East Bay Author Showcases Unloved Animals in New Children’s Book “Vulture Verses”
Alamo author Diane Lang showcases her love for nature in an unusual way with her first children’s book, “Vulture Verses – Love Poems for the Unloved”. Drawing from her experiences as a nature educator at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek and Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward, Ms. Lang showcases the valuable role stereotypically “unloved” creatures play in our ecosystem. Illustrator Lauren Gallegos brilliantly captures the spirit of Ms. Lang’s poetry making this an excellent choice for any beginning reader.
OneDublin.org: Your book “Vulture Verses” benefits greatly from the beautiful and playfully macabre illustrations by Lauren Gallegos. Have you worked with Ms. Gallegos previously?
Diane Lang: “We were so lucky that Lauren found us. Somehow she had heard that Prospect Park was doing a picture book (the first children’s book for this publisher) and asked Colleen Bates, the publisher, if she could come and show her portfolio. I happened to be there at the time, and we loved her work. We all talked about trying for a balance of realism (we didn’t want cartoon animals) and a little more warmth and approachability. I think Lauren got it just right.
“Working with her was very enjoyable. I was delighted with each sketch that she sent us, but I felt a little bad about not having given her enough information in a few cases. I had forgotten to mention that I only wanted to picture animals of North America (those that the probable readers would be most familiar with), so she had to make a green snake brown, and wasn’t able to draw the large fruit bats (‘flying foxes’) that she was hoping to. There were a few other similar changes, but she was a great sport about it and said she enjoyed learning more about each animal.”
OneDublin.org: What sparked your interest in animals, and more specifically misunderstood creatures?
Lang: “I have always liked animals in general, and I adore dogs, but I didn’t really notice the unappreciated ones until I began volunteering at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum ten years ago. In fact, when I began, I announced that I would not be handling any snakes, thank you very much. I was told that I wouldn’t have to, but of course I have come to know them (I think it’s pretty universal to fear things you don’t understand), and now I love doing snake programs! I like all the snakes, but I admit to having my favorites.
“One day, while I was at the museum and talking to visitors, I passed a woman who was looking at a turkey vulture. She said aloud, “They are just so UGLY!” I asked if I could tell her a little bit about vultures, and told her about their function as scavengers and how they actually stop the spread of disease – their digestive systems are so acidic that there is no bacteria that can survive the trip. No matter what the animal died of, it goes no farther when cleaned up by a turkey vulture. When I was done, the woman said, ‘You know, I guess they are not really that ugly.’ It was music to my ears.”
OneDublin.org: In Vulture Verses you effectively communicate the importance of many unusual and creepy creatures – even the cockroach. What other animals did you consider for your book and how did you settle on the animals you ultimately included?
Lang: “There are many more animals that could be included, and originally were. But, since we wanted to give Lauren’s wonderful drawings more space than originally anticipated, the publisher decided to use just half the verses and save the rest for a second book. That one will most likely be called, ‘Slimy Sonnets: More Love Poems for the Unloved,’ and will include snails, earthworms, toads, termites, and dung beetles. I wanted to make sure that this first book, though, included the most commonly disliked animals, such as snakes and spiders.
“You might wonder why there are two pages for bats in this first book. Well, I had to include bats, since they are so important and so misunderstood, and the insect-eaters and the fruit eaters share a poem. But when I do bat programs for kids they always want to talk about vampire bats. Vampire bats have an especially bad rap, and especially undeserved, so I had to give them their own poem.”
OneDublin.org: In your volunteer work as a wildlife educator, are you finding today’s children to be more aware of environmental issues?
Lang: “I think that children today are far more aware of environmental concerns than we were when I was growing up (way long ago, in the 50’s). Many already seem versed in the importance of some of these animals.”
OneDublin.org: Some of the environmental challenges the world faces seem so complex and insurmountable that it feels like no single action can have an impact. What steps do you think a single child or family or community can take to make a difference?
Lang: “Yes, our environmental challenges can seem overwhelming, but it is important that children not feel helpless. Richard Louv talks about this in his wonderful book, ‘Last Child in the Woods,’ where he cautions us not to let kids despair. That seems to lead to not wanting to think about the environment at all. If families today can talk about these small creatures and seemingly small deeds that we can all do, it sets a good basis for bringing environmental thinking into their children’s lives for years to come. We can pull weeds instead of using herbicides; we can be careful about not leaving litter, fishing line, or other items that could hurt or kill a curious creature; we can refrain from trimming trees during nesting season. Children who hear about these decisions in their families will grow up to use their powers at the ballot box or in community planning or in their use of fossil fuels. We can continually ask ourselves: Where does this product end up? Where does it come from? How can we help? The more we learn, the more we can do.”
OneDublin.org: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring children’s book authors?
Lang: “I guess I’d advise aspiring children’s book authors to think about what they want most to share with children. Don’t write what is currently popular or trendy or what you think a children’s book should look like. Write what touches your heart. For many years I had the idea of writing a children’s book, but I had no idea what I wanted to say. After volunteering to help educate about the animals around us, I found that I had a LOT to say. So, do whatever helps you find what inspires and excites you.”