I was sent home from school on my first day of kindergarten. I had bitten a little boy. He was pulling the legs off a Daddy Longlegs and I had to stop him.
Today, I don’t bite nearly so much. Instead I write books–for children and adults–and articles for magazines and newspapers and the web, and sometimes scripts for radio and TV. Although I have refined my technique, my efforts serve the same purpose as that well-aimed bite in kindergarten: to protect, defend, and celebrate the creatures of this sweet, green Earth.
Before I could read, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I still think being a vet is great! But when I began to read, I noticed my dad engrossed in reading the newspaper, and I asked him to help me read the stories in it about animals. The news was terrible! Elephants, eagles, and whales were on the brink of extinction–and pollution, human overpopulation, and human greed were at fault. I had to do something. So I became a writer. I felt if I could just show readers what was at stake–the precious lives of incredible creatures with powers we can only dream of–people would care enough to turn the situation around.
My work has taken me to some of the most spectacular places on Earth. I’ve been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. I’ve held wild tarantulas in my hand in French Guiana. I’ve hiked up into the cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to help radio collar tree kangaroos. I camped in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi searching for snow leopards. I’ve scuba dived to commune with wild octopuses and (in a cage) meet great white sharks up close and personal. I’ve written more than 20 books, including (for adults) THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS, BIRDOLOGY, and THE GOOD GOOD PIG, and (for kids) QUEST FOR THE TREE KANGAROO, KAKAPO RESCUE, and (published this past summer) THE GREAT WHITE SHARK SCIENTIST.
Everywhere I go, I find incredible teachers to help me bring my message to my readers. Sometimes they’re scientists. Sometimes they’re shamans. And sometimes they’re sailors. Most often, they’re animals: pink river dolphins in the Amazon. Emus in Australia’s outback. From the chickens in my barnyard to the 18,000 snakes with whom I worked in a pit in Manitoba, Canada, I’ve been blessed to discover that everywhere, I find wisdom and courage, strength and beauty–inspiration to deepen our wonder and love for the natural world, and our respect and affection for the creatures with whom we share the planet. After all, animals love their lives as much as we love our own. Their presence on our planet provides us with inspiration and delight; expands our capacity for compassion; and makes our world whole.
I love writing for adults, love the flexibility and depth that writing for 250 or more pages affords. But writing for children is especially important. Children are not just the leaders of tomorrow: children are the leaders of today. Children may not yet be able to vote or command vast sums of money, but they do powerfully influence important decisions made in their homes, decisions that affect animals and their habitats. Kids, I’ve heard from educators, are their parents’ SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT source of information about the environment—more important than radio, TV, print or internet.
And kids don’t buy the lie only people matter and animals don’t. Kids haven’t been hoodwinked into believing that money and status and stuff is the point of our lives. Kids naturally recognize that the real world—the world where we find joy and renewal and inspiration and peace–is the sweet, green, breathing, alive world around us.
Children have the courage and imagination to see their way out of disasters that might make an adult just give up. True, animals are STILL threatened by the very forces the newspaper warned about when I was a kid: pollution (today, especially the kinds that are causing global climate change), human overpopulation and human greed. And true, there’s always going to be some kid who thinks it’s fun to pull the legs off a Daddy Long Legs. So, yeah, sometimes I still want to bite them. But often, all it takes to turn even that kid around is a good book.