Pringle, Laurence 1935- (Sean Edmund, Laurence Patrick Pringle)
Pringle, Laurence 1935- (Sean Edmund, Laurence Patrick Pringle)
Born November 26, 1935, in Rochester, NY; son of Laurence Erin (a real estate agent) and Marleah (a homemaker) Pringle; married Judith Malanowicz (a librarian), June 23, 1962 (divorced, 1970); married Alison Newhouse (a freelance editor), July 14, 1971 (divorced, c. 1974); married Susan Klein (a teacher), March 13, 1983; children: (first marriage) Heidi, Jeffrey, Sean; (third marriage) Jesse, Rebecca. Education: Cornell University, B.S., 1958; University of Massachusetts, M.S., 1960; Syracuse University, doctoral studies, 1960-62. Hobbies and other interests: Photography, films, sports, surf fishing.
Home—P.O. Box 252, W. Nyack, NY 10994. E-mail—[email protected].
Writer, photographer, wildlife biologist, and educator. Lima Central School, Lima, NY, high school science teacher, 1961-62; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, associate editor, 1963-65, senior editor, 1965-67, executive editor of Nature & Science (children's magazine), 1967-70; New School for Social Research (now New School University), New York, NY, faculty member, 1976-78; Kean College of New Jersey, Union, writer-in-residence, 1985-86; Highlights for Children Writers Workshop, faculty member, beginning 1985.
New Jersey Institute of Technology Award, 1970, for The Only Earth We Have; Special Conservation Award, National Wildlife Federation, 1978; honor book designation, New York Academy of Sciences, 1980, for Natural Fire; Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Massachusetts Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, 1981; Eva L. Gordon Award, American Nature Society, 1983; John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers, 1991, for Batman, 1993, for Jackal Woman, and 1997, for An Extraordinary Life; A Book Can Develop Empathy Award, New York State Humane Association, 1991, for Batman; Orbis Pictus Honor Book designation for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, National Council of Teachers of English, 1996, for Dolphin Man, and 1998, for An Extraordinary Life; Nonfiction Award, Washington Post/Children's Book Guild, 1999, for body of work; AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, 2005, for lifetime achievement; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, 2007; dozens of Pringle's titles have been selected National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children.
FOR YOUNG PEOPLE; NONFICTION
Dinosaurs and Their World, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1968.
The Only Earth We Have, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969.
(Editor) Discovering the Outdoors: A Nature and Science Guide to Investigating Life in Fields, Forests, and Ponds, Natural History Press (New York, NY), 1969.
(Editor) Discovering Nature Indoors: A Nature and Science Guide to Investigations with Small Animals, Natural History Press (New York, NY), 1970.
(And photographer) From Field to Forest: How Plants and Animals Change the Land, World (New York, NY), 1970.
(And photographer) In a Beaver Valley: How Beavers Change the Land, World (New York, NY), 1970.
Cockroaches: Here, There, Everywhere, illustrated by James and Ruth McCrea, Crowell (New York, NY), 1970.
Ecology: Science of Survival, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
One Earth, Many People: The Challenge of Human Population, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
From Pond to Prairie: The Changing World of a Pond and Its Life, illustrated by Karl W. Stuecklen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972.
Pests and People: The Search for Sensible Pest Control, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972.
This Is a River: Exploring an Ecosystem, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972.
Estuaries: Where Rivers Meet the Sea, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.
Follow a Fisher, illustrated by Tony Chen, Crowell (New York, NY), 1973.
Into the Woods: Exploring the Forest Ecosystem, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.
Twist, Wiggle, and Squirm: A Book about Earthworms, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Crowell (New York, NY), 1973.
Recycling Resources, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974.
Chains, Webs, and Pyramids: The Flow of Energy in Nature, illustrated by Jan Adkins, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.
City and Suburb: Exploring an Ecosystem, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1975.
Energy: Power for People, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1975.
Water Plants, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.
Listen to the Crows, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Crowell (New York, NY), 1976.
The Minnow Family: Chubs, Dace, Minnows, and Shiners, illustrated by Dot and Sy Barlowe, Morrow (New York, NY), 1976.
Our Hungry Earth: The World Food Crisis, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1976.
Animals and Their Niches: How Species Share Resources, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Morrow (New York, NY), 1977.
The Controversial Coyote: Predation, Politics, and Ecology, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1977.
Death Is Natural, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1977.
The Gentle Desert: Exploring an Ecosystem, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977.
The Hidden World: Life under a Rock, illustrated by Erick Ingraham, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977.
Dinosaurs and People: Fossils, Facts, and Fantasies, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978.
The Economic Growth Debate: Are There Limits to Growth?, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1978.
Wild Foods: A Beginner's Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Cooking Safe and Tasty Plants from the Outdoors, illustrated by Paul Breeden, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Natural Fire: Its Ecology in Forests, Morrow (New York, NY), 1979.
Nuclear Power: From Physics to Politics, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1979.
Lives at Stake: The Science and Politics of Environmental Health, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1980.
Frost Hollows and Other Microclimates, Morrow (New York, NY), 1981.
What Shall We Do with the Land? Choices for America, Crowell (New York, NY), 1981.
Vampire Bats, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
Water: The Next Great Resource Battle, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1982.
Being a Plant, illustrated by Robin Brickman, Crowell (New York, NY), 1983.
"The Earth Is Flat"—and Other Great Mistakes, illustrated by Steve Miller, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
Feral: Tame Animals Gone Wild, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
Radiation: Waves and Particles/Benefits and Risks, Enslow (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1983.
Wolfman: Exploring the World of Wolves, Scribner (New York, NY), 1983.
Animals at Play, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1985.
Nuclear War: From Hiroshima to Nuclear Winter, Enslow (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1985.
Here Come the Killer Bees, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986, revised edition published as Killer Bees, 1990.
Throwing Things Away: From Middens to Resource Recovery, Crowell (New York, NY), 1986.
Home: How Animals Find Comfort and Safety, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
Restoring Our Earth, Enslow (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1987.
Rain of Troubles: The Science and Politics of Acid Rain, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
The Animal Rights Controversy, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1989.
Bearman: Exploring the World of Black Bears, photographs by Lynn Rogers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
Nuclear Energy: Troubled Past, Uncertain Future, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Living in a Risky World, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.
The Golden Book of Insects and Spiders, illustrated by James Spence, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1990.
Global Warming: Assessing the Greenhouse Threat, Arcade (New York, NY), 1990.
Saving Our Wildlife, Enslow (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1990.
Batman: Exploring the World of Bats, photographs by Merlin D. Tuttle, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
Living Treasure: Saving Earth's Threatened Biodiversity, illustrated by Irene Brady, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Antarctica: The Last Unspoiled Continent, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.
The Golden Book of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Powerful Storms, illustrated by Tom LaPadula, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1992.
Oil Spills: Damage, Recovery, and Prevention, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Chemical and Biological Warfare: The Cruelest Weapons, Enslow (Berkeley Heights, NJ), 1993.
Jackal Woman: Exploring the World of Jackals, photographs by Patricia D. Moehlman, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
Scorpion Man: Exploring the World of Scorpions, photographs by Gary A. Polis, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.
Fire in the Forest: A Cycle of Growth and Renewal, illustrated by Bob Marstall, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Dinosaurs! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Carol Heyer, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1995.
Coral Reefs: Earth's Undersea Treasures, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Vanishing Ozone: Protecting Earth from Ultraviolet Radiation, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
Dolphin Man: Exploring the World of Dolphins, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1995.
Taking Care of the Earth: Kids in Action, illustrated by Bobbie Moore, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1996.
Smoking: A Risky Business, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly, illustrated by Bob Marstall, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Elephant Woman: Cynthia Moss Explores the World of Elephants, photographs by Cynthia Moss, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
Nature! Wild and Wonderful (autobiography), photographs by Tim Holmstrom, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1997.
Everyone Has a Bellybutton: Your Life before You Were Born, illustrated by Clare Wood, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
Drinking: A Risky Business, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Animal Monsters: The Truth about Scary Creatures, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1997.
One-Room School, illustrated by Barbara Garrison, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1998.
Bats! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2000.
The Environmental Movement: From Its Roots to the Challenges of a New Century, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Sharks! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2001.
A Dragon in the Sky: The Story of a Green Darner Dragonfly, illustrated by Bob Marstall, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Scholastic Encyclopedia of Animals, photographs by Norbert Wu, Scholastic Reference (New York, NY), 2001.
Global Warming: The Threat of Earth's Changing Climate, SeaStar Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Strange Animals, New to Science, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2002.
Crows! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Bob Marstall, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2002.
Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2002.
Come to the Ocean's Edge: A Nature Cycle Book, illustrated by Michael Chesworth, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2003.
Whales! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2003.
Snakes! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2004.
American Slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Calkins Creek Books (Honesdale, PA), 2006.
Penguins! Strange and Wonderful, illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2007.
Imagine a Dragon, illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2008.
Jesse Builds a Road, illustrated by Leslie Holt Morrill, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Octopus Hug, illustrated by Kate Salley Palmer, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1993.
Naming the Cat, illustrated by Katherine Potter, Walker (New York, NY), 1997.
Bear Hug, illustrated by Kate Salley Palmer, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2003.
(And photographer) Wild River (adult nonfiction), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1972.
(With others) Rivers and Lakes (adult nonfiction), Time-Life Books (New York, NY), 1985.
(Author of foreword) Robert Few, Macmillan Children's Guide to Endangered Animals, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
Contributor to periodicals, including Audubon, Ranger Rick's Nature Magazine (sometimes under pseudonym Sean Edmund), Highlights for Children, and Smithsonian; contributor of essays to professional magazines on children's literature and education and to books, including Celebrating Children's Books: Essays onChildren's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland, edited by Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye, Lothrop, 1974; The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature, edited by Charlotte Otten and Gary Schmidt, Greenwood Press, 1989; Nonfiction for Young Adults: From Delight to Wisdom, edited by Betty Carter and Richard Abrahamson, Oryx, 1990; and Vital Connections: Children, Science, and Books, edited by Wendy Saul and Sybille Jagusch, Heinemann, 1991.
A prolific author of nonfiction, fiction, and picture books, as well as a photographer and science educator, Laurence Pringle has been praised as one of the top writers of informational books for readers from elementary through high school. A former wildlife biologist, Pringle is noted for creating authoritative, well-researched works that inform readers about the natural sciences and the environment in a manner that critics have cited as accurate as well as interesting. He is noted for transforming complex material on scientific and ecological subjects into lucid, balanced overviews of sophisticated topics, some of which are not often treated in books for children. Several of the author's titles are regarded as definitive references and consistently cited as among the best books available on their respective subjects.
Pringle's works provide information on nature and the environment while emphasizing the dangers that threaten Earth and its resources. While some of his books focus on the world's rivers, forests, oceans, and deserts, others deal with man-made hazards such as nuclear energy, nuclear war, global warming, oil spills, pollution, acid rain, and radiation. Pringle includes constructive information, advising readers what they can do to protect their environment by recycling, fighting world hunger, and protecting biological diversity. In his wildlife-centered books he turns his attention to mammals, insects, birds, and fish as well as related topics, including the animal rights movement and what happens to tame animals released in the wild. Courting controversy, Pringle has introduced younger readers to the ongoing debate between evolution and creationism, and has authored several biographies that introduce prominent naturalists and their work with animals such as wolves, scorpions, bats, dolphins, and elephants.
Born in Rochester, New York, Pringle grew up in Mendon, a rural town just south of his birthplace. After his father moved the family out of New York City, Pringle's mother learned to cook fish and game, while Pringle and his older brother explored the woods and pasture lands around their home. As a young boy, he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher handled the first through eighth grades; in 1998, he wrote a book based on his experience titled One-Room School. In 1945, Pringle transferred to a larger school in Honeoye Falls, a village of approximately two thousand that provided him his first access to a library.
Spending many hours out of doors as a child, Pringle developed a love of nature. He began to focus on birds, attracting and identifying them and finding their nests; later, he began building birdhouses and subscribing to Audubon magazine, which he has credited with sparking his interest in wildlife photography.
In 1951 Pringle and his family moved to a new home in Rush, New York. Now in his teens, he enjoyed reading and baseball in addition to activities connected with nature. His interest led to writing and in 1952, he submitted an article to the "True Experiences and Camping Trips" section of Open Road magazine, a periodical similar to Boys' Life. The article described Pringle's observations of crow behavior and earned the future writer five dollars.
After graduating from high school, Pringle worked for a year in the kitchen of the local county hospital while continuing to hunt, trap, study birds, and follow baseball. In 1954 he enrolled at Cornell University, majoring in wildlife conservation. At Cornell, Pringle's interest in nature was nurtured by his classes and by vacations with friends. For example, he spent winter holidays in the Adirondack Mountains following the trails of fishers—fox-sized members of the weasel family—and other wildlife; in 1973, he published Follow a Fisher, a work that shows how following a fisher's tracks leads to information about its hunting, eating, mating, and mothering habits. At Cornell he also took two courses on writing nonfiction for magazines and won a campus photography contest with a nature photo he had taken; shortly after graduation, Pringle had an article published in The Conservationist, the environmental magazine of New York State.
In 1958 Pringle enrolled in a master's degree program at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst. While his research on cottontails earned him a degree, he continued to pursue his interest in mammalian predators. While trapping, tagging, and releasing bobcats, Pringle captured and identified some of the first coyotes snared in Massachusetts. In 1977, the author published The Controversial Coyote: Predation, Politics, and Ecology, which attempts to separate fact from fiction regarding coyotes and other predators. Pringle enrolled at Syracuse University intending to earn his Ph.D. in wildlife biology, but writing proved to be the greater attraction.
Shortly after entering the Syracuse School of Journalism, Pringle contracted hepatitis. After recovering at home, he began teaching science at Lima Central School in Lima, New York. In 1962, he took an education class at Syracuse as well as a course in article marketing. In 1963 he got a job as an assistant editor of the fledgling children's magazine Nature & Science, published by the American Museum of Natural History. He moved to senior editor and then executive editor before the magazine's demise in 1970. It was then that a fellow editor suggested to Pringle that he begin writing works for the young.
In 1968, Pringle published his first book, Dinosaurs and Their World. A basic treatment of selected dinosaurs, their evolution, and how paleontologists learn about them, Dinosaurs and Their World was praised by a reviewer in Science Books: "There are in print a great many dinosaur books for children, but this is one of the best because it is a well-researched and carefully written narrative." The reviewer continued: "Irrespective of how many dinosaur books elementary and public libraries own, they need this one." Pringle followed Dinosaurs and Their World with The Only Earth We Have, a work that outlines the dangers to the planet from pollution, solid wastes, pesticides, and the disruption of animal and plant communities. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews praised the book for including, "in summary form, what every conservationist would like every child to absorb." Pringle's book "is as good a way to get young or older people to react as any we have," the reviewer added. Pringle also explored the issue of human population growth in One Earth, Many People, a work a Kirkus Reviews critic assigned as "required reading for the generation that stands to inherit the earth and its problems." A reviewer in Science Books noted: "Rarely does a book present so completely in so little space the basic components of population dynamics."
During the remainder of the 1970s, Pringle continued to publish well-received titles on the earth and its animals. By 1974, he had become a freelance writer, and two years later Listen to the Crows became the first of several of the author's works to be named a notable book by the American Library Association. Through his explanation of the various forms of crow communication, Pringle demonstrates that the oft-maligned crow is actually one of the most intelligent of birds. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented that the author's "appreciation for the common but redoubtable crow avoids generalities and focuses on the amazing versatility of the bird's voice box." Shortly afterward, Pringle wrote Death Is Natural. This work, which explains how death in the plant and animal worlds is a necessary part of nature's recycling process, was called a "remarkable book for children as well as some adults!" by Gregory R. Belcher in Appraisal. In 1978 Pringle also earned a special conservation award from the National Wildlife Federation for being "the nation's leading writer of books on biological and environmental issues for young people."
In 1979, Pringle published two titles that were considered somewhat controversial: Natural Fire: Its Ecology in Forests and Nuclear Power: From Physics to Politics. In Natural Fire, the author explains that since forest fires are a natural force in the environment, we may be wrong to prevent fires and to put them out when they begin. Writing in Horn Book, Harry C. Stubbs concluded that Pringle "makes a very good case, and the book deserves to be read carefully and thoughtfully." Gregory R. Belcher noted in Appraisal that Natural Fire is a "provocative introduction" to the study of the role of fire within an ecological system. In Nuclear Power, the author presents an overview of the controversy surrounding his subject; although he admits to an antinuclear bias, he presents cases both for and against nuclear power in what David G. Hoag, in a review for Appraisal, called "unemotional language." The reviewer also commented: "If one feels that a children's science book may or should intermix science with politics, then this book ranks high." Writing in the School Library Journal, Robert Unsworth noted that the author is "clear-headed, crisp, and always informative." Unsworth went on to write: "Pringle seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when enough information is enough."
In the early 1980s Pringle wrote books about such subjects as vampire bats, water, plants, radiation, and scientific misconceptions. He also continued his exploration of controversial issues; for example, he wrote two books on nuclear power, Nuclear War: From Hiroshima to Nuclear Winter and Nuclear Energy: Troubled Past, Uncertain Future, as well as examining the composition and effects of acid rain in Rain of Troubles: The Science and Politics of Acid Rain and the animal-rights issue in The Animal Rights Controversy. Reviewers have consistently praised Pringle's objective overviews. For example, in his review of Nuclear Energy for School Library Journal, Alan Newman claimed that the author "gives an exceptionally knowledgeable and thoughtful treatment of a difficult subject" and called the work a "savvy, well-written book on a subject often confused by hysteria and misinformation."
Pringle espouses the preservation of the earth in books such as What Shall We Do with the Land? Choices for America and Restoring Our Earth. In her review of the first title for Booklist, Denise M. Wilms commented that the author's "environmentalist bent is quietly apparent throughout" and that his thought-provoking work is "a first-rate starting point for background on a topic that will be increasingly in the news." Julia Rholes noted in School Library Journal that land-use questions are important and that Pringle's "thoughtful, well-written book should be a must" wherever "the rights of society as a whole versus individual rights" is seriously discussed.
During the 1980s Pringle also began writing biographies of prominent scientists who work with animals, a series that provides information about both the figures being profiled and the animals they study. In her review of Batman: Exploring the World of Bats, which focuses on mammalogist photographer Merlin Tuttle, Karey Wehner noted in School Library Journal that the book "offers a unique perspective on these gentle mammals." Pringle outlines the life and work of Cynthia Moss, a scientist without formal training, in Elephant Woman: Cynthia Moss Explores the World of Elephants. Writing in School Library Journal, Susan Oliver maintained that "Moss will fascinate young readers." "Elephants are extraordinary animals, Cynthia Moss is a great role model," the critic added, "and Pringle has brought them together in an exciting presentation." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called Elephant Woman "an inspirational book for those interested in animal-related vocations."
In the 1990s, Pringle created several books that highlight not only the damage being done to the earth but also the recuperative and preventative measures being taken on the planet's behalf. In Living Treasure: Saving Earth's Threatened Biodiversity, he discusses how millions of species are being destroyed, as well as how the damage can be stopped. Writing in the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Mary Harris Veeder noted that because Pringle "can move beyond the notion of the rain forest as a pretty place, … his readers can begin to understand exactly why the destruction of the rain forest makes no sense."
Dinosaurs! Strange and Wonderful was Pringle's first informational picture book for preschoolers and early primary graders. An introduction to the popular creatures that explains basic facts about them as well as recent discoveries by paleontologists, the book "lives up to its subtitle," according to Sally Erhard, who added in Appraisal that Pringle's text "is full of just the right amount of information about dinosaurs for the preschool level." Among the most highly praised of Pringle's books in this genre is An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly. Recounting the life cycle of a female monarch—including her migration flight from New England to Mexico—the Orbis Pictus award-winning book was called "superb" and "well-researched" by a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who added that the volume "finds extraordinary science in the everyday life of a butterfly."
In The Environmental Movement: From Its Roots to the Challenges of a New Century, Pringle "offers an accessible, wide-ranging overview of environmentalism in the U.S." at the end of the twentieth century, according to Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg. The author "deftly incorporates a wide range of topics from the establishment of national parks to the threat of global warming," noted Kathy Piehl in the School Library Journal, and he introduces some of the key figures in the environmental movement.
Come to the Ocean's Edge: A Nature Cycle Book depicts a day in the life of the creatures who inhabit coastal areas, including gulls, mole crabs, and bluefish. Reviewing Come to the Ocean's Edge in School Library Journal, Joy Fleishhacker praised the "poetic text" and "descriptive language" that fills the work. Focusing on the life surrounding more inland waters, Pringle follows a winged insect from its birth in a New York swamp to its death in a Florida pond in A Dragon in the Sky: The Story of a Green Darner Dragonfly. "Rarely do books of this nature delve so deeply into one species," observed a Horn Book contributor. A Dragon in the Sky is an "exemplary nature-study book—accurate, explicit, and satisfyingly complete," according to School Library Journal contributor Ellen Heath.
Like Dinosaurs!, the other volumes in Pringle's "Strange and Wonderful" series examine the behavior, anatomy, feeding habits, methods of communication, and other characteristics of several creatures. In Booklist, Hazel Rochman praised the "informal, fact-filled narrative" in Crows! Strange and Wonderful, while School Library Journal critic Patricia Manning dubbed Sharks! Strange and Wonderful an "eye-catching, edifying work." Reviewing Whales! Strange and Wonderful for Booklist, Carolyn Phelan stated that Pringle offers a "surprising amount of information in an interesting manner." Reviewing Snakes! Strange and Wonderful, Phelan called the volume an "excellent introduction to the subject," while in Penguins! Strange and Wonderful, "Pringle's succinct text provides an engaging overview," according to Booklist critic Kristen McKulski. Illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Penguins! is representative of the "Strange and Wonderful" series; it contains a wealth of scientific information, including information on penguins' habitats and reproduction. In a review for School Library Journal, Barbara Auerbach wrote that Penguins! "will satisfy report writers and browsers alike."
In another animal-centered title, Strange Animals, New to Science, Pringle provides descriptions of seventeen new species of animals, including a Vietnamese rhinoceros and a Tibetan horse. According to Phelan, Strange Animals, New to Science is an "informative book on an unusual topic that will open kids' minds." Discussing the same book in School Library Journal, Nancy Call remarked that in Strange Animals, New to Science "Pringle brings insight into the struggles and triumphs" of the scientists who search for new or extinct species.
A loyal and heroic canine is the focus of Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark, which describes the explorations of the American West by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery team from 1803 to 1806. Lewis and Clark were accompanied by a hunting and guide dog named Seaman, and the dog was mentioned frequently in the explorers' journals. Dog of Discovery "is a richly detailed and historically accurate account of the expedition," noted Janet Gillen in her review of the book for School Library Journal.
Pringle returns readers to the undiscovered Pacific Northwest in American Slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a book that should be placed "atop the teetering stack of Lewis and Clark titles," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The book examines the life of Clark's personal slave, providing the known facts about York's life and his role in the famous expedition that helped open U.S. expansion westward. "Pringle is meticulous about what is documented and what is ‘probably’ true," wrote Hazel Rochman in Booklist. School Library Journal contributor Pat Leach commented of American Slave, American Hero that the author "tells the story well."
In addition to his nonfiction titles, Pringle has created several picture books for younger children, among them Jesse Builds a Road, Bear Hug, and Imagine a Dragon, the last a collection of dragon-centered lore that introduces readers to the dragon-like creatures inhabiting legends and myths around the world. Jesse Builds a Road was inspired by the author's son; it introduces readers to a small boy who, while playing with his trucks and bulldozers, imagines he is driving the real machines. Writing in School Library Journal, Judith Gloyer noted that Pringle's technique of the "weaving in and out of the imagination and reality is engaging," and readers will be loath to be "pulled back to reality." Naming the Cat is also based on a family experience: trying to name the stray cat that has entered their lives; several close calls make it apparent that the cat should be dubbed Lucky. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Janice M. Del Negro called Naming the Cat a "light but engaging tale" that is "certain to have listeners bursting to tell the stories of how they named their own family pets."
Octopus Hug depicts two spirited youngsters, Jesse and Becky, who spend an evening playing with their father; Dad becomes a tree for climbing, then a mechanical horse; at game's end he gives his children a huge octopus hug. A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted: "The imaginative antics that tumble across these pages could constitute a manual for bored baby-sitters." In Bear Hug, a companion volume to Octopus Hug, Jesse and Becky go camping with their dad, and they spend the day hiking and exploring the woods, hoping to spot a black bear. The creature does not ap- pear, however, and the children's father, sensing their disappointment, gathers the children in his arms for a huge bear hug. School Library Journal contributor Linda L. Walkins called Bear Hug "an atmospheric story that portrays the excitement of a family outing."
Pringle is also the author of two books relating his own life experiences: Nature! Wild and Wonderful, in which he presents interesting experiences from his life to readers in the early primary grades, and One-Room School, an informational picture book set in 1945, the final year of operation of Pringle's one-room schoolhouse. In a review of Nature!, Marlene Gawron commented in School Library Journal that the writer's autobiography "will entertain and inspire young readers," while Evelyn Butrico wrote of One-Room School in the same periodical that Pringle shares "a gentle story" that also serves as a "good curriculum aid" for those studying "American history, the history of schools, or life in another era."
In an essay for Celebrating Children's Books: Essays on Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland, Pringle wrote: "The doing of science depends on such special human qualities as curiosity, passion, creativity, and veracity. Partly because of these characteristics, science has been called the greatest hope of the human race. Children's books have a vital role to play. They can make science and the universe more accessible to young people. They can stand for and appeal to the finest characteristics and highest aspirations of the human species."
Pringle contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
First sentences are hard to write. I'll start by describing some old photographs, to ease my way into this, and to set the scene for you. Two little boys outdoors, holding dead muskrats by their tails. A family posed outdoors, with a dead deer hanging in the background. Eleven kids in front of a white clapboard building; they're most of the student body, grades one through eight, of a one-room schoolhouse.
I was a country boy.
Although my father, Laurence Erin Pringle, was born in Brooklyn, New York, he was raised in farming country and in a culture that valued living off the land—not just by growing food but also by hunting, fishing, and trapping. About a year before I was born (on November 26, 1935) my family had moved from Rochester, New York, to a rural area south of there, in the town of Mendon. My father had an assembly-line job at Eastman Kodak. He stuck at it for twenty-one years to earn a small pension, but his heart was in the country.
My mother, whose maiden name was Marleah Rosehill, learned to cook fish and game. And my brother Gary (two years older) and I grew up in an environment that included bird dogs, vegetable gardens, chickens and sometimes hogs, goats, cows, and—in season—dead pheasants, rabbits, deer, and muskrats.
When I was four years old, we moved to a larger house on even-more-isolated Parrish Road in the town of
Mendon. (How isolated? Well, if we heard a car coming along the gravel road, we usually moved to a window to look at it; only a few cars passed each day.) The house was in the heart of the Hopper Hills, a place where the last glacier had left a delightful landscape of big and little hills, and basins, some of which held ponds. We had little money but owned 120 acres of land, mostly pasture and woods. My father earned extra income by renting pasture, harvesting hay to sell to farmers, and selling muskrat pelts. Soon after moving to Parrish Road, I remember coming home from school to find the just-modernized indoor bathroom; the outhouse among the lilacs was retired.
School was a one-room schoolhouse, or actually one large classroom, a cloakroom for coats and boots, and a room where coal for the stove was stored. North privy for the boys, south privy for the girls. My brother and I walked nearly two miles one-way to this school, where Miss Gladys Shackelton taught grades one through eight.
One-room schoolhouses were reputed to be good places to learn to work independently, and to concentrate with distractions around. I didn't learn these skills very well and for a time did poorly for another reason. Miss Shackelton suspected that something was wrong with my vision. An optometrist said no, but Miss Shackelton persisted and my parents sought a second
opinion. I had a "lazy" eye and began wearing glasses, sometimes with a black patch over one lens to force the "lazy" eye to function normally. This strategy worked.
My memories of this little school include embarrassing, painful moments, of course. Once I threw a handful of gravel at some girls. Miss Shackelton took me to the cloakroom and closed the door. I knew what was coming, and vowed not to cry. She began whacking my outstretched palm with a ruler. Something got to me. Not the pain but perhaps the look on my teacher's face—was she about to cry? Or perhaps it was the enormity of what I had done; I had a big investment in being "good," and had stepped out of character. Anyway, I cried. Alas. I remember the crime and the punishment but not what prompted my gravel attack.
In the fall of 1942 or 1943 the students gathered scrap iron and steel, gradually making a huge pile of it in the school yard, as part of the recycling that was prompted by World War II. We also hiked along roads near school, collecting milkweed seedpods that were supposed to be used inside life preservers that would keep downed pilots afloat.
World War II is my favorite war. The good guys and the bad guys seemed so clearly defined. Of course I
was just six years old when it began in 1941. When the news came over the radio (this was before television), my brother and I made silly rhymes of words like Manila and Pearl Harbor while my parents spoke in worried tones. My father was in the marine reserves, but Kodak began making bombsights and other devices for the military so he was not called to active service.
Overtime pay and night-shift work made life a bit more prosperous. News of the war's end came over the car radio one day in 1945. My father tooted the horn wildly in celebration. By then our family had grown, with the birth of Marleah Anne in 1943. Linda Mary was born in 1946.
The one-room schoolhouse closed in the spring of 1944. That fall my brother and I began to ride a bus to a central school in the nearest big village—Honeoye Falls, population about two thousand. I had to unlearn some of the math "skills" Miss Shackelton had taught me. I also suffered from culture shock, going from a fourth grade of four students at the one-room schoolhouse to a fifth grade of thirty-four at the central school. The latter had a library, however, that fed my hunger for books. As I edged toward adolescence, books became increasingly important. Whether fiction or nonfiction, they allowed me to escape from an often unhappy reality.
My father and mother had had rather wretched childhoods themselves, and were no doubt more giving than their parents had been. Nevertheless, they had difficulty expressing love openly. When I began raising kids of my own, my father offered this advice: "First teach them respect." I decided it would be pointless to tell him that respect isn't taught, it is earned, and that the predominant feeling he evoked in me as a child was fear. My brother Gary and I didn't get hit all that much, but the threat always seemed to be there in Dad's tyrannical behavior. And I recall the time Gary and I cleaned out the chicken house and Dad praised the job we had done. This memory stands out, sadly, because praise was so seldom given.
Gary and I had some friendly times, but for the most part we were fierce competitors for attention and love. I fondly remember shooting him in the rear with a BB gun—a rare triumph in our ongoing power struggle.
I felt neglected, unappreciated, lonely. I found comfort outdoors, and spent many hours roaming the Hopper
Hills, exploring its forests, springs, and ponds. I also found a different world in the home of my nearest playmate, Alison, who played the piano, and whose house was rich in books.
It was a book in my own home, however, that seemed to awaken a deepening interest in the natural world. One May day I noticed some little birds flitting among the half-formed leaves of an elm. Their colors were so striking; I wondered what they were. We didn't have many books, but did have one introductory guide to birds, and in it were the species of warblers I had seen. I was hooked. My curiosity became focused on birds, on identifying them, finding their nests, attracting them. Eventually, as a teenager, I built birdhouses that were occupied by eastern bluebirds and house wrens. For a time I subscribed to Audubon magazine, and that may have triggered my interest in wildlife photography.
One day, walking home alone from the school bus stop, I heard a noise down an embankment. I crept close and saw a colorful ring-necked pheasant a few feet away. "If only I had a camera," I thought. So I asked for one, and received a Kodak Baby Brownie Special for Christmas. (This was 1947; I was twelve years old.) Dreaming of great wildlife photos, I set out to take them that very cold and blustery day but saw only squirrel tracks in the snow. Great wildlife photos didn't come as easily as I had imagined, nor were many taken with a Baby Brownie or a Kodak Hawkeye, my second camera. I did the best I could, photographing bird nests and wildflowers.
About that time I also received my first rifle, a routine step in that place and time, when virtually all boys (and a good many girls) were encouraged to become
hunters. In the fall I set out alone with my .22 and shot a gray squirrel. I recall mixed feelings, including regret as I watched life fade from its eyes. The triumph was also diminished by facing the task of skinning and gutting the squirrel for the table. I cut myself badly and Gary was told to finish the job. Then and now, taking a life—even an insect's life—stirs in me a mixture of feelings, but hunting success earned respect in my environment and I was hungry to succeed at something.
Gary and I served a sort of apprenticeship, sometimes accompanying my father as he hunted, trapped, and fished. After my initial clumsiness with my first squirrel, I became adept at skinning and was paid ten cents apiece by Dad for each muskrat pelt I removed. I recall the excitement of being awakened well before dawn and tagging along on deer-hunting trips. Later, as a teenager and in my early twenties, I shot a few deer myself.
Is that the sound of stereotypes shattering? I am a naturalist, an environmentalist, so I must abhor hunting, right? Wrong. I am not a hunter now, and haven't had a hunting license for at least two decades, but don't rule it forever out of my life. I own firearms but use them rarely, mostly for esthetic reasons, to maintain a starling-free zone around my home.
Since I live in a major metropolitan area, most of my friends are not only nonhunters but also oppose hunting. Their attitudes are understandable, given their experiences, or lack of experiences. Some seem to believe that their food comes from stores. All are content to let others kill the animals they eat, although they've been known to drop live lobsters into boiling water. In the midst of all these paradoxes, I give my greatest respect to those animal-rights advocates who refuse to eat meat and fish, and to those hunters who admit they do it for the meat and the challenge, not because they are helping wildlife populations. (This benefit may sometimes occur but that's not why people hunt.)
In early 1951, at age fifteen, I began to keep a nature journal. Some of my notes reveal a simplistic, black-and-white view of nature, of "good" and "bad" animals. Typical entry: "June 6, 1951—Shot a starling and 2 English sparrows." But I was already moving beyond the basic "what species is that?" level of interest to "why" and "how" questions about nature. That same summer, for example, I built a bird blind, took photos of wrens bringing food to their nest, and also wrote meticulous notes about differences in behavior of the male and female.
In August of 1951 my family moved from the Hopper Hills to the town of Rush, New York. I hated the move, but Dad had become a real-estate agent and needed to be easily found by customers. At our new home I put hundreds of hours into habitat improvement on our five acres of land, actually digging a small pond with an earthen dam, building birdhouses and bird feeders, transplanting shrubs and wildflowers.
The great passions of my life were reading, nature, and baseball. Unfortunately, the lack of male playmates in the Hopper Hills and lack of sports interest by my parents had left me inept in most sports. Gym classes were often humiliating experiences. But the complexity and drama of baseball had captured me. Night after night I listened to radio play-by-play of the Rochester Redwings of the International League (then the Triple A farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals). Actually attending a game for the first time was a disappointing experience—the players looked so ordinary and human compared with their stature in my imagination.
Although living in Rush, I continued to attend high school in Honeoye Falls. I had one close friend, Ritchie Buckmann, and corresponded with a few other male teenagers who shared my interests. I had found their names and addresses in Open Road magazine, a periodical that then competed with Boys' Life. In the spring of 1952, I submitted a brief article to the "True Experiences and Camping Tips" page of Open Road. It described some crow behavior I had seen, and my interpretation of it. (Later I learned that my explanation was dead wrong.) That summer I received a letter of acceptance from the editor—"Deep-River Jim"—and a check for five dollars.
Though a published author at the age of sixteen, I felt no strong urge to become a writer. I was an ardent consumer of printed words, not a producer. Perhaps I showed a little writing talent; I was a favorite of Miss Jane McGuinness, English teacher during my junior and senior years. I am thankful for the encouragement she gave me, but being a favorite of any teacher is a mixed blessing. One day she mentioned to our class that I had a hobby she admired. I braced myself, knowing what was coming. I had asked for it, having written a term paper titled "Bird Watching—Strictly for the Birds?"
"Laurence is a bird-watcher," she said. True enough, but who wants a fact like that announced to fellow teenagers? Given the stereotypical notions about bird-watching, she might have just as well announced that I knitted doilies.
Miss McGuinness's class was, however, one of the few public places where I began to unleash my wit. Although I was not a total goody-goody—I had helped tip over an outhouse or two on Halloween, and cut classes on opening day of Redwing baseball—most of my classmates perceived me as a shy, unathletic bookworm who had little to do with girls. In their presence I usually felt ugly and incapable of conducting a conversation.
By the way, Miss McGuinness also erred in calling me Laurence. Then and now I prefer to be called Larry or just Laurence. In my family, however, it seemed there could be only one Larry—my father—so another name was found for me: Lornie. My dislike for this name grew until I declared to my parents, at about age sixteen, "Call me anything but Lornie. Call me…"—I groped for a name that seemed almost as offensive to me as Lornie, to demonstrate just how I hated it—"call me Zeke." They missed the point, and called me Zeke for several years.
In the late winter and early spring of my senior year I arose each day before dawn and rode a bike several miles to creeks and marshes, checking muskrat traps.
By the end of March, trapping had earned me the extraordinary sum of $166.50, which enabled me to buy a better camera for wildlife photography. That spring also produced riches of anxiety, about the senior play, graduation, and life beyond.
In May the pressure built for me to be in the senior play, Cornelia Otis Skinner's Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. Not that I had shown any acting ability or interest; it was a matter of numbers. Our class of thirty-four included just nine males, and there was a small part for me, as a hotel window washer. I resisted and resisted, gave in, performed, survived.
Earlier, as a junior, my stage fright had been focused on the possibility that I would eventually be class salutatorian. That prospect—of giving a speech at graduation—so terrified me that I considered sabotaging my grades. This proved unnecessary, as Bob Francis moved to town, joined our class, and earned better grades.
The school at that time had only a part-time guidance worker. Knowing of my interest in nature, and that my hobbies included taxidermy (learned via a mail-order course), he urged me to apply for a museum job opening at the state capitol. But I wasn't yet eighteen, or otherwise well-qualified, so that bubble of hope burst. Graduation approached, and I had only the vaguest idea of what I might do with the rest of my life. One thing seemed certain: I wasn't going to college.
I don't recall any discussions about college in my family, but it wasn't part of anyone's expectations. Neither of my parents had finished high school so they aimed to have their children accomplish that. The morning after graduation, some classmates and I applied for jobs at several Rochester industries. Nothing came of this for me, nor from my other efforts for a job, partly because I was not yet eighteen. In early July, however, I took the first job I found, working in the kitchen of the county hospital.
Aside from trapping, picking cucumbers or corn for farmers, or selling sweet corn or raspberries to passing motorists, this was my first job. I didn't enjoy mopping floors and washing pots and pans all that much, but other aspects of the work and the pay checks had some good effects. I bought and began driving Gary's
1949 Ford (he was with the U.S. Army in Korea). Perhaps most important, in the long run, was my friendship with a pair of young women who worked as dieticians at the hospital. Most of the kitchen workers were well along in years. These dieticians were recent college graduates, closer to me in age and interests. I began to learn how to talk with attractive young women, and when the time came, I received encouragement from them to move on, not just to another job, but to college.
I trace the germ of this idea to a September evening in 1953. While waiting at a service station in Honeoye Falls for tires to be put on my car, I met another customer, Raymond Francis, father of my former classmate. Bob was attending college; his father wondered why I wasn't. I don't recall the conversation, but know that I was left with the notion that college might be attainable and affordable, and that Ray Francis (a school principal in Rochester) would help if I wanted to aim for it.
I did nothing about this for almost a year. I continued to work, study birds, hunt, trap, and follow the fortunes of the Rochester Redwings. I stopped being a sports spectator and spent countless hours batting and throwing with friends Ritchie and Willard Champlin. Ritchie and I "rodded around" in our cars, went to movies, and talked. Girls were a frequent subject, but we did little more than look at them.
In late June of 1954 I called Raymond Francis and went to his home: we talked for several hours about my college prospects. The following day he brought me a stack of college catalogs. In a few days my mother saw the catalogs when she cleaned my room, and this was the first inkling my family had of my interest.
My passion for the written word (if not writing) led me to consider studying journalism at Syracuse University. My passion for the outdoors led me to consider wildlife conservation at Cornell University. Economics tipped the scales; I applied to the then-tuition-free State College of Agriculture (now the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) at Cornell. Finally apprised of my aim, my father willingly agreed to pay most of the costs.
I don't recommend applying on July 21 for September admission to college, but it worked for me. In September Dad and Mom delivered me to a freshman dorm at Cornell. In 1954 many freshmen males were housed for a few weeks in old wooden buildings while some new dormitories were completed. My immediate surroundings were plain, even shabby, and a reputed firetrap, but Cornell itself was magic. Perhaps it would have meant less if I had always expected to attend college. Many successes in my life—and a few disasters—have come as total surprises, as something I never dreamed of. Cornell was certainly an extraordinary surprise, one that has opened doors to so many adventures of mind, body, and spirit.
"Half of the students there will be dumber than you," a family friend had said in an attempt at encouragement. Maybe so, but I ranked 233 out of a class of 260 in my own college. I felt especially inferior to engineers, chemists, and mathematicians in other divisions at Cornell; my struggles with chemistry and physics twice put me on academic probation. Twice the probation scared me and my grades improved—not the last times that the outside world gave my own motivation an extra push.
Mark Twain said, "I have never let schooling interfere with my education," and I had a lot to learn outside of classrooms. The beginning of dating, for example, at age nineteen, when I was a fraternity pledge in the spring of my freshman year. I was having plenty of fun with new friends, all of whom were independent,
so I eventually withdrew from the fraternity. My dating activity went into temporary remission. That summer, whenever I was home from a camp naturalist job, the observation of young women by Ritchie and me reached new levels of intensity, particularly at a roller-skating rink on nearby Conesus Lake. Back at Cornell, I began corresponding with a high-school girl I met there. We didn't start going out until the spring of my sophomore year, when I experienced my first kiss at age twenty! Later that summer I suffered the pangs of first unrequited love for another young woman.
Part of my slow progress with the opposite sex can be credited to, or blamed on, Catholicism. The Pringles were Roman Catholics, and I took it seriously until my mid-thirties. One day after the local priest in Honeoye Fails had spoken to the Catholics in my junior-high class, I overheard Billy Jenkins say to a companion, "You don't believe that stuff, do you?"
I was shocked. For some time after that I shunned Billy—the skeptic, the doubter, the first threat to my blind faith. In any event, I remained committed to Catholicism through high school, college, and beyond,
and tried to honor church teaching, for example, that premarital sex and even conscious sexual fantasizing are mortal sins to be resisted at all cost. The costs were heavy, but a commitment to almost any goal or belief system brings rewards too.
At a gathering of Cornell Catholics in my junior year I met Patricia, a mathematics major and senior. The relationship—such a tame word—lasted about two years, and took me to levels of emotional ecstasy and agony I hadn't been anywhere near before. Being good 1950s Catholics, we saved most of the physical ecstasy for later, for our marriage, which didn't occur. My Catholic zeal reached a peak during this time; as a Cornell senior I often attended daily Mass.
At Cornell my interest in nature and the outdoors was nurtured not only by many courses but also by weekend and vacation adventures with friends. They included Ritchie Buckmann, who entered Cornell to study engineering the year after I began; L. David Mech, a fellow wildlife major; and Paul "Jorgie" Christensen, an engineering student and Dave's roommate. I experienced wilderness for the first time, as we spent winter vacations in New York's Adirondack Mountains, following on snowshoes the trails of fishers (fox-sized members of the weasel family) and other wildlife.
For two summers I was a counselor and hike leader at a conservation camp in the heart of the Adirondacks. I discovered a lake, and a special place on the shore of that lake, where I and various loved ones have camped for more than three decades. The ashes from my cremation may be scattered there (a tiny chemical antidote to the harm caused by acid rain).
At Cornell I searched for a way to excel at something, to somehow feel recognized and accepted by people. I entered a nature photograph in a campus photo contest and won a ribbon; I tried out for a position on the campus radio station but failed to get it. I took two courses on writing nonfiction for magazines and, not long after graduation, had an article published in New York State's environmental magazine, The Conservationist. Having a byline with an article and credit lines with photographs felt so good; I began to aim for national outdoor magazines.
In the spring of my senior year the job market for wildlife biologists was poor, and I was still vulnerable to being drafted into the armed forces. Without much hope, considering my grades, I applied to some graduate schools. Another surprise—in the autumn of 1958 I began a two-year master's degree study of the New England cottontail at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Although I was given financial support for rabbit research, I was more deeply interested in mammalian predators, and began an additional project on the bobcats of Prescott Peninsula, which lies within the boundaries of the vast Quabbin Reservoir lands. While trapping, tagging, and releasing bobcats, I also captured several coyotes—among the first to be caught and identified in Massachusetts.
My research on cottontails earned me a master's degree, but evidence was building that I wasn't meant to be a wildlife biologist. Nevertheless, college life held such appeal that I aimed for a doctorate in forest zoology at the State University College of Forestry at Syracuse University. My research subject was to be the fisher, my study area the heart of the Adirondack Mountains.
Despite this alluring prospect I left Massachusetts reluctantly, for I was also leaving Ruth. She was Jewish, I was Catholic, and our romance had a bittersweet quality based on a mutual assumption of "Alas, we can never get married." Our love endured for another year, but eventually that assumption and the miles between us took their toll.
At Syracuse I encountered the twin challenges of German and statistics, and fell behind in these requirements for a Ph.D. The long grind to a doctorate looked grim. More important, a few of my nonfiction articles and photos had been published. Syracuse's School of Journalism seemed to beckon. I had reached a turning point and made a choice I have never regretted—by early 1961 I had given up on the doctorate and was enrolled in journalism.
Hepatitis soon knocked me off the path to a writing career. By mid-March I was recuperating at home (then in Honeoye Falls) with my parents and sisters, and was advised by a doctor not to return to classes. I wrote articles and submitted them to magazines; nearly all came back. I obtained a union card and worked on some construction jobs, but earned far less than needed to return to journalism classes in the fall. Late that summer I learned that nearby Lima Central School needed a science teacher, Within a few days I was the entire science department of this small school, teaching physics, biology, general science, plus a half-year of science for the seventh and eighth grades. Despite all the preparation needed for these classes, and my continuing difficulties with physics, I liked teaching and was tempted to return to Lima.
In the summer of 1961, however, I had met Judith Malanowicz, a recent college graduate and school librarian. Two months after we met I proposed marriage: we were married in June of 1962. That summer I hedged my career bets—taking some education courses at Syracuse in case I returned to teaching, but also planning on further journalism courses in the fall and taking a two-weeks summer "article marketing" course taught by George Bush, a longtime editor with Better Homes and Gardens.
Within a few days, George decided that most of his students, myself included, needed to learn how to write clear English sentences rather than how to find markets for articles. He changed the emphasis of the daily
classes and conferences, and a bit of his writing wisdom rubbed off on me. Each of three articles I began in his class was published.
In early 1963 my writing was put to a test in an article assigned by Roy Gallant, editor of a new children's science magazine. This was no ordinary article assignment. I was job hunting. Judy and I expected a baby, and I had traveled to New York City in hopes of finding work with an outdoor or nature magazine. I found only one opportunity, with the fetal Nature & Science, which was to be published at the American Museum of Natural History. If I had found no openings, I might have given up on the dream of working for a magazine and become a science teacher. Or, if I had found a job with a magazine for adults, I might never have written for young readers. As it turned out, my four manuscript pages pleased Roy Gallant, and I became part of a small team of editors who launched Nature & Science in the fall of 1963.
The magazine was a critical success among educators, especially those teachers who used it in classrooms. But the science phobia of so many teachers in the
middle grades kept Nature & Science from reaching the circulation needed for financial success. The magazine died in the spring of 1970, but its seven years of life were a time of extraordinary growth and change for me, both in and out of the office.
Nearly everyone on the Nature & Science staff shared a variety of tasks, and all editors, regardless of rank, edited the writing of the others. Roy Gallant returned to his career as a freelance science writer but continued as a consulting editor; I learned a great deal from him and his successor, Franklyn Lauden. Roy was already a well-known author of children's books about astronomy and the earth sciences, and it was he who suggested that I write a book for children. Roy's recommendation to a book editor brought me a contract that provided for an advance on royalties once I submitted an acceptable manuscript.
I had some reason for confidence, since I had been writing articles not just for Nature & Science but for other magazines as well. Also, the editor and I had agreed on a subject—dinosaurs—that intrigued me. There were and are many dinosaur books in print, but dinosaurs are far from a dead subject; new fossil discoveries and new ideas about how dinosaurs lived continue to fuel our fascination with them.
The dinosaur book was the longest piece I had attempted and was also homework at a time when there were few free hours. Judy and I were caring for Heidi Elizabeth (born in 1963) and Jeffrey Laurence (born in 1964). In addition, we were active in a church group and I volunteered many hours to the management of a local nature center. The dinosaur book was set aside many times, and I missed its delivery deadline. With great relief I finally sent the manuscript of about 6,500 words to the publisher in mid-March, 1966. Even if it was published, I felt, the writing had been such a prolonged ordeal that I wouldn't try another book.
The mail of April Fools' Day brought an alarmingly large package: my manuscript and a letter of rejection that did not even suggest that I revise it and try again. Without my experience at Nature & Science I might have accepted the editor's judgment and given up. Instead, I set the manuscript aside for awhile, then read it as objectively as possible and decided to begin sending it to other publishers, particularly those that had no recently published juvenile dinosaur books.
This was a slow process, especially when editors held the manuscript for as long as two months before returning it. A year passed, then Margaret McElderry, of Harcourt, Brace & World accepted the manuscript, which became the book Dinosaurs and Their World. Published in 1968, this book in both hardcover and paperback editions sold more than 70,000 copies and stayed in print long after some of my later titles had expired.
My second son, Sean Edmund, was born in the spring of 1966. Judy and I bought a house in Englewood, New Jersey. With three children under four years of age, we had little time for one another. My career as a writer and photographer was flourishing, but Judy and I were growing apart.
When Judy and I were divorced, I learned that a New Jersey man in the late l960s could not divorce a woman without also divorcing his children. During this time of crisis I belatedly decided that I needed help to
sort out my confused feelings, and began to talk with psychiatrist Charles Oestreicher. You might say I was a slow learner, however, because I remarried and was divorced again within three years. Hindsight now shows that either of these marriages might have been saved, had both partners been committed to change and aided by professional counseling. Thus, the sum of my advice to troubled mates: get good help, give it a good try.
In the spring of 1973 I bought a house in Rockland County, New York, within a few miles of my children. The house had been advertised as an artist's or writer's retreat, and it was indeed a special woodsy place on a private lane. I retreated there to lick my wounds, and to temporarily avoid any serious involvement with a woman. It seemed like a good time to learn more about myself, to meet new people, and also to compensate for experiences missed earlier (this might be called sowing wild oats retroactively). I learned to cook, and focused on being a father to my children and a freelance writer.
At Nature & Science I had hoped to arrange a reduced work week in order to nurture my book-writing career. Demise of the magazine in 1970 gave me a choice: seek another editing job or try to survive as a freelancer. With several book contracts in hand or in the offing, I did not hesitate to choose the latter. Except for occasional income from part-time college teaching, I thereafter earned a living—or at least a surviving—from writing and photography.
I'm sometimes asked whether I have a favorite book. I do like some better than others, but each brings different experiences, challenges, satisfactions. One reward of any book or article is being paid to pursue my curiosity, as I explore a subject that interests me—mostly by reading, but also by direct contact with scientists and other experts.
I still record my own nature observations in a journal, but seldom include them in my writing; invariably there are individuals who have spent decades studying a subject, such as Nicholas Thompson of Clark
University and his research on crow communication (caws and effect), which became the basis for my book Listen to the Crows. Most scientists are eager to have their work explained clearly and accurately to the public, and generously share their knowledge. One biologist claimed that my description of his work had a remarkable effect. I had written about Peter Moyle's intriguing study of minnows in Animals and Their Niches and in Audubon magazine. According to Moyle, his wife claimed that she had learned more about his work from that book than from living with him for many years.
Minnows are one of several subjects I've written about that can be traced back to early experiences in my life. In the Hopper Hills, Gary and I sometimes walked a mile to fish in a creek (or crick in the rural vernacular). We had worms for bait, and our basic tackle was a willow stick about five feet long, a few feet of string, and a bent pin. Sometimes we made bobbers from the spherical galls that form on goldenrod stems.
It was fun, fishing along the spearmint-lined banks of a creek that meandered through pastures. We usually released our catch. Decades later I learned that the fish were creek chubs and blacknose dace. Thus, research for a book in the 1970s shed light on experiences of the 1940s (this might be called understanding nature observations retroactively). My rural roots also led to writing Wild Foods. In its acknowledgment, I speculated about the origin of the book: "Perhaps it began in the 1940s in upstate New York where I picked black raspberries, some for pies my mother baked, some for sale for precious pocket money. My family also dined on rabbit potpie, venison, muskrat legs; and other game. The idea was planted: nature offers delicious wild foods."
Adventures on the trails of fishers in the Adirondacks became the basis for Follow a Fisher, although the book was based more on the research of genuine wildlife biologists than on my experiences during college vacations. My fellow fisher tracker, Dave Mech, began his lifelong study of wolves after graduation from Cornell in 1958. I accompanied him in the field during visits to Isle Royale National Park, where he conducted his graduate studies, and later to northern Minnesota. He was my subject in Nature & Science articles and eventually in Wolfman, my fortieth book.
The economics of writing nonfiction for children and young adults do not allow for much research travel. Fortunately, firsthand experience with a subject is not a prerequisite for a wise, accurate book. In the fall of 1976, for example, I wrote a book about deserts of the Southwest, The Gentle Desert, without having visited a desert. I felt I could trust the writings of Edward Abbey, David Costello, and others as references to accurately describe this special environment. The following spring, however, I asked for early payment of some royalties and visited the Southwest for the first time. Taking photos for the book, I roamed deserts in California and Arizona for a week. I fell in love with the desert, and, incidentally, found no reason to change a word of text I had created from library research.
Early in my book-writing career I was an avid collector of books. I envisioned a time when I would rely mostly on my own bookshelves for information about almost any subject. Backed by an extraordinary personal library, I could live in the wilderness and still write nonfiction. As the years passed, however I found that I was out of shelf space and many books were in
cardboard boxes in the attic, a situation that made information retrieval difficult. More important, I noticed that many books were out of date.
I came to rely more and more on libraries for contemporary knowledge. Most of my own once-vast library is gone, given away or sold at yard sales. Much as I love books, I seldom buy one for research. And when I travel and begin to fantasize about moving and living in, say, Tucson or Martha's Vineyard, I soon begin to wonder about the quality of the libraries—a vital factor in my work.
My second visit to the Southwest was especially sweet, as I traveled by train in March of 1978 with Jeffrey and Sean (then ages fourteen and twelve, respectively) to attend the awards banquet of the National Wildlife Federation in Phoenix. I received a Special Conservation Award for being, in the federation's words, "the nation's leading writer of books on biological and environmental issues for young people." The boys and I then spent several days exploring the Sonoran Desert before flying home.
Sometimes reviewers point out qualities in my books that I did not consciously put there, for example, saying that I "deduce principles, examine meanings, raise questions, and encourage observation." My approach to writing a book is like that of a teacher planning to present a subject to students—not "how many facts, dates, and definitions can I jam into their heads" but "what are the key ideas and how can I spark some enthusiasm about them."
As my knowledge of ecology has grown, so has my appreciation of diversity, complexity, and the interdependence of living and nonliving things. My books tend to encourage readers to feel a kinship with other living things, and a sense of membership in the earth ecosystem. I have also become an advocate of scientific thinking, or perhaps I should say just clear thinking.
Challenging authority and accepted truths is a basic part of the scientific process. It has influenced my choice of book subjects, as I have questioned popular but incorrect notions about forest fires, dinosaurs, vampire bats, wolves, coyotes, and killer bees. These books give readers the truth, to the extent we know it, and also demonstrate that the explorations of science aim at a better understanding of the world. As long as we keep exploring, that understanding can change.
I also encourage a skeptical attitude toward the fruits of technology and various vested interests that come into play with such issues as nuclear power, environmental health, biocides, or acid rain. My books on such subjects are never neutral; sometimes I am tempted to lean heavily toward one side of an issue. The temptation to do so is strong when one side mainly represents short-term economic interests and the other mainly represents concern about public health, maintenance of natural diversity and beauty, and the quality of life for both present and future generations. Temptation is also fueled by the knowledge that students are often subjected to the biased publications and films (free to schools), and advertisements of powerful economic interests, and are ill-prepared to detect the distortions and omissions of these materials.
My books about controversial issues are not balanced—in the sense of equal space and weight applied to all sides—but are balanced by presenting arguments from the opposing interests, and a reading list that includes a diversity of views for those who want to explore the subject further.
It is said of writers, especially fiction writers, that any experience can become material for a story, novel, or other piece of writing. Nonfiction writers seldom infuriate relatives and others who recognize themselves in print, but we do find that any interest or hobby can eventually lead to articles or books. I expect this to occur as a result of an interest of mine that began in the spring of 1976.
That early May I read an article about morel mushrooms, considered by many to be the most delicious of all wild fungi. I knew morels and had eaten them, including some that Gary found growing under an elm as he mowed his lawn in Honeoye Falls, but had never tried to find them in the area northwest of New York City where I had settled. The article mentioned some habitat in which morels grow each spring, and I decided to hunt for them.
A friend and I hiked through shoulder-high poison ivy for an hour or two, searching the ground without success. Then Ruth asked, hesitantly, "Is that one?," pointing to a place I had just passed. It was! I found a few more that spring; by the following spring I was taking detailed notes, recording morel sites on a topographic map, and pursuing morels with the passion I had devoted as a teenager to bird-watching and baseball. (Fortunately, wild morels grow for only a few weeks a year, so I can turn to other matters in the long off-season.)
I have since found black morels growing on my own acre of woods, and with friends have collected as many as twenty pounds of morels in one day. For a few years a friend and I sold fresh morels to restaurants in New York City. The prospect of receiving up to twenty-five dollars a pound stimulated a successful search for even more morel sites, but I didn't like the other side effects of putting a price tag on each morel found so I stopped selling. Morel hunting in my area can also be a disheartening experience, as each year developers destroy bosky havens where morels once flourished.
My research on morels included participation in the 1984 National Mushroom Hunting Championship at Boyne City, Michigan. My journal of morel observations and collection of morel photographs grows, so it is only a matter of time before this hobby yields a book. It will most likely be a cookbook, with a foreword about finding morels written by me, and recipes by former chef, fellow morel hunter, and longtime friend, Lois Murphy.
If I someday write about groundhogs and Groundhog Day, it will be partly because of my roots in the rural Hopper Hills but mostly because of my first divorce. As a country boy I was probably more conscious of this holiday than many city dwellers. Later, with a divorce in progress in early 1971, I was looking for ways to show my children that I still loved them. That year they received gifts from the Great Groundhog, who leaves presents in the basement and marks the package with a paw print.
They no longer search the cellar on February 2, but they and other loved ones usually receive some form of groundhog greetings from me. During my "single again" stage Groundhog Day became the focus of an annual party. In southeastern New York the day has special meaning, not because of nonsense about shadows and weather prediction, but because bird songs and the lengthening days of early February show that spring is on the way—reason enough for a party.
My book Animals at Play was inspired in part by a special cat. Until my late thirties I had little experi- ence with cats. My parents had had dogs as pets. Furthermore, as a result of my early simplistic view of nature, cats were "bad" because they sometimes killed birds. I stopped short of shooting cats but encouraged dogs to chase them.
Alison, my penultimate wife, was a cat lover, and so was I once I had shared a home with such memorable individuals as Mr. Big, Purr-vert, Shadow, and especially the Burmese Female (pronounced FEM-alee). Cat behavior fascinates me and may someday be the basis for a book, but my own behavior with cats is a disturbing reminder of the difficulty I and others have with emotional intimacy. My parents found it much easier to lavish affection on dogs than on their children, and I express love for a special cat more freely than love for my wife.
It is unlikely that I will write about my interest in baseball, the New York Mets, and volleyball. I still don't play the latter all that well, but have developed a wicked serve—a striking contrast to my embarrassing efforts in high-school gym classes (this might be called experiencing sports success retroactively). Surf fishing, however, will almost certainly lead to something in print, although John Hersey, in Blues, has written the definitive book about my favorite prey.
Aside from catching minnows as a boy and a bit of trout and perch fishing through the years, I reached the age of forty-five with little fishing experience. Then Susan Klein and I rented a place in Montauk, at the eastern end of Long Island, for August of 1980. We overindulged in guests but on Labor Day weekend found time for a bit of fishing, catching snappers (young bluefish) at an old fishing haunt of hers. Until then I had enjoyed ocean beaches for summer swimming, sunning, and sand sculpture, but that weekend I found a way to feel connected to the ocean's life and tides in all seasons (but especially in the autumn).
Susan Klein and I met in the late summer of 1976, and became deeply involved the following spring. She was thirty-three and childless when we became involved, and she wanted children. I was forty-two, had college expenses for three children looming ahead, and did not want further children.
Even without this conflict the relationship was stormy; twice it seemed to be over. Then Susan and I began living together, intermingling silverware and cats. Finally, on March 13, 1983, we were married.
About that time I heard a joke having to do with a priest, minister, and rabbi discussing when human life begins. The rabbi gives the punch line: that life begins when all of your children are out of college and the dog dies. Flying in the face of this wisdom, I helped start a new family. My third son, Jesse Erin Pringle, was born on December 31, 1983, and my second daughter, Rebecca Anne Pringle, on December 31, 1985.
People ask what it's like to become a father again at age forty-eight and fifty. It seems more exhausting; I do not have the energy to roughhouse as much as I did when Heidi, Jeffrey, and Sean were young. It also differs from my earlier experience because I was then a magazine editor and commuter, primarily a weekend father, and now my freelance life makes me more available to my children every day. Unfortunately, in order to get work done, I often have to shut myself off from Jesse and Becky. More than ever before, I write between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
People say that having children rather late in life helps keep one young. Adding "and broke," I agree. I take pleasure in correcting the people who assume I am Jesse and Becky's grandfather, and enjoyed winning a
prize at my thirty-fourth high-school reunion for having the youngest children. The best prize of all is, of course, being witness to and an influence on the growth of two extraordinary children.
In the summer of 1987, while a faculty member of the Highlights for Children Writers Workshop at the Chautauqua Institution, I wondered aloud why some people choose to write for children. I speculated:
It is easier, less demanding than writing for adults? Or perhaps we all have some psychological quirk, a character flaw that leads us to aim our efforts at kids rather than adults.
Or perhaps in each of our personal histories there are experiences that have left us with a special regard for children. Perhaps we believe, more strongly than most, that what happens to kids is awfully important. Perhaps we feel that it is too late to influence most adults, but that everything that touches a child's life, including magazine articles and books, can make a difference in the future of that child, and in the future of the world.
Since nonfiction writers get much less mail from readers than do authors of fiction, I have little direct evidence that I have influenced the lives of children. I do know that focusing on children—thinking about their lives, and of course being a father of five children—has influenced me. For one thing, it has helped keep me a hopeful person.
I feel that some of the gloomy fiction written for teenagers is unconscionable. My writings deal with some tough issues and don't minimize the difficulties of accomplishing social and political change, but usually conclude with the thought that people have the ability and power to effect change.
Beginning in the 1960s with Heidi, Jeffrey, or Sean on my lap, I've read many fiction picture books to young children. In the early 1970s I tried to write a story or two. One dealt with the efforts of a child to stop a parent from smoking. I thought it was subtle; editors found it didactic. I gave up. Recently, however, a child inspired me to write a story called Jesse Builds a Road. I had hoped it would be my fiftieth published book, but that honor went to Home: How Animals Find Comfort and Safety while the picture-book manuscript, like my very first nonfiction book, took a while to find its publishing home at Macmillan.
As I write this, the manuscript has just been accepted. I don't yet know who will illustrate it or how it will look. This is one of the frustrations of writing an autobiography in my fifty-second year. As I am fond of saying about many human matters, all the evidence isn't in. I want to know how things turn out. (I long ago gave up the prospect of an afterlife, but jokingly say I will sign up for any religion that guarantees me everlasting delivery of the New York Times.)
Take Jesse Builds a Road for example. It was inspired, of course, by my son. History may record that Jesse and Becky, along with the memories they evoke of my other children, influenced me to venture into a whole new area of writing for children. All the evidence isn't in.
Pringle contributed the following update to CA in 2008:
TWENTY YEARS LATER
Publication of Jesse Builds a Road did not launch a whole new career of picture-book fiction. This field is extremely competitive; more basically, my
strengths in writing nonfiction don't help that much in creating wonderful stories. With one exception—Bear Hug—my published fiction picture books were rejected several times before I revised them into acceptable form. Even as I write this, two of such stories are at publishing houses. I hope they will be added to my short list of fiction titles.
Though few in number, my fiction titles are among my favorites because all were inspired by experiences with my children. Jesse's fascination with bulldozers, front-end loaders, and other machines led to Jesse Builds a Road. The joys of roughhousing, and camping, with all of my children inspired Octopus Hug and Bear Hug. Also, Jesse and Rebecca, along with my wife Susan and me, once struggled to pick a name for a kitten; this led to Naming the Cat. These books are also favorites because they were more of a writing challenge, and thus more of an accomplishment.
Twenty years of parenting our "little ones" feels like a blur of meeting school buses, attending school events, dance recitals, countless soccer, basketball, and volleyball games—and more recently, giving driving lessons, touring colleges, and hauling many loads up to college dorm rooms or apartments. There was the adventure of everyday life, and farther away—vacations in the U.S., Mexico, Europe, and each August some special times on Martha's Vineyard.
For twenty years (1985-2004), my friend Kent Brown, Jr., invited me to serve on the faculty of the Highlights for Children Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. I worked, but each of these experiences—during the third week of each July—was also a delightful family vacation. Jesse first attended in a stroller; Rebecca in utero. In some ways these children grew up at the Chautauqua Institution, where they could roam freely and safely. For young or old, the Chautauqua experience is hard to describe. Historian David McCullough did it best: "There is no place like it…. it is at once, a summer encampment and a small town, a college campus, an arts colony, a music festival, a religious retreat and the village square."
Each year about a hundred people signed up to learn more about writing for children. Some of these "conferees," as they are called, have gone on to distinguished careers in children's literature. One notable example: Sharon Creech. I tended to meet and work with those writers with nonfiction leanings; this led to enduring friendships with authors Susan Quinlan, Sneed Collard III, and Gail Karwoski. At Chautauqua I also met scores of other authors, and editors, on the faculty. Writing is a very solitary activity, so most authors relish opportunities to talk with their peers. In 1989 I joined a group of authors who met irregularly on Long Island, New York, where most of them lived. This is not a typical writers group, in which members critique each other's work. It is more of a "support" group; we share good and bad news about work, editors, agents, and other aspects of a writer's life. On one memorable evening we spoke about people in our pasts who had played key roles along our paths toward being successful authors. We all had some of these mentors, but that evening I also learned of "anti-mentors"—people who had been obstacles to success. One group member, Pam Conrad, had two "anti-mentors," including a college professor who told her she had no writing talent. She wrote more than twenty highly praised novels and picture books. We were robbed of many more when her life was cut tragically short by cancer in 1996.
In my writers group, author Johanna Hurwitz coined a phrase: "pulling a Pringle." I feel a bit embarrassed by the term, since I'm sure many authors have "pulled" the same trick: legally selling the same book manuscript multiple times. Here is the story of how I "pulled a Pringle":
In November of 1988 I proposed the idea of a nonfiction book about dragons to a publisher. In January of 1989 I received a contract, and half of the advance money. About a year later, my manuscript was accepted (the editor called it "delightful") and I was paid the balance of the advance. Months later I was told that an illustrator had been found. However, in September, 1992, there was an editorial shakeup. The new editors decided to not publish my book. DISASTER! Well, maybe not, because I did not have to return the advance money, and I was free to sell the manuscript elsewhere.
I submitted the manuscript, which I called Imagine a Dragon, to a succession of publishers. By September of 1993 it had been rejected eight times. Then, in November, it was accepted and I was paid a full advance. However, just a few months later, the publishing house was bought by another publisher, which had its own dragon book in the works. Mine would not be published! ANOTHER DISASTER! Well, maybe not, because I did not have to return the advance money, and I was free to sell the manuscript elsewhere.
My so-far-unpublished book received another rejection in the fall of 1995. Then, in autumn, 1996, or spring, 1997, it was accepted for the third time. I received another advance. (Total from three publishers: $19,000.) At the third and last publisher, the manuscript sat idle for a long time, partly because I was too busy with other book projects to urge action. Then I did, worked with an editor, and completed the final editing in September of 2003. Finally, in early 2005, Korean artist Eujin Kim Neilan was contracted to illustrate the book. Imagine a Dragon, my 106th title, was published in March of 2008. For writers, the moral of this saga is: if a piece of writing is good enough to be accepted once, but not published, there's a chance it will be accepted again and published—eventually.
More details of this book's long history are on my home page, www.laurencepringle.com, under the title How to Get a Children's Book Published (in Just 25 Simple Steps over 20 Years). My home page was launched in 2004. It lacks the "bells and whistles" of many author sites, but has one strength: the story behind the creation of certain books. Readers often report that they enjoy learning about these background stories. Indeed, one pleasure of my work is that each project is a different experience—including meeting and working with different people.
My nonfiction relies on the wisdom and cooperation of many kinds of experts. Beginning with Wolfman: Exploring the World of Wolves (1983) and concluding with Elephant Woman: Cynthia Moss Explores the World of Elephants (1997), I wrote seven books about wildlife biologists and the animals they study. Each of the scientists had extraordinary photographs to illustrate their books. In some cases I went "into the field" with them during the interview process. In each book I wrote about their childhoods, and traced the path—sometimes direct, sometimes roundabout—to their unusual careers.
More than a dozen scientists from all over North America helped with my eighty-eighth title, An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly. The roots of this book lie in a 1993 talk with editor Harold Underdown. We both admired the books of Holling Clancy Holling, such as Minn of the Mississippi, which is about a snapping turtle, but much more. It is rich with connections—to other life, history, geography, ecology. We wanted to create a shorter, simpler book with some of the same richness. I considered several creatures; monarch butterflies, with their amazing migration, seemed the most intriguing to me.
I chose to tell the story of one individual monarch. The book is well-researched nonfiction, yet has a character that readers care about as they follow her life story. (Some readers have told of crying at the book's end—definitely not a common experience with nonfiction!) Some of the information woven into the story, or revealed in sidebars, was so fresh that it had not yet been published in scientific journals. While I didn't actually need to visit a monarch winter colony in order to write the book, I leaped at the chance to go to Mexico with artist Bob Marstall. This experience enabled me to add a special detail: that the fluttering of countless butterfly wings makes noise like a breeze through the forest.
Published in 1997, An Extraordinary Life was awarded the Orbis Pictus Award as the best children's nonfiction book published that year by the National Council of Teachers of English. Every autumn since, I continue to be deeply touched by monarchs. Wherever I am in the fall—looking out my office window at butterfly bushes, driving a car, fishing on an Atlantic Ocean beach—my heart leaps when I see monarchs doing their best to reach faraway Mexico.
Research of a very different kind helped in the creation of One-Room School, a memoir of the last year that my first school existed. (I described the school and my teacher in my original autobiography for Contemporary Authors.) Of course I had my own vivid memories of school life, but learned more details by interviewing others who had attended the school, especially my brother and my classmates. For example, here are some One-Room School details about teacher Miss Shackelton: "She often wore dresses made with a flower pattern, and dusty rose nail polish. When she came close to my desk, I could smell her perfume. A girl said it was called Tabu." As a guy, I did not pay much attention to nail polish or perfume. Fortunately those details came from "a girl"—classmate Lucille (Palmer) Pattison. Lucille's brother, Byron, had some desks from our long-closed school in his barn. He brought them outdoors so I could photograph them. These photos helped the book's artist draw the desks correctly.
Research for my ninety-ninth book led me to an extraordinarily wise and helpful expert in Oregon, Jay Rasmussen. He was president of the Oregon chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. The book: Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark. Decades earlier I had learned that a Newfoundland dog named Seaman had accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition. "A good idea for a book," I thought. As the 200th-year celebration of the 1804-1806 expedition approached, I sought a publishing contract for such a book, and signed one. Later, as I dug deeply into the story of the dog, I learned that it is mentioned infrequently in the explorer's journals. (For one eight-month period, Seaman is not mentioned at all.)
So I had a choice: write a short book focusing on the known actions of the dog, or write a much-longer book about the whole expedition, focusing on the dog whenever possible. I chose the latter, partly because this gave me a good reason to read all of the expedition's richly detailed journals. (As usual, I enjoyed the research more than I did the writing.) Closer and closer to finishing the book, I wondered how I would end it. The fate of the dog had been a mystery for almost two centuries. Seaman was not mentioned in the journals after July 15, 1806, during the expedition's return from the Pacific. Historians had not found a shred of evidence about the fate of Seaman. I was about to write the last few pages of my book. Then, with exquisitely good timing, a historian announced in February, 2000, the discovery of the first evidence of what happened to Seaman. I was able to write what is likely a true ending for Dog of Discovery.
When this book was published in 2002, I assumed it would be my only title about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But I noticed that there were at least a half-dozen books about Seaman, and more than a dozen about Sacagawea, but only two about York—William Clark's personal servant. Moreover, one of the two York titles that existed in 2004 had major errors. It troubled me that young readers were being misled about York; I decided to write about him. Once again, historian Jay Rasmussen helped make my text, and the art, as accurate as possible. The artists had to re-do several drawings, as Jay pointed out problems in depicting clothing, weapons, landscapes, and so on. But Cornelius Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu responded well, and produced a gloriously colorful—and very accurate—book: American Slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As 2003 approached, it became clear that one of my three books to be published that year would be my one-hundredth. Publisher Boyds Mills Press printed a special book jacket celebrating the event. Up till age thirty or so, I never expected to write one book, let alone a hundred. The dedication of Whales! reads: "Dedicated with deep gratitude to all who helped and inspired me on an amazing journey that now leads to publication of this, my one hundredth book. Far too numerous to mention by name, they include my parents, children, and wife Susan, friends, teachers, mentors, librarians, scientists, editors, book designers, artists, and fellow writers." Susan organized a delightful party in honor of the event that was attended by a good number of the people referred to in the book's dedication.
Reaching this milestone was extraordinary, but my goal was never numbers. The total published could be much higher, had I skimped on research, had I cared less about accuracy. (Not all children's books authors do; most reviewers are librarians, who are understandably not expert enough to catch errors.) Quality is sometimes recognized: in 1999, the Washington Post/Children's Book Guild Award for Nonfiction; in 2005, a lifetime achievement award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (officially called the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books).
The most mind-boggling honor of all was a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Decades earlier I had proposed book projects (for adult
readers) and had not won. In autumn, 2006, I sent another proposal, and in February of 2007 learned that I had been selected for a fellowship—a rare honor for a children's book author. My proposal: to write at least two children's books about evolution.
Charles Darwin's ideas about how life evolves have stood the test of time—and countless investigations—to become the very foundation of modern biology. His ideas and evidence of a century ago could have been proved wrong by modern discoveries in genetics, biochemistry, and other sciences. Instead, they have been confirmed. Evidence continues to show that evolution occurred, and is occurring. Each year the theory of evolution grows stronger.
Those in the business of denying evolution pounce on that word: theory. "It is just a theory," they say. This reveals their ignorance about science, or their goal of exploiting the ignorance of others. In common use, the word "theory" can mean a hunch, an idea, a hypothesis. In science, the word has a very different meaning. In science, a theory is supported by an extraordinary amount of evidence. In science, saying that something is "only a theory" is nonsensical.
Evolution is one of the most solidly established theories in all of science. Nevertheless, in the United States some politicians and many citizens say they do not believe in evolution. Some call for schools to teach alternatives to the theory of evolution. (There are none in science.) The United States stands alone in this resistance to reality; in other industrialized nations, eighty percent or more of citizens accept evolution.
This sad situation, plus my long record of exploring complex, controversial subjects with depth and clarity, led the Guggenheim Foundation to support my proposed writings. One book is written; at least one more will follow. Among my goals is to explain the evolutionary process—both what we know and how we know it. Once published, these books may be among the most important I've written.
In 2006, returning from a vacation in British Columbia, Canada, I remarked to friends that it has been delightful to visit a more-advanced, more-civilized nation. I had more than U.S. backwardness about evolution in mind. There was also U.S. government resistance to other scientific reality, especially the human role in global climate change. Two of my books, most recently Global Warming: The Threat of Earth's Changing Climate (2001), deal with this issue. Any person with a fifth-grade education, or higher, can understand the basic chemistry of climate change, and how the burning of long-buried fossil fuels is drastically affecting Earth's climate. Research by thousands of climate scientists add steadily to human understanding of this vital issue. Nevertheless, some U.S. politicians, editorial writers, and talk-radio ideologues continue to try to confuse the public. They preach that climate change is "a liberal hoax." Sometimes I am embarrassed to be from a nation where such anti-science propaganda flourishes.
One of my forthcoming books is about frogs, one of the many groups threatened by habitat changes caused by the coming climate disruptions. They are also appealing, fascinating creatures. However, I chose to write about frogs for a more personal reason: my own frog habitat restoration project in the neighborhood. Springtime at my West Nyack home is delightful, with trilliums and other wild flowers in the woods, the songs of wood thrushes, and a chorus of spring peepers. These frogs gather in the swampy woods of my neighbors, mate, and then disperse into the forest.
Early in the new century the local spring peeper chorus ceased. Drought had dried up the vernal ponds (usually full only in the spring), preventing tadpoles from developing into adults. My restoration project began in 2003; I brought in peeper tadpoles from other wetlands and began to dig out the basins that had formerly
been vernal ponds in the woods. (Digging into the clay on summer mornings, I recalled doing similar habitat improvement … as a teenager!) For several years I dug even more ponds, and deepened them all. Peeper calls now brighten my family's life each spring. The ponds may ensure that the frogs will survive droughts well into the future—long after I'm gone.
Way back in 1977 my book Death Is Natural was published. At that time I had not thought much about the end of life, but that reality can't be ignored by anyone in his or her seventies. The loss of loved ones also helps focus on one's own death; so does speaking at memorial services. My list of deceased loved ones includes a few cats, but especially my father (1988), brother Gary (1994), best friend Lois Murphy (1994), and mother (1995).
Just after my name at the beginning of this entry in Contemporary Authors, there is a date and a dash: 1935—. People don't usually get to choose the date after the dash. It could be later this year (2008); it could be a much higher number. For many reasons,
great and small, I prefer the latter. One odd reason: I want to experience another local emergence of seventeen-year cicadas. Brood II appeared in 1979 and 1996; I studied, photographed, and even transplanted these amazing insects, and hope to do the same in 2013. Less frivolous reasons: being in the lives of my wife and children as long as possible, being an active grandfather (should grandchildren ever appear!), doing genealogical research, reading, traveling, and—yes, writing more books on favorite subjects.
As I wrote earlier, I do not believe in gods or an afterlife. The only hell or heaven people will have is right here on Earth, during their "dash"—the length of time between birth and death. I've experienced both, but much more of paradise, thanks in part to my unexpected life's work of writing for children.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Arbuthnot, May Hill, Dianne L. Monson, and Zena Sutherland, Children and Books, 6th edition, Scott, Foresman (Chicago, IL), 1981.
Carter, Betty, and Richard F. Abrahamson, Nonfiction for Young Adults: From Delight to Wisdom, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1990.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Hearne, Betsy, and Marilyn Kaye, editors, Celebrating Children's Books: Essays on Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1981.
Otten, Charlotte F., and Gary D. Schmidt, editors, The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1989.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
Appraisal, winter, 1978, Gregory R. Belcher, review of Death Is Natural, pp. 39-40; winter, 1981, Gregory R. Belcher, review of Natural Fire: ItsEcology in Forests, p. 52; fall, 1980, David G. Hoag, review of Nuclear Power: From Physics to Politics, p. 54; winter, 1995, pp. 55-56; winter, 1996, pp. 48-49.
Booklist, October 1, 1981, Denise M. Wilms, review of What Shall We Do with the Land? Choices for America, p. 239; November 1, 1993, Chris Sherman, review of Jackal Woman: Exploring the World of Jackals, p. 520; January 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Scorpion Man: Exploring the World of Scorpions, p. 922; March 15, 1995, p. 1332; January 1, 1996, p. 812; December 1, 1996, p. 660; December 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Smoking: A Risky Business, p. 660; February 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Taste and Hearing, p. 1021; March 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bats! Strange and Wonderful, p. 1373; April 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Environmental Movement: From Its Roots to the Challenges of a New Century, p. 1459; April 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Global Warming: The Threat of Earth's Changing Climate, p. 1462; April 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sharks! Strange and Wonderful, p. 1548; July, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Strange Animals, New to Science, p. 1841; November 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Crows! Strange and Wonderful, pp. 500-501; December 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark, p. 666; March 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Whales! Strange and Wonderful, p. 1326; February 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Come to the Ocean's Edge: A Nature Cycle Book, p. 978; December 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Snakes! Strange and Wonderful, p. 672; November 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of American Slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, p. 51; February 15, 2007, Kristen McKulski, review of Penguins! Strange and Wonderful, p. 75; March 1, 2008, Linda Perkins, review of Imagine a Dragon, p. 64.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1993, review of Jackal Woman, p. 96; May, 1997, Susan S. Verner, review of An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly, pp. 333-334; October, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Naming the Cat, p. 65; April, 1998, review of One-Room School, p. 293; September, 2002, review of Strange Animals, New to Science, p. 31.
Childhood Education, spring, 2003, Jovita Heist, review of Crows!, p. 177, and Kristen Weimer, review of Dog of Discovery, p. 179.
Children's Literature Association Quarterly, winter, 1994-95, Mary Harris Veeder, "Children's Books on Rain Forests: Beyond the Macaw Mystique," pp. 165-169.
Horn Book, December, 1979, Harry C. Stubbs, review of Natural Fire, p. 688; September-October, 1989, review of Bearman: Exploring the World of Black Bears, pp. 641-642; September-October, 1990, Margaret A. Bush, review of Global Warming, p. 620; November-December, 1995, Margaret A. Bush, review of Coral Reefs: Earth's Undersea Treasures, p. 757; May-June, 1997, Ellen Fader, review of An Extraordinary Life, p. 344; January-February, 1998, Margaret A. Bush, review of Elephant Woman: Cynthia Moss Explores the World of Elephants, p. 95; July, 2001, review of A Dragon in the Sky: The Story of a Green Darner Dragonfly, p. 475; May-June, 2007, Danielle J. Ford, review of Penguins!, p. 303.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1969, review of The Only Earth We Have, p. 1017; April 15, 1971, review of One Earth, Many People: The Challenge of Human Population, p. 448; October 1, 1976, review of Listen to the Crows, p. 1099; November 1, 1981, review of What Shall We Do with the Land?, p. 1350; February 15, 1997, review of An Extraordinary Life, p. 304; July 1, 1997, review of Naming the Cat, p. 1035; November 1, 1997, review of Elephant Woman, p. 1648; August 15, 2002, review of Crows!, p. 1232; March 1, 2003, review of Whales!, p. 396; August 15, 2004, review of Snakes!, p. 811; October 15, 2006, review of American Slave, American Hero, p. 1077; February 1, 2007, review of Penguins!, p. 128; January 1, 2008, review of Imagine a Dragon.
Language Arts, Richard M. Kerper, "Art Influencing Art," pp. 60-67.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1993, review of Octopus Hug, p. 79; January 2, 1995, review of Dinosaurs! Strange and Wonderful, p. 77; January 5, 1998, review of One-Room School, p. 67.
School Library Journal, December, 1981, Julia Rholes, review of What Shall We Do with the Land?, p. 72; April, 1989, Alan Newman, review of Nuclear Energy, pp. 124-125; February, 1990, Judith Gloyer, review of Jesse Builds a Road, p. 78; July, 1991, Karey Wehner, review of Batman: Exploring the World of Bats, p. 85; December, 1993, Susan Oliver, review of Jackal Woman, p. 130; January, 1994, Louise L. Sherman, review of Octopus Hug, p. 97; March, 1995, Karey Wehner, review of Scorpion Man, pp. 217- 218; September, 1997, Marlene Gawron, review of Nature! Wild and Wonderful, p. 199; December, 1997, Susan Oliver, review of Elephant Woman, pp. 145-146; April, 1998, Evelyn Butrico, review of One-Room School, pp. 123-124; March, 2000, Peg Glisson, review of Hearing, p. 261; June, 2000, Kathy Piehl, The Environmental Movement, p. 170; June, 2000, Karey Wehner, review of Bats!, p. 135; June, 2001, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of Global Warming, p. 178; August, 2001, Patricia Manning, review of Sharks!, and Ellen Heath, review of A Dragon in the Sky, p. 172; August, 2002, Nancy Call, review of Strange Animals, New to Science, p. 216; September, 2002, Cynthia M. Sturgis, review of Crows!, p. 217, and Janet Gillen, review of Dog of Discovery, p. 231; February, 2003, Linda L. Walkins, review of Bear Hug, p. 120; April, 2003, Patricia Manning, review of Whales!, p. 154; August, 2003, Kathy Piehl, review of The Environmental Movement, pp. 116-117; October, 2003, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Come to the Ocean's Edge, p. 156; September, 2004, Karey Wehner, review of Snakes!, p. 191; January, 2007, Pat Leach, review of American Slave, American Hero, p. 119; April, 2007, Barbara Auerbach, review of Penguins!, p. 126.
Science Books, September, 1968, review of Dinosaurs and Their World, p. 114; September, 1971, review of One Earth, Many People, p. 144.
Scientific American, December, 1982, review of Vampire Bats and Frost Hollows and Other Microclimates, both p. 39; December, 1991, review of Batman, p. 150; December, 1993, review of Jackal Woman, p. 135.
Teaching K-8, April, 2003, Becky Rodia, "The Call of the Wild," pp. 42-44.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1997, Mary B. McCarthy, review of Smoking, p. 60.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1991, Frances Bradburn, review of Global Warming, p. 109; November, 1991, Frances Bradburn, review of Living Treasure: Saving Earth's Threatened Biodiversity, pp. 95-96.
Authors and Illustrators Who Visit Schools,http://www.authorsillustrators.com/ (September 19, 2004), "Laurence Pringle."
Boyds Mills Press Web site,http://www.boydsmillspress.com/ (April 15, 2008), "Laurence Pringle."
ChildrensLit.com,http://www.childrenslit.com/ (July 21, 2007), interview with Pringle.
Laurence Pringle Home Page,http://www.laurencepringle.com (July 21, 2007).