by Len Lear
In 2009 Anna Forrester’s family bought a farm in central Pennsylvania. It included a decrepit barn inhabited by a colony of bats. “This was right around the time that reports of White Nose Syndrome, which has now killed about six million bats in the U.S., were showing up in the news,” Anna said, “and I read about a citizen science project called The Appalachian Bat Count which was trying to track bat colonies to help understand the disease. My family decided to get involved.”
One result of this activism is Anna’s just-published children’s book, “Bat Count” (published by Arbordale Press and illustrated by Susan Detwiler), which Anna will discuss this Saturday, April 29, 10 a.m. to noon, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. Jojo, the hero in the book, and Anna “are both hyper-aware of the massive ecological changes that human activity has wrought and of the reality of this period of mass extinctions that humans have triggered and are now living through. It is a heavy burden, and writing ‘Bat Count’ felt like a small way to make a difference in the face of it all, and to give voice to the hopes and fears that come with all this worry.”
Forrester, 50, has lived in Fairmount since moving to Philadelphia from New York City in 1995 to get her master’s degree in landscape architecture (MLA) at the University of Pennsylvania, which she earned in 1999. A native of St. Louis, she earned her B.A. from Harvard in 1989 in “the mysteriously named field of visual and environmental studies.” She also earned a master’s in early childhood education in 1992 at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.
Anna subsequently taught at a middle school in East Orange, NJ, and a Progressive preK-8 school in New York City. She also taught graduate students in Penn’s MLA program and undergraduates studying architecture.
“My work life has always revolved around kids in one way or another,” the author told us last week, “teaching them, making gardens and landscapes for/with them, writing for them … but I’ve shifted much more of my focus to writing in the past few years.”
“Bat Count” is Anna’s first children’s book except for an “activity book” that she wrote for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden “a million years ago.” She does have other picture books in the pipeline: a couple of biographies, two more science related books and several fictional stories.
“Counting bats was the first citizen science project I got involved in,” she said, “and it was through reading news reports about White Nose Syndrome and worrying about the colony of bats we discovered in our falling-down barn that I first began to learn about them and counting them. I’ve become a bit of a bat booster as a result and also a complete convert to the cause of citizen science.”
(Citizen science is about regular citizen volunteers, both adults and children, supporting scientific research by generating or collecting data. “Citizen science is something that has been going on for hundreds of years, informally: Thoreau’s written observations about the natural world in and around Concord are often cited as a form of citizen science. Those writings are full of information that today’s environmental scientists have been able to use to gauge climate change.”)
According to Forrester, in this digital age, when most people have a powerful microcomputer (cell phone) in their pocket, “the ability to generate and produce useful data is exponentially greater. And the fact is that citizen science is an incredible powerful — and fun — way to educate and create a more scientifically literate public. And it is a great form of activism too.”
We asked Forrester a few more questions last week:
What is your hope for “Bat Count?”
“My hope for ‘Bat Count’ is that it can help give readers a sense of their own agency in helping scientists try to understand and solve the huge ecological challenges we are currently facing … I also hope to plant a little seed of hope.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
“Bring outdoors in places where there aren’t a lot of people and where there is a lot of interesting, interconnected and diverse life to check out.”
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
“I’m pretty happy with the work I do right now: kids, writing and play, but once in a while I think I might have liked to be a linguist.”
What talent would you most like to have that you do not have?
“I can draw; you sort of have to be able to as a landscape architect, but I can’t illustrate, and I would love to be able to illustrate my own picture books.”
What is your greatest regret, if there is one?
“I don’t have any real ones, though I suppose I would have liked to go to the Olympics either for synchronized swimming (I used to have an inexplicable Esther Williams obsession) or as a biathlete. As a kid, I was a great shot with a .22.”
Who are your heroes in real life, living and/or dead?
“Rachel Carson is one. The children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom is another. There are more, but I’m sort of blanking out at the moment.”
What is your biggest pet peeve?
“Not being heard. It is probably more than a pet peeve, maybe a raw nerve, and it definitely comes from growing up as the youngest and most introverted of four kids in a very loud family.”
More information about Saturday’s event at 215-844-1870 or www.annaforrester.com