Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Post by Jo Marshall

Note from Jacquie: Jo Marshall’s books offer parents and teachers interesting and understandable stories that teach about climate change, extinction, and so much more. Whether sitting by the fire listening to your child read or discussing Twig stories in class, you will find Jo Marshall’s series well worth your time.

Story Behind the Story.
As a literacy tutor for seven years in my daughter’s elementary school in Snohomish, Washington I engaged children in many ways to heighten their interest in reading.  I often used fantasy books because I found they sometimes encouraged a child to try a little harder to understand the words and thus, the story.  It was around 3rd grade my daughter began learning about climate change and its impacts on our region, the Pacific Northwest. Naturally she became distressed over the possible extinction of many species such as the alpine pika, spirit bear (Kermode bear), salamanders, and birds due to a warmer climate.  Ecosystems in our fragile world of old growth forests and glacier-covered peaks certainly were in jeopardy. Changing old light bulbs to energy efficient ones became a crusade for the 3rd graders in her class, yet still the global climate crisis was overwhelming for them and disturbing. It wasn’t a great leap to use fantasy to calm some of that anxiety.  My daughter and I created a collection of stories about tiny, stick creatures called Twigs confronted with a changing climate in their old growth forest.  We focused their battles on specific impacts near our home – millions of bark beetle-infested trees, shrinking glaciers, record floods, extensive wildfires, and the consequent wildlife and plant adaptations.
The first Twig Stories novel – Leaf  & the Rushing Waters is about a young, boyish Twig named Leaf whose old tree home is inundated by a glacial outburst flood.  His family is trapped high in the Old Seeder’s knothole.  Leaf and his Twig friend Rustle set off to find a goliath beaver named Slapper, who can build a mighty dam to block the raging torrent.  What I love about Twig Stories is the opportunity to blend science fact into fantasy.  The idea that Slapper and his colony could build such an enormous and effective dam comes from an actual beaver dam in Alberta, Canada.  It is twice the length of Hoover Dam and can be seen from space!

The key message in ‘Rushing Waters’ is beavers are natural control agents to mitigate extreme flood and drought.  Many wildlife nonprofits have made it clear beaver dams are effective tools for flood control, if allowed to flourish.  In many areas, beavers were trapped and hunted to nonexistence, so beaver advocates are dedicated to the reintroduction of beavers into those areas now suffering from disastrous flood and drought due to climate shifts.  In spite of those who believe beavers are a nuisance, many nonprofit groups and researchers have shown that the impact of drought is actually reduced since beaver dams allow a controlled, consistent stream of filtered water during long periods of hot weather.  These periods are growing longer and hotter all the time.

Another critical theme in ‘Rushing Waters’ is we must protect endangered animals.  Beaver dams help create healthy ponds and wetlands, which save threatened species such as salamanders, frogs, birds, and small mammals from extinction.  This benefits large predators, too.  Nonprofit organizations with passionate beaver defenders such as The Lands Council (, Martinez (, and Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife ( have developed excellent methods to allow communities to coexist with beavers in their parks and private lands.  If necessary, humane relocation of nuisance beavers should be utilized rather than trapping or killing these remarkable, helpful creatures.  This is a very positive message for young students.

It’s been a privilege to have expert guidance for Twig Stories from wildlife biologists, professors, and researchers.  Through their influence the fantastic adventures of Twigs may actually encourage scientific thought.  Perhaps, a child may devise new solutions as to how we could protect our natural world – with all its diversity of species – in the face of a radically changing climate.  Perhaps a Twig might help a young child calm their apprehension, and see beyond the inevitability of climate change.  Instead they may focus on local habitats, and realize we can save many species from extinction, one ecosystem at a time.  After all, we must ‘stick together’ on our journey into climate crisis.

Jo Marshall holds no special credentials in climate change research, biology, or botany.  Her manuscripts were reviewed by the conservation nonprofits’ founders and officers mentioned in this article, and their guidance followed.  She earned a BA in German Language and Literature from the University of Maryland, Europe in West Berlin.  Jo hopes you will recommend her other two Twig Stories novels to your students and children: Leaf & the Sky of Fire and Leaf & the Long Ice.  Please visit her website, and her author page,


Jo Marshall said...

Thanks so much, Jacquie, for your generous invitation to share the conservation message in the Twig Stories series. I hope children enjoy the Twigs’ fantastic adventures. I’m sure many will relate to these impish, stick creatures, who try so hard to do good deeds in their natural world. It’s a thrill to be included in your community. Thanks for being so encouraging!

Clancy Tucker said...

Go, Jo!