by Tammy Burke
The stories you must be able to tell…conducting research on elephants, rhinos and wild baboons in Kenya, Africa, visiting six continents and teaching field-based conservation programs in here in the states, Africa, and Asia. I am curious. What originally got you into this field? Was this a childhood dream? What do you like best about it? Also, how did wildlife preservation lead you to not only being published in veterinary journals and conservation newsletters but also writing children’s books?
Jessica Dimuzio: Both my husband and I read Thornton W. Burgess books about animals as children, a fact that obviously greatly influenced us. Our favorite thing to do is look for wildlife in their natural habitats. He became a conservation biologist and I pursued veterinary medicine,
specializing in wildlife preservation. Winning a scholarship, I had the opportunity to study wild baboons in Kenya, Africa. Soon after my studies ended, the land was sold to a cooperative of small farmers who regarded baboons as pests. The only way to save the baboons was to relocate them to a remote area of the country. The realization that land preservation was as vital as species studies led me, with my husband, Dr. Tim Halverson, to design holistic conservation education programs. We incorporated animal studies, land use, culture, and economics and conducted these conservation programs for college students and wildlife biologists in the United States, Africa, and Asia.
But it wasn’t enough for me. To create a lasting conservation impact, I believed I needed to reach youngsters, inspiring them to connect with the natural world and revel in its mysteries. The enthusiasm of students in naturalist programs I led in the U.S. and abroad encouraged me to engage even more children by relating true stories from my work, through writing and speaking engagements.
May I say, what a brilliant idea of grabbing children’s attention while conveying conservation ideas by using Johnny Angel, a Papillon dog, as Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!’s point of view character. And how exciting to have received a personal note of appreciation from celebrity Betty White and an excellent review from US Review of Books! Could you tell us the inspiration of behind the tale? Also, could you tell us a little bit about your new book “Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?”
Jessica Dimuzio: I have always considered myself a non-fiction storyteller, and one day I was relating to a friend of mine the fact that my 5 pound, not even 2 year old Papillon puppy saved a 700-acre farm park from being destroyed. She said, “Jessica, you write for kids. This is a great story.” You know, sometimes when it is in your backyard you don’t think it important or newsworthy? So the next day, I sat down and wrote “Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!”
Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now? recounts Johnny Angel’s obsession with eating garden-fresh, mouth-picked green beans and I thought it would be a unique approach (and hopefully humorous one) to get kids interested in organic gardening and eating homegrown vegetables. But the ending was a surprise to me!
I understand Nature Tales and Trails, LLC came into existence in 2011. Could you tell us a little about it, its programs and what you do? What do you find most rewarding? What would you like to see in its future?
Jessica Dimuzio: Our mission at Nature Tales and Trails is to connect children to the natural world through classroom talks, nature walks, and books about our adventures working with wildlife at home and around the world.
If you are interested in “Stories from the Wild—Programs for Your Child” contact me through Nature Tales and Trails, LLC at http://www.naturetalesandtrails.com .
In 2009 you joined Young Writers’ Day Program and began teaching persuasive writing and civic responsibility to elementary school children. What do you most rewarding? What do you find most challenging?
Jessica Dimuzio: Young Writers’ Day has been in existence for 30 years and writers of all genres teach their craft to elementary schools. I was hired as a last minute replacement (okay, I was given 12 hours) to come up with a writing exercise for third graders. I told the leader, Mary Beth Lauer, that I talk about writing a petition in Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, can I teach that? And I have been teaching petition writing and civic responsibility ever since. Through Nature Tales and Trails, I now bring persuasive writing, civic responsibility, and conservation programs to middle schools as well.
I’ve always struggled with discussing “adult” topics with kids but I have learned that there are ways that you can awaken their awareness in a positive way. With all the negative news they receive, when I show them they can make a difference in their world—whether home, neighborhood, school, and they see it and feel it, I know I we need to influence them that they can do amazing things. When I ask them “What is Johnny Angel’s message in Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, and they say: It doesn’t matter what size, age, or species we are, we can make a difference” it is truly rewarding and uplifting.
On your personal website you have “The destination: unchanged. The path: unpredictable. The journey: full circle.” Could you tell us a little bit about how your activities have come full circle?
Jessica Dimuzio: My passion is wildlife preservation and that destination has never changed.
The path has been unpredictable, starting with single species research to saving habitats, to teaching holistic approaches to conservation, to writing for children, to sharing the work and the journey with children.
It was the children’s books about nature that I read as a kid that inspired me to love, respect, and ultimately want to protect wildlife. With my childrens’ books and programs, I feel I am reaching more people, having a bigger impact through my work—whether writing, teaching, or conducting nature walks. I feel I have come: Full Circle.
I understand you are the founder of Milestones Children’s Critique Circle. Could you tell us what it is and how it came into being?
Jessica Dimuzio: The course I took with Vivian Grey on writing for children had the most diverse and yet most compatible participants I’d ever had the pleasure of taking a course with. When the course ended, I offered to organize a monthly meeting. I founded this organization in July, 2006 and am proud to be the leader of such a diverse and accomplished group of people. Milestones Children’s Critique Circle is a support group exclusively for dedicated writers of all genres of children’s books. Our motto is: E=MC3 because the group generates so much energy, we beat Einstein’s equation!
To be invited as a guest, please contact:
Out of curiosity, during your presentations what the best or most memorable questions or comments you have fielded from the children?
Jessica Dimuzio: There are so many wonderful, funny, surprising, and emotional interactions followed by incredibly touching communications through thank you letters. There are two that stand out for me.
After one school visit where I read Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, a third grader wrote me that we shared many things in common; love of dogs and a park near her that was closing. She asked for my help in saving it. I was so thrilled to find a third grader understanding the impact of losing open space, it gave me hope.
At a recent school visit, a student in a knee brace reminded me that if it wasn’t for boogie boarding, I wouldn’t be a children’s book author.
I was wondering if you could give us a teaser of what you’ll be covering in “Whoops, I Did It Again!” and “How to Catch a Kid?”
Jessica Dimuzio: Whoops, I Did It Again!
I will be presenting my journey from moment of conception through the pivotal points that led me to become writer, illustrator, director, groomer, publisher, publicist, vendor, and speaker of an international award-winning children’s picture book. And learn, yes, I did it again. Through discussion of lessons acquired and questions to participants, I will help attendees determine whether self-publishing is the route to go or not.
How to Catch a Kid—Creatively Luring Children to Non-Fiction
5 key components + 4 tips + 1 small piece of advice=
10 criteria for creative non-fiction for children
Thank you Jessica for taking time out for this interview and sharing so many wonderful and thought-provoking answers. Looking forward to meeting you at the conference.
Jessica Dimuzio, VMD, will lead two Saturday sessions on non-fiction writing that grabs children’s interest. Besides being published in the fields of veterinary medicine, veterinary education, and conservation, she is an award-winning children’s book author. “In fact,” she says, “during my school visits I tell children why should I spend the time making up characters and plots like a fiction writer when no one believes my true stories any way!” In her conference session “How to Catch a Kid”, she will explain the key to good non-fiction: there must be a compelling story arc, and a main character with which children can connect. Dr. Dimuzio has lectured internationally, taught college classes, and currently leads a critique group for fiction and nonfiction children’s book writers. She has published two picture-books. Her website is: naturetalesandtrails.com
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).