The Making of a Children’s Story

Story and photography by Grace Scalzo

Nanpa plovers with pics.pagesLong Island, New York, beaches are important breeding grounds for piping plovers, a species listed as federally threatened. The Atlantic Coast population consists of only about 800 breeding pairs and 200 of them nest in New York.

I have been photographing the plovers on a Long Island Sound Beach near my home for seven years. I have captured their entire breeding cycle from arrival in mid-March to mating, scrape building, brooding, hatching, early flight practice, feeding and departure in the late summer and early fall.

One evening on the beach, a mother and her child approached me to get a better look at what I was photographing. I pointed out the plovers and their scrape (nest). They were taken aback and responded that they thought that birds nested in trees. It had never occurred to me that some people don’t realize why there are signs to stay outside the roped-off areas or keep their dogs off the beach. They just do not know they could be putting a species in harm’s way.

I believe that photographs and stories bring awareness of the need for conservation in a powerful way. Seeing leads to understanding and since children are naturally curious, I started thinking about using my photographs to craft a children’s story about the piping plovers.

Sounds easy, right? But there was much to consider.

Nanpa plovers with pics.pagesIn deciding what age to target, it made sense for me to write in a way not limited to a narrow age range. I wanted to appeal to a very young child being read to at bedtime, to an early reader who might need a little help with some of the words, and to an adult who could appreciate and enjoy the photography. I chose pictures that told the story in a fun and educational way.

I held fast to my determination not to dumb down my book, but to use accurate, simple terminology. For example, I explain that nests are called “scrapes.” A picture of an adult “brooding” her chicks is included to illustrate the importance of keeping the chicks warm. Sometimes I defined a word and other times I used it in such a way that it would be understood. My rationale was that even if a word is beyond a child’s current vocabulary, he/she will read it in my book and will recognize it the next time, and eventually it will become part of his/her knowledge base.

Choosing the images for a young audience is important, because they have to be appealing and suitable. For the page on mating, for example, I decided to use two plovers with the male approaching the female. I said simply that early in the season the plovers must choose their mates. I wanted to avoid putting parents in the position of explaining a behavior before they were ready.

Boy readingIn addition to deciding on the words, there are other choices that authors must make, such as how to lay out the book, how to get it published and in what format. Layout, design, wording, editing pictures and proofreading took me countless evenings over the course of six months to complete.

A quick web search will guide you toward the options in self-publishing, but you will also find that self-publishing is not easy, and costs should be researched carefully. I decided to go with Blurb because I value the fact that it prints in the United States using environmentally friendly ink and paper. I prepared my book in hardcover, softcover, and also as an electronic publication, and I took advantage of a 50-percent-off sale by ordering and inventorying my own books, and shipping them myself.

This was an outlay of money and a risk, but for many of my readers ordering directly from the publisher with no discount could have been cost-prohibitive. Ironically, the hardcover book, which was the most expensive to produce, has proven to be my best seller by far.

I learned quickly that the book profits won’t be buying more than a few tanks of gas for my photo outings. Still, in contemplating goals for my work, if I can inspire people to learn, care about, and take steps toward conserving habitat for piping plovers, what better use can there be for my photographs?


Grace Scalzo is a published photographer and author, speaker and workshop leader. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Ted, and their two rescued dogs, Blue and Jasmine. Grace’s website is www.GraceScalzoPhotography.com. View a preview of the iBook version of Piping Plovers on the Beach at https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1179809164. To purchase a hard copy of the book, contact Grace Scalzo at gscalzo24@gmail.com