Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 24, 2014
Award-winning book created by Peninsula author and illustrator
by Ruby Nash
Local author Kim Ridley of Brooklin and illustrator Rebekah Raye of Blue Hill have had a busy spring. Their picture book, The Secret Pool, has recently received two awards: the 2013 Lupine Award from the Maine Library Assocation, and the Riverby Award, a national prize from the John Burroughs Assocation.
“We didn’t ever dream the book would be recognized in this way,” said Raye.
“We were not thinking about awards,” added Ridley. “We just wanted to express the story.”
The Lupine Award is presented annually by the Youth Services Section Interest Group of the Maine Library Association. It honors Maine authors and/or illustrators who have created a work whose focus is Maine. The Riverby is awarded to “excellent natural history books for young readers.”
The Secret Pool is based on the phenomenon of vernal pools, which are found throughout New England. They range in size and depth, some as small as puddles, others becoming as large as lakes.
“Vernal pools are the snack bars and rest stops of mother nature,” explained Ridley. “In one way or another, they feed every animal in the forest.”
The Department of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine has a website dedicated to vernal pools. Dr. Aram Calhoun, UMaine Professor of Wetland Ecology, was a significant resource for the book, according to Ridley and Raye.
“It is unusual to have people care about the accuracy of information [about vernal pools]. That was refreshing,” Calhoun said about working with Ridley and Raye. “[Children’s books] are some people’s first exposure to the topic. It is important to be accurate.”
There have been attempts to overturn regulations on the protection of vernal pools by the current Maine government, but so far the committee involved has rejected the efforts.
“The committee’s commitment to maintaining the regulation is based on their education [on the topic],” explained Calhoun. In an effort to create common ground, she is currently leading a project through Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative focused on balancing natural resource conservation with economic development.
While doing research for the book, Ridley and Raye spoke with Calhoun and other experts, read books, used field guides, and visited vernal pools together. They both learned a significant amount in the process.
“I didn’t know about the ribbon snake, or how many toes were on a spotted salamander,” said Raye. “I just fell in love with [the world], and I wanted to share that love.”
They learned that the wood frog endures the winter by crawling under the leaf litter in the forest and becoming a “frogsicle.” The frog’s heart stops beating, their blood freezes, and then with the return of spring, they melt, coming back to life.
“[Rebekah] evokes the dignity of each creature, whether it is fairy shrimp or insects. She captures the being-hood of each organism so powerfully and beautifully,” Ridley said of Raye’s work.
The book went through 20 revisions, and Ridley worked to bridge the distance between being lyrical and being scientific.
“I fell in love with the words,” Raye said of Ridley’s writing.
Ridley describes her childhood as “free range.” In her youth, she often visited a place in the woods that she now knows was a vernal pool. It was there in the spring and fall, but in the summer it dried up. Ridley was motivated to write the book in order to share the sense of wonder she experienced as a child.
“We often confuse wonder with naiveté. There is nothing naïve about wonder,” she said. “It’s wise, renewing, and wild. You can’t domesticate wonder.”