We’re excited to welcome science poetry master Leslie Bulion to the blog! Leslie shares all about the trip to East Africa that was part of her inspiration for her stunning picture book Serengeti: Plains of Grass, which explores one of the most spectacular and productive ecosystems on Earth.
Thank you, Peachtree, for inviting me to the blog to share a peek at my inspiration for Serengeti: Plains of Grass!
When I visit schools, I often ask students if they keep a writer’s notebook or journal. So many hands rocket into the air. Hooray for educators and families who introduce journaling into children’s lives! I encourage students to keep their notebooks forever. How affirming to have a lifetime of their own stories on those pages.
And thank goodness for new-met writer friends who advised me—a new writer who did not journal—to take a blank book along on our family’s month-long visit to East Africa. I scrawled through two spiral-bound volumes recording my impressions, transcribing conversations with friends and family, and observing with all of my senses. I described our activities from dawn until sleep and retold my dreams upon awakening. Among so many remarkable experiences, we spent a week on safari visiting Oldupai Gorge, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Afterward, I wrote in my journal: “So, we have spent two days and a lifetime in Serengeti—an ocean of grass.”
Those two days left a deep impression that I’ve carried in my wistful heart for many years. The Serengeti’s endless expanse embodied a moving ecosystem ballet of seasonal migration, each animal with its role to play.
Here came a Grant’s gazelle, stepping gracefully across the plain. There, a tawny eagle feigned a wing injury to lead our gaze away from its fresh-caught meal. A picnic lunch under a tree brought us into the realm of ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and delicate flowers among the grasses.
From the Land Rover we witnessed herds of zebras and wildebeests on the move as they grazed on complimentary grasses, staying alert for lurking predators. I wondered at everything I saw, and all I couldn’t see. Still there, I already felt the loss of knowing I’d leave without seeing more and more. Now, through research and poetry, I have finally returned.
During my month of journaling in Kenya and Tanzania I wrote about images of smoke and oranges, a recurring theme. Oranges were for sale everywhere due to a bumper crop. Small, smoky, tended fires were also a common sight. Perched at the edge of the Serengeti, in a goodbye entry, I wrote: “Today, smoke was the waving brown grass of the Serengeti. The orange ball of the sun hung over the crater lake.“ Readers will find those grasses wafting like smoke across Becca Stadtlander’s intuitively depicted scenes in Serengeti: Plains of Grass, and the neon orange ball of the sun suspended in a resplendent Serengeti sky. I hope readers will enjoy taking this journey with us!