Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons by Laura Purdie Salas and Alexandria Neonakis

Happy Monday! Laura Purdie Salas and Alexandria Neonakis stopped by to finish my sentences. We discussed Finding Family: The Ducking Raised by Loon, Alexandria's illustrations, poetry, and more. I wrote the words in purple, Laura wrote the words in black, and Alexandria wrote the words in green. Thank you, Laura and Alexandria! 

Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons is a true story of two Wisconsin loons that raised a mallard duckling—even though these two species don’t get along! It’s about nature vs. nurture and not being limited by “typical” behaviors, and it’s about embracing the love that’s right in front of you. It’s also about the unanswerable questions in life and how we have to make peace with the not knowing. And it’s all wrapped up in a 32-page STEM picture book based on loon researchers’ field notes, photos, and videos!

Alexandria Neonakis’ illustrations are lush and stormy and exuberant and magical. They’re perfect for a story about a family—a story of loss, love, and hope. The firefly spread near the end makes me swoon, and every time I look at it, I feel so lucky that Alexandria said yes to this project!

Poetry is a chameleon, and I’d define it differently depending on the day. Mostly, I think poetry is compressed, powerful, maybe playful language. It’s words that sing and that make us see or feel something familiar in a surprising new way. At its best, poetry is the poet’s heart laid bare.

Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons’ cover felt fairly straightforward since the story was inspired by the incredible photographs by Linda Grenzer, a member of the Loon Project team that documented this family. However, we didn't want the cover to be a direct copy of those photos. The baby duck is alert but relaxed on the loon parent's back, and the surrounding green water is calm and glassy, reflecting some of the summer foliage of the Wisconsin lake to help set the scene before you open the book. I also love all the texture and patterns on adult loons, so I played that up quite a bit.

Laura Purdie Salas’s writing made me tear up, haha. I knew after one read through of the manuscript that I wanted to illustrate this story. I love painting expressive but naturalistic scenes, and a lot of my inspiration comes from scientific illustrations. Laura’s attention to detail about the animals and her desire to stay true to their behavior while delivering a beautiful and touching story really resonated with me. She tells the story of these birds so elegantly, giving them personality without anthropomorphizing them too much.

Ducks are currently my two-year-old niece’s favorite animal (subject to change daily). So I thought of her often while working on this. My sister and her family live in Vancouver, Canada, while I'm in Los Angeles, California, so I don't get to see them as often as I’d like. Especially with how Covid has been. I take any opportunity I can to bring her into my life and share mine with hers, so this felt like a really nice way to do that.

Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 130 books for kids, including If You Were the Moon, Water Can Be . . ., and Bookspeak! Poetry and rhyming nonfiction books are her favorite things to write. Laura loves to do author visits, writing workshops, and teacher inservices. 

Alexandria Neonakis is a freelance concept artist, fine artist and illustrator from Nova Scotia, Canada, currently residing in Los Angeles with her husband and various pets. Previously she was a senior concept artist at Wonderstorm and a character concept artist at Naughty Dog. When she's not working, you'll find her at home with her husband John and their way too many pets, out in nature painting and shooting reference, or at the barn she rides at hanging out with horses.

Look for Finding Family: The Ducking Raised by Loons on March 7, 2023. 


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