Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Girl and Her Critters -- Life Changing Nonfiction

As a kid in Friendswood, Texas, I grew up chasing snakes, frogs, toads and lizards – dodging dance class and piano lessons.  I was a whirlwind of a little girl, knee deep in activities traditionally earmarked for boys.  When I walked into the public library and the library at school, finding books I thought were “for me” was nearly impossible.  

Copy #2 of my first life-changing book.
Even so, one book I did find, literally changed my life – A Golden Nature Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians. 

We moved to the Houston suburbs just before I started Kindergarten.  When I wasn’t at school, I practically lived outside, but so did every poisonous snake in North America.  Tying me down was not an option, so knowledge was my only defense. 

My parents bought me the little book.  They poured through the pages with me, ceremoniously circling the venomous snakes with a red Magic Marker. 

“Don’t touch THESE snakes,” they would tell me, making it clear what they were called and what markings identified them.  

That book literally changed my life.  It gave me knowledge, freedom and even expertise.  As the years flew past, the neighbors  who once saw me as an odd little  fish out of water, turned to me for information. 

“Run get Kelly,” they said.  “She’ll know what this snake actually is.” 
Copperhead snake

If I said it was safe, they let it go.  If I said it was a danger, other measures were taken.  I begged them to let those venomous snakes go, too, but I didn’t always win their release.

That little book gave me direction, sure, but it also gave me purpose.   That little book even made it okay for me to be exactly the kid I was born to be.  I was a little weird, especially as a little girl of the early 1960s, but that was okay – thanks to the power in the facts of that book. 

There is not a doubt in my mind I became a nonfiction writer because of that book, and the absence of others like it.  I write now for the kid I used to be.  

Today, there are dozens of exceptional books for young readers on nature and animals – dozens of books I would have loved to check out and own, had they been around when I was a child.  But the diversity of author voices is as important now as it ever has been. 

Weird and proud of it!
You may not write or read the books I write and read, but the topics you do love will give comfort to young readers – the kids waiting to discover they are not alone in their “weird” and wonderful interests.  When they find the right books, they also find the safety of kinship. 
If you’re really, really lucky as a writer, parent, librarian or teacher, you’ll feel the kinship, too.  When that happens, anything is possible.  

A wise man once told me, everything in life is about human connection. The right books reveal the paths to human connection, and those books change lives every day.  When an adult shares the right book with the right kid, magic is not only within reach, it is unstoppable.

                                            -- Kelly Milner Halls

I would have loved Marty Crump's amazing book as a kid.

Another stellar option by Seymour Simon.


Alicia said...

Great post! I remember those Golden nature guides as well. My son and I always enjoy Seymour Simon's books, as well as your own. As a kid, I always wanted to read the geography books and was the weird middle schooler with a subscription to Travel + Leisure. Our passions start at an early age so it's great to help the next generation find more sources to inspire them...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. We love your books. Smiles, Anna

Rich Wallace said...

Kelly, I had that exact same book and loved it, even though all we had in suburban NJ were a few garter snakes. I felt a surge of excitement when I saw that book cover again in this excellent blog post.

Brandon Marie Miller said...

Nice blog! The best nonfiction happens when we write for the kid we used to be!

Roxyanne Young said...

"Run get Kelly. She'll know if this big hairy critter is a Bigfoot, a Sasquatch, or a regular old swamp ape, or wait, maybe it's an alien!" I love your sense of weird, and I love seeing how excited you get about the books you write, but most of all, I've been one of the lucky ones who got to watch you share your books and your passion for oddities with school kids, and that, my friend, is your Gift. You are a blessing.

cmills said...

Oh, I loved "Run get Kelly. She'll know what this snake is"! Those powerful moments when we come into our destiny. Lucky for a LOT of readers was the day that snake book came into your hands.

Joan said...

Loved spending time in the woods of upstate New York - can totally relate to reading all the animal books my school library had! Now my students love reading your nonfiction - love those "weird" topics: Bigfoot,Sasquatch, Aliens... Keep writing Kelly!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton said...

Kelly-- you are weirdly wonderful! <3

Sue said...

Great post, Kelly. You are such an inspiration to kids.

Anonymous said...

And now kids are running to get Kelly's books. How wonderful! (To the kid with the snake book from the kid with the fossil book).

Kelly Milner Halls said...

Thank you so much, Alicia, Anna, Rich, Brandon Marie, Roxy, Claudia, Joan, Elizabeth, Sue and Sue. Not only have I found my tribe with those odd little kids like the kid I was, I've found it with grown-ups like you. Please know how much I appreciate you. <3