Although diamonds, chocolates, and roses are the order of most Valentine’s Days, this year I’m thinking about the very special creatures who receive love letters in our children’s book, Vulture Verses: flies, snakes, mosquitoes, and, of course, vultures. Vulture Verses is the brainchild of the inimitable Diane Lang and is illustrated by rising star Lauren Gallegos—who has already illustrated six books and is working on her seventh—and whose solo art show is currently at Cal State Fullerton. (Buy a piece now. She’s going to be famous.)
I’ll never forget the first time I met Diane. She was in the office for a meeting and needed to return to her car for something she’d forgotten. Suddenly, her purse emanated with the raucous screeching of some fearsome bird of prey. Diane’s cell phone ringtone. When she returned and found us laughing about the unusual sound, she looked at us with a puzzled expression. Doesn’t everyone have a raptor ringtone? And if not, why not?
Diane’s passion for “unloved” animals isn’t just something she writes about. In fact, after completing a daunting book tour for the release of Vulture Verses, Diane is now undertaking a serious school tour: the book has been embraced by teachers and naturalists for its tenderhearted treatment not only of animals who are unloved, but also of animals who are feared by children. Educators find that Diane’s enthusiasm and genuine love for these creatures engages the curiosity of formerly fearful children—in the second half of February alone, she’ll be visiting eight schools. Her expert (free) classroom guide ties in neatly with California’s teaching standards. And Lauren’s stunning illustrations capture the imagination of the most cautious child. It also doesn’t hurt that Diane typically travels with a rat and a tarantula.
Which brings me to my next anecdote, relayed by Diane after an especially painful trip through the insufferable TSA blockade at Bradley Airport in Connecticut. Apparently her travelling companion, Terra the tarantula, was persona non grata there, despite the fact that the Oakland airport TSA didn’t object to her at all. We won’t reveal Diane’s secrets—suffice it to say that Terra made it through security and Diane was prepared to go the Big House on her beloved spider’s behalf. Really.
Now, I’ve been known to squash a few bugs in my time, especially gnarly-looking spiders with hairy legs. Not any more. Diane travels with “spider shuttles” to teach children and misguided adults like myself how to safely move valuable insects outdoors, where they can continue making their important contributions to our ecosystem.
So Happy Valentine’s Day to our extended Prospect Park Books family, and Happy Valentine’s Day to vultures, moles, bats, and spiders. Diane quotes Freeman Tilden at the end of Vulture Verses:
“There is nothing ugly in nature. The seeming exceptions are simply facts of beauty we have not yet grasped.”
All the spiders in my house thank Diane for her Valentine’s Day—and everyday—gift to them. And if you would like Diane to visit your child’s school, give us a holler. This is one author whose work is not just on the page—it’s truly in her heart.