One of the reasons this blog intrigued me is because my story is ABOUT an ape, an orangutan, to be exact. I have been a wildlife artist for many years, and very often went to my local zoo (Phoenix) to sketch and paint the animals. I just brought a little folding chair and set it up in front of an exhibit and did pencil sketches, or I brought paints and an easel if I had more time. I was able to combine my love of wild animals with my love of art, and I think drawing from life, especially a moving subject, improved my skill. In any event, it’s been loads of fun!
I always had a tough time in the summer months when temperatures ranged from 110 to 120 degrees F, so I went very early and left at 10:30 or 11:00. A few years ago, the zoo built a beautiful new exhibit for the orangutans, including an air-conditioned observation room with glass walls. I was thrilled when the employees said it was ok to bring in my art gear. I drew the orangutans exclusively during the hot months, and as I got to know them better, I researched their critically endangered status.
Having a background as an elementary school teacher, I’d always had a passion for children’s literature, and I decided to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy took 6 months to write and illustrate.
A lot of the time was spent in communicating with orangutan experts in Borneo, and with administrators of rescue foundations. Serendipitously, I found a publisher, Dancing Dakini Press, who specialized in books about the natural world, and endangered species.
Since my target audience is aged 5-8, I didn’t want to dwell on sad things that they can’t do anything about, like threatened extinction. Instead, I made the story upbeat and lively, in hopes that young readers will fall in love with orangutans, and do something when they grow up. Since its publication in November 2015, I’ve become even more interested in preserving wild habitats for orangutans, and am donating 20% of sales to various orangutan rescue foundations.
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