Q&A With Brooke Bessesen, Author of Zachary Z. Packrat Backpacks the Grand Canyon

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.05.05 PMWriting and working with animals are two of Brooke Bessesen’s passions, and she’s found a way to combine them: Using knowledge from her work at the Phoenix Zoo and with conservation research, Bessesen has authored several children’s books. Bessesen spoke with us about her new book, Zachary Z. Packrat Backpacks the Grand Canyon, and how she combines fun with education.

In the book, Zachary learns he can’t take items from the Grand Canyon — an illustration of the Leave No Trace philosophy. Why was it important to make that concept the focus of the book?

I’m a conservationist at heart, and I work in a lot of areas of conservation for wildlife and environment. Anytime somebody goes into nature, I would encourage a “tread lightly” attitude. With Zachary, it was particularly important because he went in with the mission of collecting things. Being the packrat that he was, he was looking to get something from the Canyon as he entered it. I think for a lot of people who are going on vacation, they’re thinking a lot about what they are going to get from their experience. Sometimes we can all become a little self-focused in our own experience as we go out and see the world. I thought it was a very important and valuable element to include in the story that as he goes, he begins to see the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and without really realizing it until the end, he’s collecting things that are really more valuable than the stuff he set out to collect.

Why did you structure the book the way you did?

I wanted to build something as interactive as a picture book could be. One page gives descriptions of 16 animals found at the Canyon. All of them are found within the story, and none of them is identified, other than the mule. I just gave descriptions of the animals so that the kids would have to go look them up. It requires the readers, as they see an animal, to ask the same question they would ask if they were in the wild, which is “What is that?” And then they can go to their guidebook, which is also Zachary’s guidebook, and look that animal up and learn about it. That’s what makes going out in nature so much fun. I thought it was really exciting to find a way to do that for kids in a picture book.

Is it hard to come up with rhymes and still be informative and educational?

My grandfather was a poet, and I spent my summers with him in Minnesota when I was a little girl. He and I did a lot of rhyming games and a lot of wordplay, which is what I call this. So, as you can imagine, the crafting of a book like this is really a puzzle. Each word goes in, it comes out, and it goes back in and gets shuffled around and changed and decided upon again. It’s kind of a long, puzzle-like process to complete the text.

What is your intended audience?

I think all of my books have a thread though them, which is that they are made for multiple reasons and audiences. The book was crafted for somebody who is going to the Canyon — a child, perhaps, who gets to look through the book before they get there or see what they might see if they could hike down. But in addition, I really wanted it to be for kids who never get to the Grand Canyon — for children in classrooms all around the country, and for kids whose parents or grandparents went to the Grand Canyon and can bring them back a sliver of their trip so the child can feel like they got a little bit of the journey. It’s such a joyful thing for me to be able to work with animals, to work with wildlife and then be able to share that through my books, for kids who can relate and have been there and for kids who don’t get that opportunity. This is a window for them.

— Kirsten Kraklio

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Filed under Books, Mother Nature, Q&A

Friday Fotos: On The Water’s Edge

Lawrence Busch‎ | Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Lawrence Busch‎ | Gilbert Riparian Preserve

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” —Loren Eiseley

Thank you everyone for posting your photographs to our Facebook wall. We hope you enjoy this week’s gallery and don’t forget to share this post with your favorite people on social media. Enjoy!


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Kick Off National Park Week With Free Entrance Days April 19-20

Doug Koepsel | Grand Canyon

Doug Koepsel | Grand Canyon

Make a date this weekend to visit a national park. As national parks across the state (and the country) kick off National Park Week, visitors this weekend, April 19-20, can enjoy free entrance to any national park. So pack up the family and head, well, everywhere … Canyon de Chelly, Glen Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Hubbell Trading Post, Sunset Crater and Petrified Forest are just some of the national parks in Arizona that can be accessed free of charge. There are also plenty of events taking place this weekend and during the week, including cultural demonstrations, ranger-led walks and exhibits.

So, what are you waiting for? Plan a trip this weekend to discover one of our many national parks.


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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, April 1969


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by | April 17, 2014 · 9:00 am

Brown Fire Burning Near Ramsey Canyon

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Photo by Kelly Kramer

As temperatures warm up, we know it’s only a matter of time before a wildfire breaks out. The latest blaze, the Brown Fire, is located in Southern Arizona near Ramsey Canyon. Winds are expected to kick up today, and residents in the area have already received pre-evacuation notices. As of yesterday, the fire had burned 366 acres and containment was at zero percent. According to the Incident Information System, hotshot crews were on site yesterday constructing fire lines while firefighters scouted contingency lines. Air tankers and helicopters dropped water and fire retardant to minimize the spread. Today, crews will be back out in the area. AZCentral.com reported that the fire is still under investigation but likely was human-caused.

For more information about the Brown Fire, call 520-439-2333 or 800-288-3861. The call center will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In the meantime, four of Arizona’s national forests — the Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott and Tonto — have issued fire restrictions. Coconino National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart told the Arizona Daily Sun, “We are seeing conditions on the forests that warrant going into fire restrictions earlier than usual. … We could have a long fire season ahead of us, and we need members of the public to work with us to prevent human-caused starts.”


Filed under Eco Issues, Mother Nature

Traveling Red Chair Making Stop in Prescott

"Red" at Blair Hill Inn, Greenville, Maine

“Red” at Blair Hill Inn, Greenville, Maine

A red chair from Cape Cod that has become an Internet celebrity is coming to Prescott this weekend to help celebrate the city’s sesquicentennial.

The Prescott Pines Inn, which you may remember from our October 2013 issue, will be hosting “Red” this weekend, starting Friday, April 18. The B&B’s owner, Dawn Delaney, will be photographing Red all over Prescott, including at Courthouse Plaza, the Palace saloon, Watson Lake and other picturesque locations. And on Monday, April 21, the public can visit Red at Prescott Pines and view a slideshow that documents the chair’s travels.

What’s the big deal about a red chair? The inn explains:

It all started in the winter of 2012 with a single photographic image. Innkeeper Beth Colt of the Woods Hole Inn on Cape Cod posted a picture on Facebook of her simple red chair perched on the ice behind her house, and then watched her page light up with “likes.” The picture was shared on the Facebook page of Julie Ann Cromer, a photographer from Santa Barbara, CA, who was inspired by the image to visit Beth’s inn and took an amazing second photo of the chair on a local beach. This inspired Colt to share the chair with other innkeepers beyond the Cape Cod area, expanding “Red’s” journey through New England in late summer and fall. This lucky chair has been staying at the best inns and B&B’s throughout the country, and has its own website and blog. …

As Red has traveled it has taken on a personality of its own and been photographed at each stop in iconic places throughout that inn’s region.  Due to the overwhelming response to this humble red chair, Colt decided to send the Red Chair coast to coast via a network of B&Bs to be delivered in the Spring of 2014 to the California-based photographer who inspired all this with her photo.

To keep tabs on the chair’s cross-country journey, visit its website. And for more information on its appearance at Prescott Pines Inn this weekend, visit the inn’s website.

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