October 16, 2012
Exactly three weeks from tomorrow, Wild Horse Scientists will finally go out into the world! I’m very excited; this book has been a long time in the making, as I’ll explain below. But first, another bit of good news: Wild Horse Scientists has received a starred review from the venerable Kirkus Reviews! One of my favorite lines from the review is this:
Underlying these particular stories are important concepts, lucidly conveyed: Scientists work together to solve problems, solutions can be a long time coming and sometimes approaches fail.
This is so true, and the long gestation period that finally gave birth to Wild Horse Scientists proves it can be as true of writing as it is of science.
I first started thinking seriously of writing a book about the wild horses of Assateague Island in 1995, but the seeds of my interest go back even further, to a horse-obsessed and book-loving childhood. You could trace it to my reading of two beloved children’s novels by Marguerite Henry: Misty of Chincoteague and Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West. Both are fictionalized versions of real events—the first involving the wild horses of Assateague and their traditional swim and “pony penning,” and the second a story based on the life and work of Velma Bronn Johnston, later known as Wild Horse Annie, who almost single-handedly created the first real legislation protecting wild horses in America.
But it wasn’t until I happened to read an article in the July 23, 1995 issue of the Baltimore Sun Magazine that I decided to research and write a book. By this time, both Ron Keiper and Jay Kirkpatrick, two of the scientists I write about, had separately been studying and working with these wild horses for more than 20 years, and Allison Turner, National Park Service biological technician and wild horse specialist, had already begun her work on the island. If you asked them today, they’d tell you they never expected this wild horses project to continue for so many years when they started. For biologist Jay Kirkpatrick, a problem he first tackled as a young researcher in 1971 grew into a lifelong quest that continues today.
So back in 1998, after much enjoyable research that included a visit to Assateague, Chincoteague, and the annual pony penning and auction, I wrote a long proposal for a very different book, for an adult audience It never sold. But I kept on collecting books, articles and photos in my “Chincoteague pony” folder, not knowing if I’d ever use them. By 2009, when I started thinking about another sort of book, Google had made it simple for me to locate and approach both Dr. Keiper and Dr.Kirkpatrick. I was thrilled to meet them after all those years. Better yet, they were both enthusiastic about working with me on this project! Everything came together after that, when my wonderful editors at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children said they shared our enthusiasm.
Nowadays everything seems to move so fast. A million fascinating things vie for our attention every waking minute, and often we find ourselves posting “status updates” from our phones to social media sites even before the experience we’re posting about has finished happening.
But it turns out that some things just can’t be rushed.