We all need a reason to work through the hard parts. Laurel Neme found her reason in those who let her into their story, into what would become The Elephant’s New Shoe.
Laurel is doing a GIVEAWAY of a copy of the book as soon as it’s released October 6. To enter, just leave a comment on the blog. Winner will be announced 9/12, continental US addresses only, please.
And congratulations to last week’s winner of Rosie the Dragon and Charlie Say Goodnight by Lauren Kerstein….Jilanne Hoffman!
“Why have faith in a story”
by Laurel Neme
When I first met Nick Marx in 2011, I knew his work rescuing wild animals was special. Nick works for Wildlife Alliance, a non-profit organization based in Cambodia that aims to improve forest management and combat the illegal wildlife trade. The more I talked with him and learned, the more Nick’s quiet “can do” attitude inspired me—and the seed for this book was planted in my mind.
Both Nick and Wildlife Alliance take a holistic approach to solving problems. For example, to help animals Wildlife Alliance focuses on preserving their forest habitat. Their actions have resulted in keeping more than 2 million acres of forest habitats intact. They’ve also reduced elephant poaching by more than 95 percent, tiger poaching by 50 percent and forest fires by 80 percent.
Over the years, Nick’s own work has focused on the physical rescue of a wide assortment of animals and their subsequent rehabilitation, something he does in two roles: as manager of the country’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team and as director of Wildlife Alliance’s Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. The center is located on 5,600 acres of forest about an hour from Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh. Over the years, Nick and his team have rescued tens of thousands of animals—elephants, tigers, sun bears, pileated gibbons, Siamese crocodiles, birds, turtles and more. My book focuses on one of those animals, Chhouk, a baby elephant whose leg was caught in a poacher’s snare.
THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE is a story about Chhouk’s rescue and how, with help from the Cambodian Forestry Administration, the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, and an elephant named Lucky, Nick and his team nursed the little pachyderm back to health, and made him an artificial foot.
As much as they can, Nick and his staff release the animals back into the wild. Unfortunately, sometimes that is simply not possible. In those cases, Nick and his staff at the Center will care for the animals for the rest of their lives. Currently, there are about 1,200 animals living at the rescue center—and Chhouk is one of them. Chhouk cannot live in the wild because of his injured foot and need for a new prosthetic every six months.
To me, Chhouk’s story is about innovation and persistence—two qualities that are front and center in both Nick and the elephant himself. Nick often talks about Chhouk’s fighting spirit. The little elephant who could. He gives the elephant full credit for his own survival and ability to adapt.
While that is undoubtedly true, Nick was also key. In particular, Nick’s perseverance, creative thinking, and unwillingness to give up on helping Chhouk—despite a storm of NOs—were vital. It is why Chhouk—and so many other animals in his care—can live well. It is why Chhouk can amble through the forest with his elephant friend, Lucky (also saved by Nick). It is why such simple pleasures feel normal and right.
It is why I wrote this story. It is also why I am so thrilled with how Scholastic made sure royalties from this book would also go to Nick—and by extension Chhouk.
It is why a message from a mom—who tweeted that her book club edition of THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE “arrived just in time to give us & kiddos all the feels” just before her husband was fitted for a new prosthesis—means the world to me.
It is why I worked and reworked it—like measuring and molding Chhouk’s artificial foot. It is why I had faith in it, like Nick had faith in Chhouk. And why I hope you’ll give it a chance and let me know what you think.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in the GIVEAWAY! (Continental US addresses only, please)
BIO: Laurel Neme has always loved animals. As a girl, she wanted to be a large animal veterinarian like James Herriot. Later, she planned to be a scientist, like Jane Goodall. Eventually, she decided to help animals in her own way—by telling their stories. She’s the author of three books so far: ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, and her latest, THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE, published by Scholastic in October 2020. She also writes regularly for National Geographic and Mongabay.com. You can connect with her at http://www.LaurelNeme.com.