New Book News: Science and Cultural Connections

Our final two books that are celebrating their book birthdays this month are A True Princess of Hawai‘i and Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos.

 At the center of each of these stories is a rich history that has been shaped by the landscape. Today we talk with Terry Catasús Jennings and Tammy Yee on how these stories were created and where they found inspiration.


Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos
by Terry Catasús Jennings and illustrated by Phyllis Saroff

Terry, what inspired you to write Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos?

Ten years ago, my husband and I visited friends in Southwestern Utah. The beautiful red rock mountains and canyons stole our heart. We’ve wintered there ever since. Biking and hiking with friends we can’t help but follow in the footsteps of the native civilization that lived there about a thousand years ago—the Ancient Ones. Seeing the petroglyphs and pictographs they left is a humbling experience. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find evidence of a village. In 2014, we visited a beautifully preserved site in a private ranch. As we walked through the piñon pine grove, pottery sherds crunching beneath every step, I felt a sense of connectedness. This was a place where ancient peoples had lived, but it had not been disturbed. I could imagine them by the fire, grinding pine nuts, stringing bows. I could imagine them looking out over the wide expanse below the mesa at sunset. Not long after, visiting Bryce Canyon, I learned about the Legend of the Hoodoos. The book almost wrote itself.

Greg Woodall, a local archeologist, educated me in the ways of the Ancient Ones in Southwestern Utah. Barbara Frank at Southern Utah University let us look in at the University’s collection of artifacts. Then I spent time with the elders at the Shivwits Paiute Indian Reservation making sure I portrayed the Paiute culture accurately and with respect. The story acquired new layers from the details they shared with me. The legend connected the story to the geology and they connected the legend to their daily lives. My own experience when I came to the United States as a twelve-year-old refugee from Cuba colored Vivian’s behavior. Like Vivian, I wanted to fit in. I had better things to do than worry about the traditions my family brought from Cuba. In addition to explaining the process of erosion, I hope the book is helpful to students of all cultures in explaining the value of knowing our history and customs.


A True Princess of Hawai‘i
by Beth Greenway and illustrated by Tammy Yee

Tammy where did you find inspiration for A True Princess of Hawai‘i?

Years ago, I lived in a sleepy subdivision six miles above Hilo town on the island of Hawai’i. Many of the homes were built on the remnants of the 1881 Mauna Loa eruption featured in the book, A True Princess of Hawai’i. Evidence of the eruption was everywhere. Lava rock walls bordered tiny gardens and black pahoehoe lava peaked through the grass, ferns and ‘ōhiʻa trees. Nearby was Kaumana Cave, part of a miles-long lava tube that was formed during the eruption. It was the perfect place to raise two young sons!
Since then, I have been fascinated with the story of Princess Ruth’s intervention to save Hilo from Pele’s destruction. So it was a joy to pour through the Bishop Museum and Hawai’i State Archives for photos from the 1880s depicting the people, places, and events in this story. I was inspired, too, by the paintings of Joseph Nawahi, and also the Volcano School paintings of late 19th century artists Charles Furneaux, D. Howard Hitchcock, Titian Ramsay, and Jules Tavernier.
I hope this book will inspire you to learn more about Hawai’i and it’s rich cultural and natural history.
Learn more about these books and get educational extra for all of Arbordale’s new releases on our book homepages.

Exploring the Earth with Landforms!

Are you looking for a fun family trip this summer? Don’t want to travel too far from home? This Land Is Your Land talks about many different landforms all over the United States. Read this book with your children to teach them about the diverse landscapes of our beautiful country, then pack up the car and head to the nearest (or farthest!) destination. Who says education has to stop in the summer?

FCM CoastCoastlines: Perhaps the easiest landform to reach for many, the United States coastline is over 95,000 miles long. Many people live on the coast – about 39% of the country’s population! The coast is a very popular tourist destination, and there are hundreds of beaches for people to travel to. Some of the best family beaches are located in the Outer Banks in North Carolina; Maui, Hawaii; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Destin, Florida; San Diego, California; and Ocean City, Maryland. There are beaches in every coastal state, though. Which beach is closest to you?

Mountains and hills: Mountains are also another popular place for tourists, especially those who enjoy activities such as hiking and TLIYL-spread-3camping. Some states have more to offer than others when it comes to mountains. For example, the highest point in Florida is only 345 feet above sea level, whereas Alaska’s Mt. McKinley towers 20,320 feet above sea level. However, all 50 states have some sort of forest, lake, or other natural area where camping and nature walks are possible, so even those of you in the flatter states don’t have to miss out!

Plateaus and canyons: In the United States, plateaus are found mainly in the western states, where the Colorado Plateau is. Plateaus provide opportunities for hiking and climbing, and the Colorado Plateau contains the famous Colorado River and Grand Canyon. Many national parks are also in this area, including Zion and Mesa Verde, where you can find smaller plateaus and canyons.

Valleys: A valley is simply a place between mountains or hills, so even states such as Kansas, with very few hills, have some areas that lie lower than others. Beautiful valleys in the United States include the Sedona Verde Valley in Arizona, Napa Valley in California, the Waipi’o Valley in Hawaii, and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

FCM PlainsPlains: The plain region of the United States is called the Great Plains, which runs from Texas north to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and eastern Montana. The Great Plains are known for their extensive flat lands covered in tall grass, cattle ranches, and bison. Be careful here in the spring and summer – the Great Plains are located in Tornado Alley, where tornadoes happen most frequently!

Peninsulas: Arbordale Publishing is located near a well-known peninsula –Charleston, South Carolina! Many of the first towns settled in the United States are located on peninsulas, as they provide easy access by water to ships delivering people and supplies. Jamestown, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts were first built on peninsulas. The entire state of Florida is a big peninsula!

Volcanoes: The west coast of the United States is located in what is FCM Volcanoknown as the “Ring of Fire,” an area where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur due to the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Active, potentially dangerous volcanoes in the United States include Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington, Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Shasta in California. While some of these volcanoes haven’t erupted in years, they are not considered dormant, meaning they could erupt at any time. A volcanic eruption would be an exciting sight to see, but be sure to keep your distance!

Islands and archipelagos: The most famous example of an island chain in the United States is Hawaii. Another is the Aleutian Islands in FCM archipelagoAlaska. Since neither of these are especially accessible to the average Mackinac, Michigan; Whidbey Island, Washington; Mount Desert, Maine; Amelia Island, Florida; and Assateague Island, Virginia. Did you know that part of the biggest city in the United States is located on an island? Manhattan is surrounded by the Hudson River, the East River, and the Harlem River!

Learn more about these landforms in Catherine Ciocchi’s book This Land is Your Land!


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.