Book picks from the author of ‘Growing Up Gorilla’

Clare Hodgson Meeker’s new nonfiction picture book, Growing Up Gorilla: How a Zoo Baby Brought Her Family Together, is a  heartwarming true story about a baby gorilla at the Woodland Park Zoo. When a mother gorilla walks away from her newborn, the staff at the zoo finds innovative ways for mother and baby (Yola) to build a relationship. It’s a charmer of a book, with fun facts and solid research behind it. We asked Clare, a Washington author, to share some books starring animals — and, delightfully, some of her selections are for adults, and some for kids. Here are Clare’s recommendations:

I enjoy reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction books for adults and for children. This summer, as part of my research for a nonfiction book for kids about raising a service dog, my focus was on books about dogs, wolves, and the science of dog behavior. Here are a few of my favorites from mostly Northwest authors:

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. These two research scientists at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University have been doing groundbreaking work on canine intelligence and ascertaining how dogs learn. What Dr. Hare calls “Dognition” has become a hot topic for study after years of “man’s best friend” being ignored as a worthy scientific subject. Hare’s theory of domestic dogs having evolved from wolves through ‘survival of the friendliest’ is fascinating, and his tests and findings about how smart dogs really can be confirms what we dog lovers have long suspected.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle by Newberry Honor-winning local author Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery, and Major Brian Dennis. At the opening of this photo-illustrated picture book, a stray dog with hardly any ears left is trying to survive on mice, rats, and scraps in a desert town in Western Iraq during the war. When Major Dennis and his team of marines arrive at the fort to help train Iraqi troops, the dog cautiously approaches Brian and they click right away. Brian names the dog Nubs and shares his dinner with him. Nubs stays with Brian during his night of guard duty and a friendship is born. But the next day, the marines have to move again and Nubs is left behind. This tender story of friendship and devotion with a happy ending illustrates the power of love and the indelible bond between humans and dogs.

Three Among the Wolves by renowned North Pole explorer and local author Helen Thayer. This book is my version of armchair trekking deep into the wilds of Alaska where Helen, her husband Bill, and their part-wolf dog Charlie spend a year observing three different wild wolf packs. Thayer recounts their story in clear, simply stated prose that highlights dramatic events on every page. They quickly discover that Charlie’s innate ability to communicate with the wolves is the key to their being able to earn each wolf pack’s trust and live close enough to them to witness their family-centered social structure, hunting teamwork, and habit of sharing the spoils. “While wolves are often portrayed as villains…our experiences told a different story,” she writes. “They had ample opportunity to attack us…had that been their true nature, but they did not.”

A recent picture book by local author and award-winning nature writer Brenda S. Peterson, Lobos: A Wolf Family Returns to the Wild, offers a hopeful story about the rehab and successful release back into the wild of a family of Mexican gray wolves. The Mexican gray wolf is critically endangered, having been hunted nearly to extinction. Brenda and National Geographic photographer Annie Musselman chronicle the wolves’ journey from the Wolf Haven rehab facility in Washington State to their final release in Mexico during a snowstorm where, according to Brenda, they are still thriving.

Finally, a fun fiction read with a dog as narrator is the latest book in a beginning reader series, King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Geisel honor-winning local author Dori Hilestad Butler. Dori has a gift for capturing the humorous side of dog behavior. Her dialogue between King, the dog, and Kayla, his human, flows naturally through their day as they discover the problem and solve the mystery together. Nancy Meyer’s lightly colored pen-and-ink illustrations perfectly match the emotional bond of between these two characters.

Clare Hodgson Meeker‘s books and magazine stories explore the lives of endangered animals, including elephants (Hansa), sea otters (Lootas), Siberian tigers, African rhinos, and Hawaiian monk seals (Rhino Rescue! And More True Stories of Rescuing Animals). Clare will be speaking at Island Books on Sunday, Sept. 29, at 3 p.m. for a Q&A Craft Talk about writing nonfiction for children. This free event is sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators of Western Washington. 

Posted by Linda J. 

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