What baby animals need to survive

One of the first questions I ask myself in researching a true animal story about a baby animal’s first year of life is what that animal needs to survive. All animals share a basic need for food, shelter, and safety. Most babies are dependent on at least one parent to provide for their needs and protect them until they are old enough to learn the basic skills of survival themselves. Here are three animal babies from my books Lootas Little Wave Eater, Hansa, and Growing Up Gorilla, and one important skill they need to survive. As you read through these, think about an important skill a human baby needs to survive.

A sea otter spends its whole life in the ocean but cannot swim or feed itself when it is born. The mother carries her pup on her belly most of the day while she floats on her back and cleans and feeds it. When it’s time for the mother to dive for food, she wraps her pup in kelp to hide it from predators. A baby sea otter needs a thick coat of fur (500,000 hairs per square inch) that with regular grooming by mom, keeps the pup floating on the ocean surface like a cork until her mother returns.

Lootas licks and rubs her baby’s thick fur to keep her buoyant

Lootas licks and rubs her baby’s thick fur to keep her buoyant

Elephants in the wild are constantly on the move. They can travel as much as 20 miles a day with the rest of the herd. When a baby elephant is born, the herd will stop long enough for the mother to clean her newborn and encourage the baby to stand up within its first half hour of life. A baby elephant needs strong legs to follow her mother and the rest of the herd.               

Baby Hansa leans against her mother Chai for support

Baby Hansa leans against her mother Chai for support

A baby gorilla completely depends on its mother for food, warmth and protection when it is first born. A mother gorilla weighs several hundred pounds and needs to eat constantly to stay healthy on a diet of fruits, leaves and stems. The family troop, led by an adult male silverback, is on the move looking for food and building new nests every day. A baby gorilla needs a strong grip to hold onto her mother while she moves with the troop and searches for food.    

Yola’s mother Nadiri as a baby rides on her cousin Alafia’s back

Yola’s mother Nadiri as a baby rides on her cousin Alafia’s back

For more stories of what baby animals need to survive in the wild around the world, check out the new PBS series: Animal Babies First Year on Earth streaming live.    

Happy Book Birthday, Growing up Gorilla!

Today is the official release date for my 12th book, Growing Up Gorilla: How a Zoo Baby Brought Her Family Together. I couldn’t be happier with my publisher, Millbrook Press, for having produced a beautifully designed book with full-color photos and an irresistible cover:


As PBS mentioned in its special new series titled Animal Babies: First Year on Earth, the birth of a baby gorilla is rare indeed both in zoos and around the world.  Growing Up Gorilla is the story of one gorilla baby’s birth at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and what happened after her mother refused to care for her when she was first born. Was she not interested in her baby or did the first time mother just not know what to do? Fortunately, with a patient and determined zoo staff and help from a shy silverback male named Leo, mother and daughter were able to bond successfully within several months.


I will be giving a reading and book signing at Woodland Park Zoo’s Summer Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day on Saturday, September 7 at 11:30 am at the Gorilla outdoor exhibit.

Join me in celebrating African wildlife and the conservation projects the Zoo is involved with to help promote the long-term survival of gorillas, giraffes, lions, and other critical African animals in the wild and in zoos around the world.

Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I also do author visits at your school or library. You can order the book from your favorite bookstore or online at Lernerbooks.com, Amazon or BarnesandNoble.

Southwest Washington Writers Conference

Calling all picture book writers! I will be presenting a workshop on Plotting the Picture and Exploring Story Structure on September 8 from 11-12:30 at the 2018 Southwest Washington Writers Conference in Vancouver, Washington.

The best picture books combine strong, visual plots with simple, clear language that invite readers into the story. Learn a 3-problem approach to story structure that will hook your reader from the first word to the last.

Join us for a day of inspiring workshops and panel discussions that support a great cause - scholarships to Centralia College. Click here for details and to register for the conference.


Write Here Write Now One-day Writing Conference and Consultations

Write Here Write Now One-day Writing Conference and Consultations
January 27 from 10-6pm at the Swedish Club in Seattle (1920 Dexter Ave)

I belong to a nonprofit collective of Pacific Northwest authors called the Seattle7 Writers. Our mission is to create connections between writers, readers, librarians, and booksellers to foster and support a passion for the written word.

Every year, Seattle7Writers hosts a one-day writing intensive, where we promise you'll learn more and get more writing done than you thought possible in a day. In addition to writing, you can sign up for 15-minute consultations with Seattle7 authors to discuss your work. I will be available to consult with writers for children, so bring a manuscript draft or a story idea that we can brainstorm together.  

Support our nonprofit work and get yourself a whole day to learn, write, and meet your fellow writers.



Gifts from the Sea

Have you ever walked along the seashore and discovered something magical? You never know what treasures might float in with the tide, like this colorful sea star I spotted in shallow water off the coast of Mozambique,


or a driftwood cave that could shelter an animal from the wind.


One of the most thrilling sights for me was coming across a Hawaiian Monk Seal asleep on a deserted beach on the Island of Kauaii. Monk seals are an endangered species. They are only found in the Hawaiian Islands and there are less than 1500 of them left in the world. Monk seals spend their lives in the ocean, struggling against high waves and strong ocean currents to dive hundreds of feet down for food.
Sometimes, they will haul themselves out of the water to rest like this mother and pup.  


Over the last 10 years, NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been hard at work helping to protect the Hawaiian Monk Seal population and increase their recovery rate. Their efforts include rescuing and treating injured seals and releasing them back into the wild - like Honey Girl, the female monk seal whose story is chronicled in my recent book, Rhino Rescue! And More True Stories of Saving Animals. This brave female monk seal was found on a beach with a large fishhook lodged in her cheek. Marine debris that is left floating in the ocean is a dangerous problem for marine animals. But thanks to the quick work of the NOAA response team Honey Girl was rehabilitated and released back into the wild in just a few weeks.

NOAA has also helped organize a gung ho group of volunteers to patrol the beaches for monk seals and set up barriers to keep people from getting too close and disturbing their much-needed sleep. These efforts have begun to pay off with the Hawaiian monk population showing an increase from 1100 seals to 1400 in the last three years! To celebrate this ongoing recovery effort, NOAA has announced that  2017 is the “Year of the Monk Seal.”

What can we do to help protect these gifts from the sea? If you are drawn to the seashore by the smell of salt water and the chance to see something magical there, remember that the sea stars, birds, and marine creatures you might discover there are best left alone to continue whatever they are doing to survive before the tide returns to take them back to their ocean home.