Arkansas award-winning children’s author Darcy Pattison has added a new children’s book to her Another Extraordinary Animal series.
“Diego, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise: Saving a Species from Extinction” (Mims House Books, June 14, $23.99) is a 32-page picture book illustrated by Amanda Zimmerman.
Designed for elementary school students aged 8 to 12, “Diego” tells a hopeful story about a species that survives despite being nearly wiped from the land by starving sailors a century ago.
Beginning in the late 17th century, near the Equator, sailors, including pirates, found they could source fresh meat from the island of Espanola. The island was home to thousands of easy-to-catch giant tortoises.
Weighing up to 200 pounds each, the animals could live for a year in the hold of a ship without food or water.
Scientists believe that up to 8,000 people lived on the island before the pirates arrived; but when researchers visited the island in 1905, they found three (3).
During the 1930s, a turtle was taken from Espanola and placed in the San Diego Zoo – it was Diego. He was 20 or 30 at the time; but giant tortoises live, on average, more than 100 years; the oldest on record lived to be 175 years old. So in the 1960s, when one of the most determined breeding programs in scientific history began, Diego was still there to play an active role in repopulating Espanola with giant tortoises.
As the book says, “sometimes humans succeed.” In 2019, the island was home to 2,354 giant tortoises.
Explaining why she wanted kids to know how people saved Galapagos tortoises, Pattison says, “We have enough pessimistic stories for kids. But I wanted one that said, yeah, it’s hard. That takes a long time. You know, it took 50 years to bring them back. But we can do it.
Writing “Diego,” she interviewed researcher Linda J. Cayot, who was the Charles Darwin Foundation’s herpetology manager from 1988 to 1998 and science advisor and director of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.
Cayot made it clear to Pattison that the volunteers were crucial to the effort – “the Ecuadorian people being on the scene, doing what needed to be done day in and day out. The volunteers were just as crucial as the scientists.” It’s a message kids need to hear, says Pattison: Everyone can make a difference in conservation work.
His Another Extraordinary Animal series isn’t just about creatures kids might find cute. “Through the five books, children are given an introduction to the animal kingdom, and each story is really a biography of an individual animal.
“It’s an animal that interacted with humans in a way named after it.”
“Wisdom, the Midway Albatross” is about the oldest bird in the world. “Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma” is about a mammal. “Nefertiti, the Spidernaut” is about an arachnid that was taken into space, and “Rosie the Ribeter” portrays a champion bullfrog.
The last pages of “Diego” include more words per page than the main part of the book. This additional information will be useful for adults, she says, although a child can also read it.
The level of story reading, although accessible to second graders, is suitable for children who have learned to read and are now using this skill to obtain information.
“I usually say, you know, a really motivated second grader could read it, but probably third, fourth, and fifth graders are pretty comfortable reading it,” she says.
Watercolor, pen and ink depictions of “Diego” are the work of freelance illustrator Zimmerman.
“She’s done wildlife illustrations and worked for museums, that sort of thing before, but this was her first children’s book,” Pattison says.
She is thrilled that Zimmerman’s first children’s book received a star-studded entry in American book review magazine Kirkus Reviews.
Zimmerman lives in Pennsylvania. Pattison lives in North Little Rock and her publishing house, Mims House, is in Little Rock. Author and illustrator connected remotely through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (see arkansas.scbwi.org/).
More information about Pattison’s books is available at mimshousebooks.com.