Friend Friday

While I do not have an origami box for moving multiple minuscule creatures, I am famous for not killing spiders. “What if it’s Charlotte?” I always ask. It is clear that we humans have a great impact on the natural world which is why I so appreciate Curtis Manley’s latest book, The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Roaring Brook/MacMillan). I admire Roberta’s tender spirit and large heart; she seems an admirable role model. I may just have given this book for Christmas to a special girl in my life who is terrified of flies in hopes that she might embrace her inner Roberta. If you want to learn more about Curtis and his connections to Roberta, hop over here to listen to the replay of our conversation for Write Space With Kirby Larson and Friends.

Curtis Manley

My newest picture book, The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures (illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins; Roaring Brook/Macmillan), is a fictional story about a girl named Roberta who rescues insects, worms, and other tiny creatures—even though her classmates make fun of her.

Several years ago, as I was finishing up the manuscript to send to my agent, I heard about a real-life 8-year old girl in Canada. She loved insects, and that had led to her being bullied at school (so much worse than Roberta is treated), so her mother contacted the entomological community—which came together to support the girl and assure her she wasn’t weird.

This felt uncomfortably close to the setup of the story I was telling. My story was “just” fiction—but the girl in Canada was real. Was my story redundant? As much as I liked my manuscript, I wondered if I should just give up on it.

Each story I write—fiction or nonfiction—includes different aspects of my interests or myself, but in many ways Roberta’s story was my most personal yet. No, I’m not a redhead like Roberta. No, entomology is not one of my great passions. No, rescuing small critters was not one of the things I was teased about in school…

In many ways, though, Roberta is me, and nearly all the tiny-creature rescues in my story are based on things I’ve done: I have a cup and card to move a tiny creature from where it shouldn’t be. I have an origami box that’s useful when I need to move many tiny creatures. I’ve let millipedes explore the palm of my hand. I really did find a tiny snail in a bunch of radishes. Just like Roberta, I was bitten by a dragonfly that I was trying to help. And from rescues where I was too late, I’ve kept several iridescent beetles and fuzzy bumblebees; I agree with Roberta: they are so beautiful…

Roberta is me. Roberta’s story is my story. And my story is different from that of the young girl in Canada. I felt that the world was big enough and complex enough for both stories. My writing group, my agent, and my editor agreed. And so The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures is now out in the world to be enjoyed by readers—many of whom I suspect will see aspects of themselves in Roberta.

But even though the main character is me, and I started with things I already knew, I was still surprised with where the story led and how others see it. Near the end of the book, when Roberta figures out how to rescue a hundred tiny spiders in her classroom, she doesn’t realize she’s also rescuing her frightened classmates and teacher. And like Roberta, I didn’t realize that—until a book review pointed it out…

Another review called the story “…a lesson in staying true to oneself.” That also hadn’t occurred to me, and neither did how the story shows that “…one person can make a difference, not only through action but also by influencing others.”

I had thought of my book as showing Roberta being Roberta—well, Roberta being me—but of course we are all a part of the real world, connected to everyone and everything else. A story based on personal experiences—even tiny ones—can’t help but be deepened by those connections. Whether that is obvious to the storyteller or not…

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures Written by Curtis Manley and Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Award-winning author Curtis Manley writes fiction and nonfiction picture books that all include some nonfiction content. His books have been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections and received multiple starred reviews. Special recognition for his work includes a CLEL Bell Award for Early Literacy, Freeman Book Award, Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award, Washington State Book Award, SCBWI Golden Kite Honor, and Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. His other titles include THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster), THE CRANE GIRL (Lee & Low), and SHAWN LOVES SHARKS and JUST RIGHT: SEARCHING FOR THE GOLDILOCKS PLANET (Roaring Brook). A former geologist and software engineer, Curtis lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and a cat who is not exactly a rescuer of spiders. To learn more visit; FB: Curtis.Manley.Author; IG: @Curtis.Manley.Author