So this is the story of the story of how the Animal Rescue Team series came about. In the summer of 2007, my editor at Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, Nancy Hinkel, asked me if I’d like to propose a series idea. Before this, I had written what we call “‘stand alone”’ novels. A series—as I’m sure you know—is multiple books involving the same characters. Well, gee, that was like asking me if I wanted a frozen Snickers bar. (I love frozen Snickers’ bars.).
Years ago, I had written a book called “The Kids’ Guide to Wildlife Rehabilitation.” Wildlife rehabilitators rescued injured and abandoned wildlife and make them better so they can return to the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators work with everything from garter snakes to elephants, from pigeons to porcupines. I love wildlife rehabilitators. There’s never a dull moment when you’re hanging around them.
What a great idea for a family business! So I invented the characters in Carter’s’ Urban Rescue: kids Keisha, Razi, and Paulo, along with Mama and Daddy and Grandma. Then I got to invent their friends: Aaliyah, Zeke and Zack, Wen, Jorge, Samantha, and Big Bob! They live in the city of Grand River, which is a lot like the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live. Other people in the book, like such as the principal of the kids’ school, the mayor, and the director of the zoo, are even named after the real-life people in my world. (I asked their permission first.). Finally, I just started collecting ideas from the newspaper. If you read the newspaper for about, say, four days in a row, you’ll understand the saying, “‘Ttruth is stranger than fiction.”’ Here’s the one a newspaper headline that got the ball rolling for Animal Rescue Team: “It’s no crock: Gator shows up in GR [Grand Rapids].”
It was interesting to read about an alligator on the south side of the city, but it seemed more interesting and, okay, a little more zany, if the alligator was found in the city pool. That’s how I do it. I take something that has happened, or maybe mush together a bunch of things that have happened, and then I add the magic ingredient—imagination—and I make up a story. Every Animal Rescue Team book has a section at the back where I explain to kids how I got the idea and then how I dressed it up. This is so kids will know what to do with all the ideas they get every day. It helps to write a few things down or take a few pictures with your cell phone, if that’s your gig. But in general, I don’t make up stories, I find them, like plastic cups on the sidewalk; and then I take them home and see what I can make of them.
My dog Sophie and my cat Fig, my boys’ experiences, my husbands’ rescue attempts, and my big old garden behind my big old farmhouse, are all great places to find stories. If I take Sophie for a walk in the woods, she likes to sniff out her own stories. (I can usually smell these later.). To help kids get an even more in-depth look at how I create, I add lots of details on my blog “Imaginerience.” You can get to my blog and see pictures of my garden and a video trailer of the book at my Web site www.suestauffacher.com. If you’re on Facebook, you can choose to “like” my Animal Rescue Team page and keep up with all the latest stuff I’m doing and even more animal rescue tips. I get very excited when kids tell me their own tips and also how the Animal Rescue Team taught them something that ended up benefitting wildlife.
The very best part of writing books is working with a whole team of super-creative people who make “‘plastic cups”’ look like crystal glasses. Our designer for the series, Sara Hokanson, and illustrator Priscilla Lamont make reading Animal Rescue Team as delicious as eating a frozen Snickers bar. And editors Nancy Hinkel and Allison Wortche worked with me to make the characters and the plot sparkle and shine. Together we’re the Animal Rescue Team Team! And we hope you have as much fun reading the books as we did creating them.