife? Meet Victoria Campbell a rehabilitator from Wild Things Sanctuary featured in Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators. Victoria shares her dedication and the rewards of working with natures amazing creatures.

Name: Victoria Campbell

Name of organization/clinic: Wild Things Sanctuary 

State: New York 

Specialty/special areas of experience: Mammals, baby animals 

Years as rehabilitator/volunteer: 6 

Busiest time of year: April-September (especially May-July)                             

Number of hours you work per week during your busy season: up to 140! 

Number of volunteers in clinic: Varies. At the moment, I have 3.

Why did you become a rehabilitator/volunteer: I became a wildlife rehabilitator because I feel a great empathy for the wild animals who do not have owners to look after them and who can get very badly sick and injured and orphaned: they need help too! Also, most patients are in trouble because of human related causes (e.g., cars, pets, construction), and I felt that it was part of my duty as a human to give back to these animals who need help.

Most rewarding aspect of rehabilitation: Having an animal learn to trust me and building an understanding between me and the patient. And it’s pretty fun nurturing the baby animals as well! 

As a rehabilitator, what is the most common question you are asked? How did you get those scratches? What’s the biggest animal/worst bite you’ve ever had? When do you sleep? How do you know all this stuff?

Favorite animal story: Too many to think of! Pretty amazing releasing an animal and seeing it run off smiling…or when a pregnant mama gives birth at Wild Things! 

What advice would you offer to children considering a career in wildlife rehabilitation: Learn as much about animals as you can and see whether there are any places where you can volunteer and learn more about wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife rehabilitators need to know about animal behavior, veterinary care, animal husbandry, and even skills like cooking and carpentry: there is lots to learn! Also, make sure you have a support system of people who can help you: it is hard work! And reach out to others who are interested and/or who are wildlife rehabilitators as often you learn the most from other rehabilitators and their work. Finally, know that sometimes you need to love the animals enough to make difficult decisions; wildlife rehabilitation is great but it can be very sad too.  

Visit http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/ beginning October 1st Read Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators for FREE all month.

Get to Know Jennifer Keats Curtis

Jennifer is the author of two great Sylvan Dell books: Turtles in My Sandbox, and Baby Owl’s Rescue. She was nice enough to answer a few questions for Sylvan Dell about her books and writing.

What advice do you have for writers looking to develop or maintain a regular writing schedule?

Regular?! From personal experience—with a very active and fun family including pets; working on books and writing and editing for two magazines; and speaking at schools, I find it nearly impossible to maintain a regular anything! However, I find that, for me, I have to set aside time to write as soon as I’ve finished my research; otherwise, my motivation (and memory) fizzles.

 What are the most frequent questions you receive as an author?

Kids often ask me why I write. I write because I’m nosy! For one thing, when you tell people you are a writer, they start dishing their deepest, darkest secrets, which is always great fun. Plus, the writing process allows me to learn about things I’d otherwise not have the opportunity to know about—like terrapins, owls, and wildlife rehabilitators—and to get answers from real experts.

 What do you hope that children will learn from your stories?

I hope my readers find my words and the illustrator’s fabulous art entertaining and interesting and that they learn a new fact and consider possible ways that they might help animals in need.

 How do your personal experiences shape your stories?

When I was a kid, I didn’t think I liked history. I struggled to memorize dates, facts, and leaders’ names. However, as an adult, I began reading historical nonfiction, and not only do I love it, I have discovered that I remember those important facts love history because it’s written as a story. As an author, I love writing realistic fiction because this is the genre that allows me to create an entertaining story without preaching important information about animals and the ways in which we can help them.

 What does being a green author mean to you?

It’s really an honor that the kids have nicknamed me the “Green Author!” I’m lucky to be able to research and learn about ways we can help our environment from kids, teachers, and experts. I love being able to pass some of this advice along in person and through my writing.

Jennifer Keats Curtis wants to help bring children close to the animals in their own backyards.  By diligently researching her topic and interviewing real experts, including children working to help preserve and protect local wildlife, the journalist has developed a knack for teaching young children about important ecological issues and what they can do to help. Jennifer’s first book, Oshus and Shelly Save the Bay, won the Frederick Douglass Award (Maryland Council of Teachers of English Language Arts). She also wrote Osprey Adventure, based on the work of Peter McGowan, a biologist with US Fish & Wildlife. Most days, Jennifer can be found among students and teachers, talking about literacy or conservation. She also regularly presents writing workshops to elementary school sudents. When she’s not in schools, Jennifer contributes to several magazines and serves as editor-at-large for Maryland Life Magazine. Avid fans of anything having to do with the outdoors, Jennifer and her family spend their summers in and on the Chesapeake Bay. She resides in Maryland, with her family and a wide variety of pets, including a turtle. Visit Jennifer’s website at http://www.terrapinbook.com/