I'm thrilled to have Deb Aronson, author of How to Raise a Rhino, with me today. Her non-fiction middle-grade biography is currently on sale through bookshop.org, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and anywhere else books are sold.
Save the Date! Deb is having a virtual book launch hosted by Save the Rhino International on June 15. Click here to register for the event!
Before we learn more about this fun book, let's get to know Deb!
Deb, can you tell us about the research you did before writing this book?
I first heard about Anna Merz from her obituary, which had an accompanying photo of a full grown rhino resting its chin on her shoulder. My response was, “Whoa!!” what’s the story here? I did some online research, tracked down Anna’s goddaughter, met with her in Cornwall, England. She put me in touch with many, many people who had known and worked with Anna when she was alive. The next thing I knew, I was on a safari to Kenya, to the sanctuary Anna had created, where I stood at the site of her home (which had been dismantled per her request upon her death), saw black rhinos for myself (along with elephants, cheetahs, lions, hyenas, warthogs and more) and tried to imagine what her life must have been like by talking to many people who knew her.
Tell us about a book that stayed with you long after you finished reading it.
An adult book that I can’t stop thinking about is The Water Dancer, by Ta Nehisi Coates. The tone of this book was at times menacing, at times magical and at times eye-opening. It’s the first book I’ve read that shows how white allies’ goals can be very different from their black brethren’s goals. The magical realism in it made the story feel other worldly, but the brutality of the plantations and the life of what he calls the “Taskers” is heart rending.
A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games (MG NF), by Lori Alexander. It never occurred to me to wonder how the Paralympic Games came to be, but Alexander does a great job weaving in both Guttmann’s personal experiences and world events that intersected in such a way as to create this idea and opportunity for Guttmann. It’s also really well illustrated with both photographs and drawings. This is a book I wish I had written!
How did you become an author?
I always loved to read but I never imagined myself as an author. Who would want to read what I had to say? The journey from that mindset to now was a long one with plenty of stumbles. I did a lot of short form writing for non-profits most of my career but at some point I wanted a new challenge; to write for kids and to try my hand at fiction. The fiction part fizzled, but I got the opportunity to write a MG biography of E.B. White, my hero, and that got me started on my current path.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less.
Exuberant, shy, energetic, lazy and multi-faceted!
About the book
How to Raise a Rhino
Author: Deb Aronson
Genre: MG NF (biography)
Have you ever wondered, what you would do if you saw an animal on the brink of extinction?
After growing up in stodgy, post-WWII London, Anna Merz is determined to live a life of grand adventure. She spends much of her life in Ghana, racing horses, exploring the Sahara, and rescuing orphaned wild animals that are dropped at her door.
Anna Merz retired to Kenya anticipating plenty of rest and relaxation. Instead, she found her true calling: that of Kifaru Mama—Rhino Mama. After witnessing the slaughter of wild animals sold for their parts, Anna is determined to rescue the highly endangered black rhino, the dodo of the modern world—ungainly creatures destined for extinction. From building eight-foot-tall fences around five thousand acres of land, to darting rhinos from helicopters and trucking them to safety, Anna works to save one black rhino at a time.
When faced with having to raise a newborn rhino abandoned by her mother or let it die, Anna learns by trial and error to not only keep baby Samia alive but to raise her so she’ll be able to live on her own.
How to Raise a Rhino is the true story of Anna Merz who helped establish the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, which became the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Readers of all ages will cheer Anna on as she faces and defeats every obstacle with unwavering perseverance to save the black rhino from being poached to extinction.
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Peek between the pages...
A slow-moving convoy drove away from the bright lights of Nairobi, toward the snowy peaks of Mt. Kenya to the north. The armed men in the lead truck held their rifles at the ready. Their eyes constantly scanned the vicinity, prepared to shoot to kill to protect their cargo. The third and last truck carried more armed men dressed in the same khaki uniforms of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS). And a veterinarian.
Between them, a pickup truck carried a large wooden crate.
Wedged next to the crate sat a little, brown-haired white woman.
The woman shivered in the cold night air; she worried about the creature in the crate; she knew an attack could come at any moment. She was cold. She was anxious. She was scared.
She was ecstatic.
This was Anna Merz and the crate held her dreams. Anna had created a vast sanctuary where black rhinos could live safe from poachers. All she needed was rhinos to fill it. These first black rhinos would have babies and those babies would have babies and in this way the population of black rhinos might slowly recover.
The presence of this first, real-live rhino made her dream feel possible.
“Many people have asked me, ‘why rhinos?’” she wrote. “Did I particularly like them or have a ‘thing’ about them? The answer is very simple: the rhinos are in Kenya and I was in Kenya, and the rhinos were in terrible trouble.”
About the author:
Deb has been a freelance writer for kids since 2008, when she joined SCBWI. She loves to write nonfiction stories about ordinary people (usually women) doing extraordinary things; stories she wishes she’d had in middle school.
“How to Raise a Rhino” is her third children’s book.
Her true story of the famous filly who beat all the boys Alexandra the Great: The Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack was published by Chicago Review Press in 2017.
Deb has 12 houseplants, 7 boats, 2 kids and one cat. When she’s not writing or researching, Deb likes to sail, putter in her garden and read, though not all at the same time.
Her fourth book, “King Cobras”, will come out in August 2023.
Connect with Deb