Friday, October 17, 2008

Pioneers of Nonfiction #3: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

I put off writing about Dorothy for a couple months because she did a guest blog here, but I just can’t help it any longer because she’s great! Like Larry Pringle, Dorothy has been one of those people quietly blazing the trail for a whole generation of other nonfiction writers, especially in science. Like many other science writers, she grew up with a fascination in the world around her. She earned a bachelor’s in Biology from Stanford and a Ph.D. in Zoology from my own alma mater, Berkeley. Her first children’s book, Weasels, Otters, Skunks and Their Family was published in 1973—a full twenty years before my first book came out! Remarkably, she is still actively pushing the envelope of nonfiction, even after having more than 130 books published and winning countless awards.

What I most admire about Dorothy’s work is that, like Larry Pringle and other top writers, she tackles subjects she thinks are important instead of only focusing on their sales potential. She was one of the first writers to tackle evolution, mimicry, and reproduction. She has helped educate young people about everything from horses to mosquitoes to living in a family that hunts.

Some of my favorite recent books by Dorothy have been published by Clarion. They include Biodiversity; Fire—Friend or Foe; and The Buffalo and the Indians—A Shared Destiny. All of these books tackle tough, controversial subjects, but Dorothy explains them in straight-talking, highly readable ways. And some of her recent picture books are just downright fun. My faves include The Right Dog for the Job; Fabulous Fluttering Tropical Butterflies; and Slinky Scaly Slithery Snakes. The last two include astonishing artwork by Montana artist Kendahl Jan Jubb.

Besides greatly admiring Dorothy’s work and her contribution to children’s literature, I am fortunate to be able to count her as one of my friends. When I moved to Montana twelve years ago, she welcomed me into her writer’s group, and we have been friends ever since. I continue to learn from her and her work, and always look forward to what she comes up with next!

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