baby squirrel curled up in someone's hand

I was lucky enough, recently, to enjoy a visit with Carol and Bruce Malnor of Dawn Publications. They happened to be passing through my neck of the woods and wanted to drop off an advance copy of our new book, Daytime Nighttime All Through the Year (by Diane Lang.) First off, can I say that I am over the moon about this book! The illustrations were a new direction for me, and the loving-care that the staff at Dawn puts into each book really makes me glad to be part of the team. There’s just something wonderful about knowing there’s a whole team behind getting a book to market.

book cover image featuring squirrels on a branch and a hunting cougar belowDuring the visit, we got to talking about the front cover, which went through all kinds of permutations before arriving at the current one with a family of squirrels running along a branch and a cougar prowling below, and the discussion prompted me to remember what had been going on in my life when doing the sketches for the cover:

Baby Squirrels!

I had been working for an hour or so before noticing a sort of peeping sound from outside – something more distressed than the usual bird and squirrel noises. I went out front to discover a baby squirrel tottering around in our flower beds. Given that there was no tree overhead, and that the little guy wasn’t very good at walking, I thought maybe a cat had hit a squirrel nest. So I did the things you’re supposed to do: I put the baby in the yard and kept watch from a distance so that the mama squirrel would hear its cries and take it home. I’d just set up my desk outside (the better to protect baby from the cats) when I heard that same plaintive squeaking – this time from across the street. Further investigation turned up another baby squirrel of the same age wobbling through the neighbor’s front lawn. Again, no tree overhead. So I picked up baby #2 and put her with her brother in my own yard. At this point, the squeaking started again – this time from the very top of another neighbor’s holly tree where – sure enough – I could see a squirrel nest from which a loud crying could be heard. Still hoping for mama to return, I went back to my place and waited until dark and, when no one came for them, I wrapped the babies in an old fleece blanket and put them safely into a cat crate for the night. The next morning, they were off to Wildlife Rescue, and I got back to work.

But it’s hard to draw when listening to the cries of an abandoned baby squirrel. All that hot day, the third baby screeched from the top of the holly tree, so high up (and did I mention that it was a holly tree) that nothing could be done. That evening, I couldn’t take it anymore. I talked my neighbor Claire into a crazy rescue mission: if she would hold the ladder, then I would try to reach the top, holly leaves and all. We were just standing under the tree trying to plot our course when that baby squirrel wandered out of the nest and began wobbling along a thin branch at least 20 feet up in the air over a concrete walkway. We froze in horror.

It fell. And I, who was kicked off the softball team for an impossible lack of skill, managed to reach out my left hand and snatch that little squirrel out of the air. Claire and I just blinked at each other in surprise. I looked down, and that little baby – no doubt exhausted from hunger and dehydration and shock – just curled up and went to sleep in my hand. She was able to join her brother and sister at Wildlife Rescue the very next day.

Ideas Creep in When You’re Not Paying Attention

Anyhow, I went back to work drawing critters for the book and never realized the impact that adventure must have had on me. It wasn’t until Carol pointed it out during our visit that I realized the three baby squirrels on the cover, happily following their mama, must have been my wish for the three baby squirrels from my own experience. I don’t know where they are in the world, but I hope they are doing well with babies of their own!

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