Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greening it up in Florida with Books & Books Indie, Greg Mortenson, and S. Terrell French

Just yesterday I returned from Florida where green is definitely the prevailing color and conservation is literally a hot topic. (I photographed this white heron beside Clyde Butcher's Gallery in the heart of the Everglades.)

In Coral Gables, Florida, I visited one of the most outstanding independent bookstores in the country, Books & Books . While in town, I was inspired by guest speaker Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea, Listen to the Wind, Stones into Schools), whose visit to Miami was sponsered by the store. All this literary saturation reminded me that I have not spent much blogging time on my primary passion, children's literature.

So today, I present to you S. Terrell French, fabulous author of an exciting eco-adventure. Her book, Operation Redwood, has made it from her west coast home to bookstore shelves everywhere. I was thrilled to see it featured face out on the shelf of Books & Books, a store about as far away from her California home as one can travel and still be in the continental United States.
Welcome Susannah! Tell us some of the most interesting things you learned about redwoods while researching Operation Redwood.

My pleasure. Redwood trees not only are among the longest-living trees on the planet, they've also been around a very long time. A species very similar to the modern redwood was widespread during the Jurassic period! Redwoods also create their own weather; in the summer, they essentially suck fog out of the air and into the redwood ecosystem.

• Amazing! Many children spend very little time interacting with nature in any form. How important do you think it is for children to explore the outdoors?

I think kids gain a lot by spending time away from man-made spaces, where they can see the natural world and experience a sense of freedom in their play. At the same time, it can be hard for urban and even suburban parents to find these opportunities for their kids. I struggle with that myself raising a family in San Francisco, though we're fortunate to have lots of fairly wild spaces nearby. But even weekend camping, summer camp, and day trips do, I think, leave a lasting impression on kids.

• What do you think people would take away from a visit to the Redwood Forest National Park and Muir Woods? Do you think they might be changed by the experience?

Redwoods give you a sense of a time scale entirely different from the human time scale. Redwoods can live more than 2,000 years, so some of the trees in an old-growth forest were ancient even before the first Europeans arrived in California. Redwood forests are also wonderfully quiet and beautiful; they invite contemplation.

• I know you enjoy visiting schools. Have you been surprised by any of your school experiences?

Most kids in the San Francisco Bay Area have been to redwood forests with their family or on school trips. They are really quite knowledgeable and many have even kissed a banana slug (which, for some reason, is a popular redwood activity out here!). Everywhere I go, the kids are so attentive and polite and I'm always impressed by how much they love to read.

• Is Operation Redwood the first and last title considered for your book?

It was always my title. My publisher considered changing it, but couldn't come up with anything they liked better.

• You're better at titles than I! My books have gone through many title changes. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Operation Redwood?

It's a good book for kids who might be intrigued by living in a tree house!

And now, since Julian from Operation Redwood has appeared, I'd like to ask him a few questions.
Julian, I understand that your uncle planned to cut down the redwoods. Where did you get the courage to defy your uncle?

Well, I never really set out to defy my Uncle Sibley. But in the end, I couldn't let Robin down. And pretty much anything we would do to try to save Big Tree Grove was going to make him angry. Unless Sibley just changed his mind about the logging. Which it didn't seem like he was going to do.

• How do you feel when you’re in a redwood forest?

I like being there at night -- looking up at the stars. And during the day, it's quiet. And beautiful. It's not at all like San Francisco with concrete and buildings everywhere.

• Julian, why was it important for you to save these trees in particular?

Robin's redwoods are special because nobody else is around. You're in the middle of nowhere, without tourists or fences or snack bars. You realize Big Tree Grove has probably been the same for thousands and thousands of years.

• What advice would you give to other kids who want to protect the environment?

That's hard. There's all the usual stuff they teach you in school -- ride your bike, recycle, turn out the lights. If somebody can make a lot of money by cutting down a forest or filling up a wild space with roads or buildings, the only people who are going to do something about it are the people who really care about that place.

• Do you think you have anything in common with S. Terrell French's own children?

We all grew up in San Francisco. We like to go to Green Apple Books and the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe.

• What would you like us to know about S. Terrell French?

She put together a cool website ; You can get a link to a real canopy scientist climbing the world' tallest tree, Hyperion.

Julian, thanks for taking a break from school to answer these questions. And Susannah, I appreciate your allowing me to interrupt your tight schedule also.

Thanks for this opportunity, Bonnie, and I hope we meet on an eco panel some day!

I hope you enjoyed meeting S. Terrell French as much as I did. Remember, for a young reader's holiday gift list : Operation Redwood.

One more book I highly recommend for a holiday gift is brand-spanking new from the amazing Jean Craighead George: Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain.

And if you wish to give to the cause of peace and literacy this holiday season, please consider Pennies for Peace, an international service-learning program, inspired by Greg Mortensen and energized by school children.
Happy reading and the best of holidays to you and your loved ones.


  1. Can't wait to read this one! I so enjoyed being in Muir Woods this summer during a visit to San Francisco. Now anything "redwood" catches my eye. Thanks for the great interview! It was a fun read.

  2. Gorgeous book cover for Operation Redwood!

  3. Yay for redwoods! Ditto-ing the Muir Woods comment above... lovely, inspiring place. Thanks for the great interview, Bonnie!

  4. Operation Redwood is terrific! So deserving of all the attention it's getting. Great interview, Bonnie.

  5. Muir woods is incredible! I have two kids and love to see how they are growing up the green generation. Thanks to those authors who support it!

  6. I remember visiting the redwoods as a kid. Great interview Bonnie.

  7. Great interview, Bonnie! Your blog always inspires me to live "greener".

  8. Thanks for the great interview. Operation Redwood sounds amazing. I've been to the Redwoods and they are inspiring. There's nothing as important as saving our natural world.

  9. Fantastic interview, Bonnie! I agree with what Susannah said about kids spending time in natural places. It's so important for instilling that connection and inspiring them (and all of us) to fight to keep them green and alive.

  10. I appreciate everyone's comments. It's wonderful to hear from supporters of Earth and good reads. Keep the faith!