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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Dr Sylvia Medina shares details of her new children’s book series, Environmental Heroes, and what inspired her.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Dr Sylvia Medina about her life and career, what inspires her, and her new children’s book series, Environmental Heroes.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona which is just an amazingly beautiful small city in northern Arizona close to the Grand Canyon. I am of Mexican American heritage with some French, Aztec and Spanish blood. Our family was low to lower middle class when I grew up. We really did not have much, my father was a hard worker and a self-taught land surveyor.

Dr Sylvia Medina, author of Grizzly 399, on The TAble Read
Dr Sylvia Media

As a child I was the “boy” of our family. My father took me out in the field to land survey with him from the age of 14 years old to 17. This meant getting up at 4:30 in the morning and working with him for 10 hours a day. This — I have to say — taught me a lot about work ethic. During our days together he always shared his dreams with me of having his own business. Little did I know this would influence me incredibly.

While, in Arizona, my father bought calves, chickens, turkeys, ducks and we had dogs. I grew to love animals and never wanted any of my farm pets to be eaten. Periodically I found that one of my chickens would be missing, and I would not eat that day!

My senior year in High School we moved to New Mexico, where I continued to have my own personal animal farm. At this time, I decided I wanted to become a veterinarian, so I started college with this in mind. After a time, I was unsure as to whether I should become a veterinarian, so I switched my degree to Environmental Engineering. This worked out well for I would eventually start an Engineering business which would help me make a difference in my life and in what I am trying to accomplish.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

When I graduated from college as an Environmental Engineer and moved to Southeast Idaho — close to Yellowstone and Teton National Park I realized how much I loved the wild animals that lived up in this part of the country, especially the grizzly bears and wolves. This is what made me first want to write a book. I wanted to write books to teach the children the importance of taking care of our lands and the animals that live there.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I started a company called the Green Kids Club (GKC) so I could write books through storytelling.

Through the Green Kids Club, I began to work with various environmental conservation groups such as Elephants without Borders, Blood Lions, etc. where we told a story about a situation or animal they were dealing with involving environmental issues. I will go into more detail later in the questions you are asking here.

I do have to say though, it took me a while to figure out what direction I wanted to go with my books. This finally became clear when I began working with Elephants without Borders who gave me a wonderful response to writing a story with them. Together we started writing one of our traditional Green Kids Club books – that is based on three children who are environmental or green children that have environmental adventures.

But the relationship became deeper when I was invited to visit them in their camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  When I arrived there – I was shocked to see an injured baby elephant – who they later named Molelo.  Molelo was burned because his family herd had experienced a wildfire started by poachers.  His family took off and left him and he was found by people who took him to the Elephants Without Borders camp.  I was able to be participate directly with them in helping this little elephant.  And this is what gave me the inspiration for the Environmental Heroes series of books we have written.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Probably about 8 months to a year. I had no idea what I was doing. And to be honest I think I finally have figured it out! 

My approach is different though than the traditional publisher. As an environmentalist and lover of our natural world and animals, I look for non-profits or NGOs that are making a difference and have a story to tell.  I then approach them and see if we can do a story together.  Then we establish of course a relationship and a storyline we want to work on and then I start developing the storyline or book.  It is wonderful work and I love helping the various groups we have so far supported.  The groups include:  Elephants without Borders, Cougar Fund, Save Elephant Foundation, Rhino Orphanage, Saving the Survivor, Orang Utan Republik, and Blood Lions as some examples. We are working on new stories as we are moving along as well.

What made you want to write the Environmental Heroes Series?

The last children’s book I have written is “Kabelo, A Silly Little Rhino.”  This book was written in collaboration with Saving the Survivor and the Rhino Orphanage.  I wrote this book, based on a real little rhino called Kabelo who was saved by Saving the Survivor

founder, a Veterinarian, named Dr. Johan Marais who saves rhinos and other animals that have been poached and are still alive. He has made a significant difference. After he works with the animals medically – he will then transfer some of the animals to the Rhino Orphanage

So, this book was written to teach children that even though bad things happen, there is hope for animals that may have been impacted by evil poachers – there are still good people in this world.  And maybe children will learn they can grow up to make a difference and be one of these good people. 

What were your biggest challenges with writing the Environmental Heroes Series?

I would say what was hard – were of course time zones, and distance. Trying to work with two organizations and bring the story together.  Both Saving the Survivor and The Rhino Orphanage were wonderful to work with. 

Also, on this same note – the back of our books always has a science section, describing the animals that we highlight.  In this book, we highlighted of course rhinos.  Our biggest problem when we wrote this book was getting a photo of the Javan Rhino.  This Rhino is one of the last rhinos in the world. There are only 60 of them left in the entire world. So, getting a good photo and being able to access it for our book was tough.  So why can’t we get a good photo?  Because we are losing a species of animal from this world. We must act now, or we won’t have any Javan Rhinos left.

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What was your research process for the Environmental Heroes Series?

My research involved getting to know Saving the Survivor and what it takes for them to go into the field and save animals that are still alive yet poached (meaning hurt by poachers).  This process is painful to look at – and see – some of the rhinos they have saved – have had their tusks cut off as well as part of their face. Seeing these photos is very hard.  I can’t imagine seeing this in real life. 

During my research, I was able to meet Dr. Marais and was so in awe of his work.  Perhaps one day I will go out with him in the fields of South Africa (or wherever he is at) and try and see his work firsthand.  But frankly, I am not sure I can do this.  I am proud of the work he has done and continues to do.  He puts his heart and soul into it. 

The Rhino Orphanage – getting in touch with the founder was difficult as he is working so hard with all the rhinos that are brought to him to take care of after they have been impacted by poachers. They always have several rhinos at their facility. It is wonderful to see this part of the process as well.  This year I hope to visit their facility.

How did you plan the structure of the Environmental Heroes Series?

The structure of our books evolved simply and almost just fell into place.  After we write the story and deal with the animal or subject line, then having a science section with the animal we are highlighting and then the story of the conservation group we are working with came easily.

After I write the story – I work with our illustrator and Joy Eagle (who works with me) and we prepare a storyboard, and we decide what illustrations work the best. After this we – show the storyboard to the group we are working with and we go from there.  Our illustrator for the Environmental Hero stories is Morgan Spicer. She does a wonderful job!

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did the Environmental Heroes Series need?

As an Engineer, my writing was okay, but I had no idea how to write a children’s book.  To be honest, I needed a lot of help. Although, at the time I didn’t think I did – lol.   One day, I decided I might want to use an Editor, so I contacted Krista Hill, my editor. She does a magnificent job.

When we first started working together, she would take my manuscripts and help make them more readable as well as do an edit.  Through her editing process, I learned just by observing and seeing what and how she works. She has taught me a lot – so nowadays, it’s more of a clean edit and of course, I do listen to her comments.  So, I have gotten to where I am pretty good at writing a story without a lot of input.  But when you get too close to a story – having a good editor is highly recommended!

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book? 

Know your subject – know what you want to write about.  And understand that just because you write a book, you won’t automatically get it published. I think most of us think that we can end up on the New York seller’s list – yes – it can happen (not to me yet)!.  But you have to start somewhere. So, if your heart is in it. Go for it. Get a mentor or someone who has written books and published them and start your process. 

I also do not do the illustrations of our books. I was originally going to try – I started taking drawing lessons – and then I realized that by the time I got this down – I would be about 20 years older. So, now I have some wonderful illustrators – Morgan Spicer and Andreas Wessel-Therhorn. 

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Grizzly 399 by Dr Sylvia Medina on The Table Read
Grizzly 399 by Dr Sylvia Medina

Well, I wrote a book called Grizzly 399 – she is a grizzly bear in Teton National Park. She was famous but became even more so – when she had 4 cubs at the age of 24 years old – which is considered to be a grandma bear. 

So, the first book I wrote about her was telling her story – and of course, you don’t know what happens to a wild animal when they are first born and in the wild. So, I took some fun liberties about what could have happened to her. Then I met an amazing photographer, Thomas D. Mangelsen – who has beautiful photos of Grizzly 399 and he agreed to collaborate with me on her story.

This relationship has really made a difference with our books. So, after I wrote this first book about Grizzly 399 – I am now about to release a follow-on story about her and her 4 cubs and what it will take to ensure the cubs survive (NOTE:  After 3 years old they are sent on their own).  So this book – Grizzly 399 and Her 4 Cubs will be coming out around mid-April 2022. 

One other book that will be out soon is a version of our Classic Green Kids Club books.  The book is called Gorilla’s Roar and has new art, by a past Disney illustrator – Andreas Wessel-Therhorn. The visuals of the illustrations and the storyline are wonderful.  This book is coming out around early May 2022.

And finally, we have Lili, the Brave Bee’s Flight for a New Home. We are writing this story with Elephants without Borders.  It is a fun beautiful story.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I have to say that yes, I am very happy with what were doing.  I never dreamt that I would be working with such amazing environmental organizations to share their story and help make a difference.  Working with all the groups I discussed above, and just recently Blood Lions – co-authored with Ian Michler – one of the world’s top Lion specialists. Who would have ever thought I would be able to work with them (see their homepage – it is very powerful) –

And now working with Lek Chailert who has done such amazing work with Save Elephant Foundation.  It is just amazing to me. It inspires me to keep going and working!  I can’t wait to see what this year holds for me and the stories I write with conservation groups that make a difference in our world and its animals.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:!/Environmental-Heroes-Books/c/45492672

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