Tonawanda News

The Town

March 28, 2013

'Eyes open, ears on'



“You have to have your eyes open and your ears on,” he told them. “You have to be looking around, you have to be paying attention.”

Swinburne, who lives in Vermont, is the author of more than 25 books for children, mostly non-fiction, including “Ocean Soup: Tide Pool Poems,” “Armadillo Trail,” “Lots & Lots of Zebra Stripes,” “Saving Manatees” and “Turtle Tide.” Many of the works stem from his experiences as a naturalist and former ranger in national parks.

At Edison Elementary, librarian Gretchen Seibert said that Swinburne’s books tie into the focus on the Common Core state standards, which have an emphasis on non-fiction reading.

“Because his books are for all ages here at Edison, kindergarten up through fifth grade, we’ve been preparing the students by reading the books and doing research on the animals,” she said. “We talk about things like noticing details and closely reading the text. We talk about his work not only as an author, but as a photographer.

“I think he has a broad appeal ... There are so many aspects of his work we can plug into. It’s easy to get elementary kids excited about animals. And he presents it in interesting ways kids can enjoy and be intrigued by.”

Swinburne told the students how things from their own lives can inspire their work. His experiences as a park ranger were behind “Turtle Tide.” The story behind a photo of young barn owl and the experience a friend had raising the bird became “In Good Hands: Behind the Scenes at a Center for Orphaned and Injured Birds.” 

A photograph of a spiderweb covered in dew and photos of other patterns in nature turned into “Lots & Lots of Zebra Stripes,” while a shot of the hand of a neighbor’s infant daughter resting against inside her father’s bigger one became “What’s Opposite?” The hijinks of Swinburne (nicknamed “Whiff” as a child by his mother) and his childhood best friend (nicknamed “Dirty George”) in his native London found their way into his first fiction chapter book, “Whiff and Dirty George: The Z.E.B.R.A. Incident.”

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