Mary Holland is the author of the new children's book Otis the Owl. Her many other books include Animal Eyes and Animal Legs. She is a naturalist, nature photographer, and columnist, and she lives in Vermont.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Otis the Owl, and which came first, the photographs or the idea for the text?
A: I was fortunate enough to become aware of a cavity being used by nesting barred owls, late in the nestling stage, when the young were first coming to the entrance hole, days before they departed.
I spent several days in a blind, photographing the antics of the nestlings, and the coming and going of the parents as they brought food to their two young owls. The idea of writing a book came after photographing them. My grandson Otis was being born as these owls were fledging – thus the title!
I have a natural history blog, in which I write five posts a week. The same process occurs here – I spend time each day outdoors with my camera, and the next day’s post is about the most interesting subject that I find to photograph.
Q: What do you hope young readers take away from this book?
A: The objective behind all of my books, children and adult, is to pique curiosity in readers about the natural world that is outside their door. Especially with children, who seem to be born with an innate interest in nature, if you foster this interest it is bound to encourage a concern for the environment and all forms of life that inhabit the earth.
Specifically I hope the following ideas might be tickled in a child’s mind after reading the book:
A realization that dead trees, or snags, are important habitats for nesting birds and other wildlife.
Predators may kill other animals, but it is for a purpose, and their prey is not wasted.
Parenting is a big responsibility.
Owls have a variety of specialized adaptations (see “For Creative Minds” in back of book).
An increased curiosity and sense of observation in the out of doors.
Q: You’ve spent many years writing and educating people about nature. What made you decide to become a naturalist?
A: I had the good fortune to have been raised in a very rural part of New England, and was exposed to all kinds of plants and animals on a daily basis. Books about animals (Thornton Burgess’s, for instance) were a staple in my house. Collections of all kinds of natural objects (skulls, bones, etc.) were not only tolerated, but encouraged by very tolerant parents.
Upon graduating from college I lived and worked in a city for a year, and learned that I was not meant to spend every day inside an office. After volunteering for the Audubon society, I realized my calling, went back to school and the rest is history.
Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to environmental education?
A: Personally, I am now educating through my blog and books much more than through hands-on teaching, which I’ve done in the past. In general, I think environmental education is more crucial than ever, given the state of the world, and the United States in particular, right now.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am in the middle of a series of children’s books on animal anatomy. Animal Mouths, Animal Eyes, and Animal Legs have been published. There are several more books in this series, including Animal Tails and Animal Noses, that are yet to be published.
My blog (which is also on Facebook under “Naturally Curious”) is central to my life right now. A portion of every day is spent exploring outdoors, photographing, researching and writing about various plants and animals. I have been writing this blog for seven years and am grateful to have many subscribers.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: A total list of my published books includes:
Naturally Curious (2010 National Outdoor Book Award)
Naturally Curious Day by Day
Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer
The Beavers’ Busy Year
Otis the Owl
--Interview with Deborah Kalb