Lynn Rowe Reed still gets emotional when she recalls watching TV images of birds and other animals soiled in oil.
The pictures continued for months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and the well spewed crude oil into an ever wider area of the Gulf of Mexico.
“It just made everyone sick to their stomachs,” said Rowe Reed, a Fort Wayne artist and children’s book author and illustrator. The Garrett native also had another thought: “Someone is going to do a kids book on this. How about me?”
Her picture book on the disaster, “Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue,” arrived just in time for the one-year anniversary of the spill on Wednesday.
Tony and Roscoe
The book’s story centers on Tony, a young boy who is excited to make a summer visit to see his cousin, Addison, and her family, who live on the Gulf Coast. Tony has big plans for playing at the beach and in the ocean.
When he, Addison and her new golden retriever, Roscoe, arrive at the beach, however, they find signs saying “Beach Closed.” They see brown bits of “goo” mixed in with the sand, and shrimp and hermit crabs covered in what looks like peanut butter.
After Roscoe discovers a few pelicans covered with oil, Tony’s Aunt Olivia and Uncle Willie help the kids take the birds to a wildlife rehabilitation center. The book describes how the birds and other animals are cleaned and nursed back to health.
“I tend to do a lot of books that feature little boys,” said Rowe Reed, the mother of two sons now in their early 30s. She modeled Roscoe on her golden retriever, Sam-I-Am. She said she also wove some humor into the story to keep it fun.
But the book, intended for ages 4-10, tackles a very different topic for Rowe Reed, who normally takes a totally whimsical approach in her stories and illustrations. She has written and/or illustrated 15 previous children’s books, including illustrating the widely popular “Punctuation Takes a Vacation.”
Her new book “undoubtedly is the most significant book I have done to date,” she said. “It may be the most significant thing I ever do.” It also has been one of the most painful — literally. Normally, it takes about two years for one of her books to go from idea to printed copies on store and library shelves. Rowe Reed started writing “Roscoe” last June. The publisher, Holiday House in New York, gave her the green light in mid-July. She had to have all of the more than 20 painted illustrations done by Sept. 1.
Her muscles became so tight from devoting so much time to painting, she often had to work in pain, she said. After completing the illustrations, she went to a doctor and learned she had pulled two ribs out of place.
Rowe Reed said she did a lot of research before writing the story and developing the illustrations. But knowing critics would look for any reason to discredit the book, Holiday House had an expert review her story and illustrations.
The expert helped her get the fine details correct, she said. For example, she originally had Tony and Addison helping to bathe the oily pelicans, but the expert said only trained wildlife rehabilitators would be allowed to clean the birds. The urgency she and the publisher felt about getting the book in print before the Gulf oil spill’s one-year anniversary kept all the work fun.
“We were so enthused,” she said. “There was such an energy about this.”
Rowe Reed hopes the book helps youngsters develop compassion for animals and the environment. “They are the people who are going to be running the oil companies in the future,” she said.
“And, other than that, I hope there are parts of the story that will make them smile.”