A Letter to the Author, Mr. Pringle

Kate/ April 7, 2017/ blog

Traditional protocol in children’s publishing somewhat clearly forbids direct interaction between the author who wrote a story (and who might want to influence the illustrator’s decisions) and the illustrator chosen to illustrate it (with their own creative vision). So it has been for hundreds of thousands of years, more or less. But then, I didn’t meet Laurence Pringle in a traditional way. I first met Larry in a Barn. He became my writing mentor. He made me think, and laugh, and I made him cry, and like my drawings, and isn’t that how all the best friendships start out?

Today I wrote Larry about my week, which started off in that big barn in the woods where we met, at the Highlights Foundation. While I was there I attended the Nuts and Bolts of Science Writing, and dropped off the art for our next book together, which involves lots of bats. This email I sent him sums up all I wanted to blog about this week, so why rewrite it? I’ll just take out all the top secret leaks and personal details that would likely put us under strict surveillance.

Hello good sir,

That is a most uplifting story about the flying squirrel rebound. I for one have never seen a flying squirrel glide. I’m not sure I’ve even seen one on the ground.

I was thinking… Maybe the Secret Life books should be taglined “the Roadkill Series”?

I had a magical wildlife moment with Brian the evening after I returned from the Barn. Brian and I went outside at sunset to walk Maggie. Something flittered overhead. My brain went “bat? Or swallow?” And Brian said out loud, “Bat!” And then there was another–two bats, flying very low over us. So surreal! They may have been red bats, but I am not certain, because the rosy setting sun lit them from below, and it could have been an illusion. The coolest thing was, I could see their arm and finger bones. I have never seen a bat so close, so well lit.

That’s me drawing bats

But that’s not all. We wandered down the drive to the creek. “Hawk!” I said, as a Coopers swooped right above us. “Look out bats!” Not a minute after that, another hawk glided overhead, due East. “I think that was an osprey,” Brian said. By Jove, it was an osprey. A very odd place to see one. We must be situated high enough in elevation that we have our very own hawk watch! Just upstream from the convergence of Crum Creek and Ridley Creek–neither is more than 10 feet wide, but perhaps enough to lure a migrating osprey for investigation.

Well. I was beside myself. Stars from both my current works in progress. Just as I shift book projects, from bats to ospreys, I see both in the flesh.

“All we need now is a fox,” I said, loud enough for the whole universe to hear.

On the way back up to the house, I paused before going inside to see if the bats were still around. I grabbed our Maglite and illuminated one bat as it swung by. Then I decided to shine it down into the lowland, where I’ve seen foxes hunting before in the snow. Two beady eyes reflected bright green in the distance. I held up my binoculars as I kept the creature in the spotlight. FOX. Fox in black sox.

The fox sat down like a dog, squinting a little, just staring back at me. I dimmed the light and said “hello.” He moved to investigate something under the dried grass. I focused the blinding light elsewhere and lit up a hundred thousand specs of mica strewn across the landscape, or tiny little eyes. I went down the path for a closer look.

The fox continued to hunt, stopping to look up at me every once in a while, then back to business, about 150 yards away. When I went back up the hill, the fox came a little closer. Are they curious by nature?

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I caught a glimpse of a bald eagle riding a thermal between two cumulus clouds. Later, after our sunset dog walk, Brian said, “look, a caterpillar!” There on our walkway. Can you guess what kind?

  The Secret Life of rhe Wooly Bear Caterpillar by Laurence Pringle

Later I went outside to see if any bats returned, but there were none. I did, however, hear foxes barking–distinctly two, playing Marco Polo, one higher pitched than the other.

Yesterday it rained and rained until an hour before sunset. Brian got to see a rainbow on his way home from work. When he got here, we went out for our dog walk under a purple and pink sky. When we got to the fence between this and the neighboring cattle property, we both saw a raptor take flight from a post. I followed it with my eyes and set my binoculars on the post where it landed. “Great-horned owl!” A moment later, a crow dove at it. Then another GHOW seemed to try to alight on the same fence, but another crow prevented its landing. Two. I haven’t seen my original two in over a month. Perhaps this was them? Perhaps some fledglings nearby? I still haven’t found a nest.

What will I see today?

I think these are all good omens for my cervical spinal injection today. Wish me luck. I need this to work.


p.s. Photos attached! Do you see the similarities between the sunset photo outside my home, and the fox illustration?

About Kate

Kate Garchinsky illustrates and writes children’s books and educational media in her studio in the woodlands near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her debut picture book, The Secret Life of the Red Fox, written by acclaimed wildlife author, Laurence Pringle, received a starred review from School Library Journal. Kate Garchinsky received a grant from the Eckelberry Fellowship at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she has been researching and illustrating extinction stories about North American birds such as the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet. Prior to creating children’s books, Kate designed lots of fun things like toys, birdbaths and trail maps. She lives with her husband Brian, Julia and Spencer the cats, and her one-eyed beagle, Maggie May. Kate recently signed on to illustrate two more “Secret Life” narrative non-fiction picture books with Boyds Mills Press—The Secret Life the Little Brown Bat (2018) and The Secret Life of the Skunk (2019). While drawing foxes and bats, Kate also began work on Belle’s Journey, a middle-grade non-fiction chapter book by ornithologist and osprey expert, Rob Bierregaard (Charlesbridge 2018). Get to know more about Kate Garchinsky at http://KateGarchinsky.com (aka PenguinArt.com).