Monday, June 13, 2022

Delighting in Oddities ~ by Laura Gehl

 My journey to writing the board books Odd Beasts and Odd Birds started nearly twenty years ago, when I first read in a scientific journal about a poop-shooting caterpillar. I went on to write about that caterpillar for a children’s magazine -- my first published nonfiction for kids. And that article kicked off a career as a children’s book author that has resulted in many happy hours reading and writing about weird creatures.

It was such a delight to work on Odd Beasts and Odd Birds. I love writing simple, rhyming text, which pairs perfectly with Gareth Lucas’ beautiful art. And I had room to add more detailed information (and photographs!) at the end, giving me a reason to dive deeper into my research. 

It was easy to find strange animals and birds to write about…like the glass frog with its see-through skin and the anglerfish with a fishing pole sticking out of its head in Odd Beasts, and the blue-footed booby and poop-smelling hoatzin in Odd Birds

The hard part was having to cut out many of the amazing creatures I discovered, because each of these board books only has 22 pages. 

That’s why I’m excited to share some of the creatures that didn’t make the cut!

One amazing animal that didn’t make it into Odd Beasts is the Dumbo octopus. While all octopuses are a little odd, the Dumbo octopus has ear-like fins above each eye. They look like the ears of Dumbo the flying elephant.

photo: NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research
Another adorable-in-an-odd way animal that I did not have space for is the star-nosed mole. This small mole is nearly blind and uses the sensitive, star-shaped organ to feel its way around.

A bird that didn’t make it into Odd Birds is the helmeted hornbill. This bird looks a bit like a toucan and a bit like a rooster. But what really makes the helmeted hornbill stand out is the big red “helmet” (called a casque) on top of its head. The helmet is so big that it comprises about 10% of the bird’s weight. Unfortunately, poachers kill these birds for their casques, which are carved into jewelry, belt buckles, and ornaments.

photo: Francesco Varonesi
Another fabulous bird I had to leave out is the ribbon-tailed astrapia, with tail feathers that are about three times as long as its body. If you’re thinking, “Wow, if I had a tail that long, I would trip on it,” you’re absolutely right. The male birds, who have these long tails to impress female birds, actually do trip on their tails once in a while. Even worse, the males may need to untangle their tails before taking flight, making a quick escape from predators more difficult. 

These are just a handful of the odd beasts and odd birds I couldn’t include. But with luck, some of these wonderful weirdos will find their way into a future book! 

Thank you for joining us today, Laura. Laura's newest book, Odd Birds flies off the shelves tomorrow. Laura is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about her at her website

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