GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Even though the Christmas season is over, it's never too late to give the gift of reading.
With its vibrant illustrations and attractive verses, Midji Stephenson's "Whose Tail on the Trail at Grand Canyon?" is just the thing for early readers.
Stephenson wrote "Whose Tail..." for preschool through third grade children. The book encourages young readers to identify the animal from its tail before turning the page and discovering the answer, while journeying below the rim to Phantom Ranch - ideal for interactive story time.
After recovering from stage three breast cancer in 2008, Stephenson decided to volunteer at the Grand Canyon National Park Service Library. It was here where Stephenson got the idea for her first children's book.
"It was a snowy winter, so we walked a lot from work to our housing," Stephenson said, who is also a former librarian and schoolteacher. "All of a sudden at the end of the trailhead was the tail end of something that wasn't human."
The tail turned out to be the tail end of an elk, sparking Stephenson's imagination.
"I thought, 'oh my gosh, how many times when we're hiking do we usually just see the tail end of animals as they scamper off into the bushes or rocks,'" she said.
But writing a children's book on tails isn't as straightforward as it may seem. Stephenson said she had to do quite a bit of research on tails, starting while she was still living at the Canyon and continuing on after she returned home to Tucson.
Already thinking of ways to expand her love of tails in other ways, Stephenson is considering writing other "Tail" books for National Parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite.
The book's illustrator, Kenneth Spengler, has completed more than 15 children's books, and "Whose Tail..." is his most recent. The California-based artist considers his forte animals and animal related books, but also illustrates a variety of subjects from posters, bank billboards to murder mysteries. Spengler likens the art of book illustration to movie making. After reading the manuscript, he imagines and develops the characters from his interpretation, something he enjoys the most about his work.
"It was fun creating positive and negative shapes and have the animals pop out of the pages," Spengler said about "Whose Tail...." "I like different perspectives, bright colors and different angles to play with the eyes."
Typically, Spengler said he has a six-month deadline to complete artwork. First he'll sketch out his preliminary work and send it back to the publishing house's art director for approval to move ahead. For this book, the GCA gave Spengler references on which to base his animal illustrations to create the most accurate depictions possible, while working remotely.
While drawing the creatures, Spengler said he found the skunk near Phantom Ranch the most challenging, because that portion of the Canyon required the most research on his part. On the other hand, he had the most fun with the deer found on the Canyon's rim,
"I think the biggest surprise to me was the ringtail," he said. "I didn't know that particular animal lived at the Canyon. It's so unique and exotic looking."
"Whose Tail on the Trail at the Grand Canyon" is published by the Grand Canyon Association, the National Park Service's official non-profit partner, to benefit Grand Canyon National Park, operate retail stores and visitor centers within the park, and provide premier educational opportunities about the natural and cultural history of the Grand Canyon. The GCA uses proceeds from the sale of this publication to support research and education at Grand Canyon National Park.
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