The Call of the Wild, by Becky Rodia
Author Laurence Pringle presents the true nature of the natural world in over 100 books
As a child, Laurence Pringle's two passions were reading and roaming around outdoors. He describes it as "an uninformed roaming."
"There are a lot of misunderstood critters out there...but I think good books help a little bit."
"There was no great wealth of field guides yet," he recalled. "I encountered birds and other animals, but I didn't know what I was looking at."
What Larry did know was that he felt very comfortable outdoors; he felt connected to nature. That connection, as well as his love of reading, led him to a career as an author of more than 100 books, primarily nonfiction about the natural world.
At home with nature. Larry Pringle's writing room in his West Nyack, NY home seemed connected to nature as well. The floors, wainscoting, moldings and built-in bookcases were made of warm-toned wood. The high ceiling and large windows gave the room an airy feeling. Through the windows, we could see the woods that surround Larry's house. The walls of the room were mostly bare, which added to the openness, but the built-in bookcases were packed with books as well as artifacts from Larry's travels and studies - abalone shells from New Zealand, a whale vertebra, drawings kids made for him on his many school visits. Before we sat down to chat, we spent several minutes watching birds and squirrels nibble at the bird feeder outside one window.
Larry's activities in this tranquil room vary from day to day. Sometimes he's conducting research for a book, sometimes he's writing. Whatever form his work takes on a given day, Larry likes to have a lot of time in which to get it done.
"I know some writers who can grab a half hour or an hour wherever they can get it," Larry told us. "That's not usually the case with me. I need a nice long block of time. I used to take a nap in the evenings and then get up and write from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m, when everyone else was asleep. Sometimes I even pull all-nighters, close to the deadline of a book. There's no greater incentive than a deadline."
Thirty-five years, 100 books. Those all-nighters have paid off; Larry's published works fill three shelves of his office's built-in bookcase. Each book on those three shelves bears a numbered label pasted three-quarters of the way down the spine - Larry numbers his published books for his own reference and, so far, he has published more than 100. Book #1 on this special shelf is Dinosaurs and Their World, which was published in 1968.
Four of Larry's many books. While writing Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark, Larry had access to the journals from the expedition.
"I talk about that first book a lot when I visit schools," Larry told us. "I tell the kids that it took me months and months to write the book, and then it was rejected eight times before it was published. The first review of the book said something like 'If the world needs another dinosaur book, it isn't this one.' The book went on to do well."
"Then I tell the kids, 'If you're ever in a library and find that book on a shelf, take it from the shelf and tell the librarian to throw it away.' I ask the kids why they think I would ask them to do such a thing. They give some interesting answers - a lot of times, they think it's because the pictures are black and white. The real answer has to do with the fact that it's a 35-year-old book about dinosaurs, therefore it's not a good source of information today, because we've learned so much more about dinosaurs in those 35 years."
Who are you calling a monster? When we asked Larry how he felt about the accuracy of nonfiction books, especially where "misunderstood" animals are concerned, he offered an interesting take on the issue.
"There are a lot of misunderstood critters out there," he said. "That bothers me, but I think good books help a little bit. I wrote a book, Animal Monsters: The Truth About Scary Creatures, about animals that can kill people, or are reputed to be able to do so, and animals that have frightening names like 'Tasmanian devil' and 'gila monster.' I think it's important to get the truth out and maybe change a few minds.
Larry shows Teaching K-8's Senior Editor Becky Rodia a whale vertebra he acquired during his travels.
"I also included the Loch Ness monster and sea serpents in that book. Neither of them exist, as far as I'm concerned, but I put them in because I'd like kids to ask themselves, 'What kind of evidence is trustworthy? Is eyewitness evidence always trustworthy?' It was my little axe to grind; I wanted to urge them to really think."
On top of his game. So, what is Laurence Pringle thinking about these days? For starters, this spring Boyds Mills Press will publish Bear Hug, a book that revisits the fun-loving family readers met in Octopus Hug (Boyds Mills Press, 1996), a picture book that featured a father playfully roughhousing with his son and daughter. And, of course, Larry's got ideas for books that haven't yet been accepted by a publisher - books about sea turtles and Weddell seals.
Sometimes, Larry's not thinking about books at all. "I have all these distractions that I indulge," he admitted. "I think if I was really on top of my game, I'd be doing six or seven books a year. It's like that old line about how we use only a very tiny percent of our brains."
That old line may be true, but we're willing to bet that only a very tiny percent of people have over 100 books to their credit, as well as a readership who's anxiously awaiting the next 100.
Becky Rodia, senior editor Teaching K-8 magazine.