Books

Arkansas author’s new book tells kids how people saved Galapagos tortoises from extinction

Award-winning Arkansas children’s author Darcy Pattison has added a new children’s book to her series Another Extraordinary Animal.

“Diego, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise: Saving a Species from Extinction” (Mims House Books, June 14, $23.99) is a 32-page nonfiction illustrated picture bookd by Amanda Zimmerman.

Designed for elementary school students ages 8 to 12, “Diego” tells a hopeful story about a species that survives even though it was nearly wiped off the earth by hungry sailors a century ago.

Beginning in the late 17th century near Ecuador, seafaring humans — including pirates — discovered that they could stock up on fresh meat on the island of Espanola. The island was home to thousands of easily caught giant tortoises.

Weighing up to 200 pounds each, the animals could live for a year in a ship’s hold without food or water.

Scientists think that as many as 8,000 lived on the island before the pirates arrived; but when researchers visited the island in 1905, they found three (3).

Some time during the 1930s, one tortoise was taken from Espanola and placed in the San Diego Zoo — this was Diego. He was 20 or 30 years old at the time; but giant tortoises live, on average, more than 100 years; The oldest on record lived to be 175. So, in the 1960s, when one of the most determined breeding programs in scientific history began, Diego was still around to play an active role in repopulating Espanola with giant tortoises.

As the book puts it, “sometimes, humans get it right.” By 2019, the island was home to 2,354 giant tortoises.

Explaining why she wanted children to know about how people saved the Galapagos tortoises, Pattison says, “We have enough doom and gloom stories for kids. But I wanted one that says, yes, it’s hard. It takes a long time. You know, it took 50 years to bring them back. But we can do it.”

While writing “Diego” she interviewed researcher Linda J. Cayot, who was head of herpetology for the Charles Darwin Foundation from 1988-1998 and science adviser and director of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.

Cayot impressed upon Pattison that volunteers were crucial to the effort — “the Ecuadorian people being on the scene, doing what had to be done day by day. The volunteers were just as crucial as the scientists.” That’s a message children need to hear, Pattison says: Everyone can make a difference in conservation work.

ENGAGING NONFICTION

Her series Another Extraordinary Animal isn’t just about creatures that kids might see as cute. “Through the five books, kids get an introduction to the animal kingdom, and each story is really a biography of an individual animal.

“It’s an animal that’s interacted with humans in some way that it has been named.”

“Wisdom, the Midway Albatross” is about the world’s oldest bird. “Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma” is about a mammal. “Nefertiti, the Spidernaut” is about an arachnid that was taken into space, and “Rosie the Ribeter” profiles a champion bullfrog.

The final pages of “Diego” include more words per page than the main part of the book. This extra information will be useful for adults, she says, although a child might read it, too.

The reading level of the stories, while accessible to second-graders, is tailored to kids who have learned how to read and are now using that skill to gain information.

“I usually say, you know, a really motivated second-grader could read it, but probably the third-, fourth-, fifth-graders are pretty comfortable reading it,” she says.

The 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’s thrilled that Zimmerman’s debut children’s book has received a starred entry in the American book review magazine Kirkus Reviews.

Zimmerman lives in Pennsylvania. Pattison lives in North Little Rock, and her publishing company, Mims House, is in Little Rock. Author and illustrator connected long-distance, through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (see arkansas.scbwi.org/).

More information about Pattison’s books is at mimshousebooks.com.

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