2009-11-25 / Community

Award-winning environmental author visits Oak Hills Elementary

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

ECO SEEKERS—Author  Deanna  Neil,  center,  visits  Linda Mendivil’s fourth-grade class at Oak Hills Elementary School in Oak Park.  Neil, shown with Oak Hills  principal  Leslie Heilbron, left, and Mendivil, introduced students to her book, “The Land of Curiosities,” which is about the history of Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Neil and her brother run The Eco Seekers, an independent  publisher  that  educates  children  about  the importance of protecting the environment. SOPHIA FISCHER/Acorn Newspapers ECO SEEKERS—Author Deanna Neil, center, visits Linda Mendivil’s fourth-grade class at Oak Hills Elementary School in Oak Park. Neil, shown with Oak Hills principal Leslie Heilbron, left, and Mendivil, introduced students to her book, “The Land of Curiosities,” which is about the history of Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Neil and her brother run The Eco Seekers, an independent publisher that educates children about the importance of protecting the environment. SOPHIA FISCHER/Acorn Newspapers An Oak Park fourth-grade class is making an environmental pledge after a visit from an awardwinning author of books promoting ecology.

“For the students to make a personal commitment to learn or do something new and proactive for the environment is very powerful and meaningful for them,” said Linda Mendivil, Oak Hills Elementary fourth-grade teacher.

Author Deanna Neil recently visited Mendivil’s class to discuss her historical fiction trilogy about Yellowstone National Park and the history of environmental awareness.

In 2006 Neil and her brother, Dave, founded The EcoSeekers, an independent publishing house. Through historical fiction books written by Deanna Neil, the company seeks to educate readers about environmental concerns and how to fix them. The books are recommended for ages 8 to 15.

“We wanted to look at history and see what people were thinking about the environment when the first national park was created,” Neil said.

Neil read a chapter from her second book, “The Land of Curiosities: Lost in Yellowstone, 1872-1873.” The story picks up from the end of the first book about the adventures of young siblings James and Alice Clifton during the early 1870s in Yellowstone when it became America’s first national park. The sequel follows James as he joins a government-sponsored exploration of Yellowstone in order to find his missing sister. Students listened as Neil introduced a sinister character named “Bloody Knuckles.”

The characters in Neil’s stories are historical guides, helping readers to understand and appreciate contemporary concepts about nature and the connection between past, present and future, the author said. Each book includes actual photos and facts and has been approved by the National Park Service.

Students asked Neil questions about the books and her writing. Neil said she had visited Yellowstone about 10 times. She has wanted to be a writer since she was 9 years old, and it takes her about a year to write a book.

In a writing exercise with the students, Neil prompted them to write something about the environment that they want to learn or do, or anything having to do with nature that inspired them.

Mendivil was vacationing at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming last summer when she met Neil at a book signing event. Mendivil thought the subject matter and time period of Neil’s stories would enhance the fourth-grade unit on the California Gold Rush.

“The books also involve environmentalism, which is a theme I feel should be covered at every grade level to some extent,” Mendivil said. “I always like to bring in connections to books when I can. Historical fiction books are a great way to enjoy a great story and learn about history.”

Neil, who lives in New York, incorporated Mendivil’s class into her book tour.

Neil’s first book, “The Land of Curiosities: Adventures in Yellowstone 1871-1872,” was published in 2007. The second book was published this year, and the third book will come out in spring 2010. The third story is not yet titled but involves the protection of Yellowstone, Neil said.

Neil has earned several awards for her writing, including a 2009 Mom’s Choice Award and a 2009 Independent Publisher Book Award, and was named one of eight Heroes for the Planet in 2008 by Time for Kids magazine.

For more information, visit www.theecoseekers.com.

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