Children's book series collaboration balances story, science

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FALMOUTH — Creating nature stories that delight and inspire young children – while raising awareness about endangered species – is the goal of a collaboration between Maine Audubon and Islandport Press.

Melissa Kim, of Cape Elizabeth, is the author of a four-book series called “Wildlife on the Move.” The books were all illustrated by Maine-based artist Jada Fitch and the last of the four, “A Monarch Butterfly Story,” will be published in May.

On Thursday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. Kim will give a talk at Maine Audubon that focuses on the balance she tried to strike in writing each of the books, which included telling a compelling story that was also scientifically accurate.

“We had lively debate about the (subject matter) for each of the books. We had to have a title that would sell and have commercial viability, as well as meet Audubon’s mission,” Kim said this week.

The three books already available are “A Snowy Owl Story,” “A Little Brown Bat Story” and “A Blanding’s Turtle Story.”

Kim said the species featured in each book were chosen by staff at Maine Audubon, but that she “pushed hard” for the last book about the monarch butterfly, which she thought would be “really well received.”

While Kim worked to create a good story line for each of the books, she said, “this series has been successful in large part due to the limitless talent of Jada,” the illustrator.

The idea for a series of children’s books highlighting endangered wildlife came from Eric Topper, the director of education at Maine Audubon. Kim recalled that several years ago, he was trying to find a way to better reach out to the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten crowd.

Kim, who is also an editor at Islandport Press, said her company was immediately intrigued and was “really thrilled to take part.” She was chosen to write the books because of her background in science and natural history and because she had already written children’s books on polar animals and other endangered species.

The first book on the snowy owl was based on a true story about an owl that inadvertently got trapped inside the old Grand Trunk Railroad building on India Street in Portland in mid-January 2014.

At the time, according to news reports, staff at Maine Audubon said it was unusual to see a snowy owl in Maine, but that year they were coming south in search of food.

“Maine Audubon is always looking for opportunities to teach children about Maine’s iconic wildlife, and this had all the makings of a fun and educational children’s story,” Jeremy Cluchey, the director of communications for the organization, said this week.

“Education is a central pillar of Maine Audubon’s work to build a culture of wildlife stewardship in Maine,” he added. “For kids, understanding the unique animals around them and appreciating the importance of healthy habitats and ecosystems is a key part of lifelong (interest in) protecting those species and conserving critical habitat.”

Cluchey said staff at Maine Audubon chose the species for the book series that “best depict our conservation priorities. Each species is (also) an ambassador for a different important conservation message.”

He said the partnership between Maine Audubon and Islandport Press has been one of “those rare collaborations where everyone benefits. Partnering with an accomplished publisher to create these books has expanded Maine Audubon’s reach and shared important messages beyond our normal orbit.”

But, “The biggest benefit,” he said, “is absolutely in the minds of the many children hearing these stories and developing a richer understanding and appreciation of the natural world.” Kim agreed, and said the goal of the Wildlife on the Move series was to “get kids to know about the world around them.”

Her hope is to encourage kids to “just be curious and ask questions. (Exposure) to natural history is so important for kids. Knowing how the world works is extremely valuable.”

Kim said there were several themes she tried to hit with each book. One was to show respectful human interactions with nature, and the other was to accurately depict the migration or movement patterns of each species.

Overall, she said, “We wanted these to be books that kids would ask for over and over again – books that had a good story line and were fun to read.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Jada Fitch, left, and Melissa Kim, are the illustrator and author, respectively, of a series of wildlife books published in collaboration with Maine Audubon over the past few years.

Maine author Melissa Kim reads from her book, “A Snowy Owl Story,” that was published under a partnership with Maine Audubon.