[Meet the Storyteller] Of Ranger Girls, Zoology, and Writing for Children in Singapore: Interview with Anita Sebastian

MeetTheStoryteller

Meet the Storyteller: Anita Sebastian

Anita

Hi Anita! Myra here. In behalf of the GatheringBooks team, we bid you welcome and thank you for agreeing to be our featured author this January-February.

You have just recently launched your Ranger Anne Series (Ranger Anne and the Curious Snake, Ranger Anne and the Proud Flamingos, Ranger Anne and the Active Leopard, Ranger Anne and the Flying Stingray). Do tell our readers a little more about who Ranger Anne is and what she does.

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Ranger Anne is a feisty little girl who loves animals. And good for her, she has her dream job: Ranger!

As a ranger, Anne has the opportunity to learn about animals and, at the same time, take care of them. She works with other rangers and sometimes accompanies the vets as well. Ranger Anne wants to learn because she loves animals, and so she dares to try new things and she is not afraid to ask questions.

As Ranger Anne is young, she still has a lot to learn. And so, she asks questions and studiously takes notes in her little notebook (Ranger Anne and the Curious Snake). She also has to learn some things on her own, so she does her own research (Ranger Anne and the Proud Flamingos). Like most children, Ranger Anne enjoys playing with her friends (Ranger Anne and the Active Leopard) and she likes things that are fun and unusual (Ranger Anne and the Flying Stingray).

Ranger Anne understands how beautiful and important animals are to the earth. That’s why she is able to recognise and support the reality that humans have to take care of animals and their homes. This includes forests, reserves and the seas.

She is quite awesome, don’t you think?

I totally agree. You are a zoologist by training from the National University of Singapore. In Armour Publishing’s author website, it says that The Ranger Anne Series was inspired by your time working at the Night Safari. Could you share with us some of the highlights of your work at the Night Safari?

There were so many wonderful things about the Night Safari. I was at Night Safari doing R&D on fireflies. The field trips were magical. The firefly area at the Night Safari was located along the Leopard Trail by the python enclosure. It faced the reservoir. A beautiful place indeed!

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Anita loves exploring.

After a year or so in firefly R&D, the curator decided that I should do a round of duties all over the Night Safari. It was a dream come true—I got the opportunity to work with all the animals! I couldn’t be happier. And with this experience, I learnt a lot about ranger duties, animal behaviour and care, and even about plants.

When I worked the day shift, I had more time to spend with the animals. So I could spend more time learning and interacting with animals, and even sketching. I really enjoyed that. When I did the night shift, I spend more time with the guests. I enjoyed sharing information about each animal with the people who were there. Both shifts were good.

It was also very inspiring to work with people who loved animals and took such good care of them.

Have you always wanted to write for children? What was the creative process like for you in writing the Ranger Anne books?

I guess I am what you may call an “accidental writer”. I did not plan it, if that’s what you

Anita also enjoys going off the beaten track.

Anita also enjoys going off the beaten track.

mean. You see, I enjoyed the sharing stories with friends and their children, and I did not think of myself as an author.

One day, I decided to pen my animal stories. I cleaned it up until I was happy, and then sent the manuscript out. I was so happy to get an email that a publisher liked my stories. This dream was so distant, I truly believe it came to realisation because of God’s blessing.

I loved the writing process—it took me back to the field again. You see, I am a “visual person” and I see stories in pictures. So as the stories filled page after page, I put myself into the pictures in my mind’s eye and ‘see’ what could happen in a zoo setting. Some instances can be rather challenging as I have to stretch my imagination and still keep it within the boundaries of what works for zoos, animals and rangers.

Do you have a favourite among the four books in the series so far? Which one took the longest time to write? Which one did you most struggle with? Which one were you most excited about?

That’s a good question and one that many people ask me. My favourite stories are those inspired from real events: This includes the Ranger Anne and the Active Leopard and Ranger Anne and the Curious Snake from Set 1, and Ranger Anne and the Magical Fireflies, Ranger Anne and the Graceful Giraffe and Ranger Anne and the Smiling Slow Loris from Set 2.

But if I had to choose only one, it would have to be the Active Leopard. That was the first story I wrote and the one I always told the children I used to babysit. After work at Night Safari, they would ask, “How is the leopard?” or “Did you play with him today?”

The story for the stingray was a little challenging. Although I dive, I have not taken care of animals in big tanks. So I had to do a lot of research and talk to people about how this is done.

From the four books, I was so excited about the story of the snake. I remembered the little snake I took care of before. I hope that I translated the thrill and joy I had taking of that snake into the narrative for the readers.

In Ranger Anne and the Active Leopard, you showed the beautiful friendship between Anne and a leopard named Leonard, while in Ranger Anne and the Curious Snake, you showed the connection between Anne and a baby python named Snow. In your work as a zoologist, have you had a similar kind of friendship with wild creatures/ dangerous animals, and what was the experience like?

Yes, you hit the nail on the head, Myra! Both these stories are inspired from my work at the Night Safari many years ago.

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There were also other animals I felt I had a bond with. I remember taking weeks and weeks to entice a little deer to walk up to me and get some food from my hands. His fur was so soft and smooth. I remember stroking the face of a rhino and wondering if he could feel my fingers as his skin was so thick. Then there is the little elephant who looked like he was always smiling; you just have to smile when you see him. It always made my day! And there were dragonflies too. So many beautiful colours, just flying by in the afternoon.

Working with animals is so humbling and it gave me so much joy. If you ever have a chance to volunteer or work with animals, I would say (and Ranger Anne would say), “Go for it!”

Talk to us about your love for animals and the natural environment – how did this develop and evolve for you?

In primary school, I had a habit of drawing the pictures I found in biology books into my sketchbook. I did not understand all the parts, but I liked drawing the ear and the heart (strange, right?).

doodles

As I got older, I enjoyed drawing outlines and silhouettes of animals and plants. It was just a different way to look at them. In the university, as I looked at pictures of insects taken from a scanning electron microscope, I could not believe the symmetry and the perfection that was before me. Then, I started taking a closer look at animals and plants.

From Anita: The first tendril on my bitter gourd plant. How precious!

From Anita: The first tendril on my bitter gourd plant. How precious!

Animals and plants are really are exquisite and perfectly made. I could only sit back and marvel at it. I find myself still catching my breath when I see an eagle soaring in the sky or a squirrel running up a tree or the mimosa touch-me-nots shyly closing its leaflets as I gently run my fingers over them.

It is wonderful that in modern Singapore, I can still see so many wonderful animals and plants. I hope they remain with us for a long time. It would be a pity for our children and grandchildren if they could not enjoy watching these animals and plants too.

What are some of the more rewarding reactions of young girl readers to your Ranger Anne Series? Have they shared their responses with you yet?

This question has me smiling already. I like writing stories in layers. As you read the books, you would see that I leave the emotion and lesson of Ranger Anne’s character to come from the reader. That’s just how I write.

At one of the storytelling sessions, I paused when I was reading about Ranger Anne’s

Anita checking out the flowing waters in Kyrgyzstan

Anita checking out the flowing waters in Kyrgyzstan

dream about her friend, Leonard the leopard. I asked the kids a question about dreams and I was getting so many answers. Then one little boy raised his hand and asked, “So what happened to Leonard? Is he okay?” That made me smile. It’s a big hug for me to hear this child relating to my stories.

A parent told me that her daughter read about Snow the snake and her eyes filled up with tears (haha! just brimming and refused to fall) when she realised that Ranger Anne had to give Snow up. And you know, that’s just how I felt as well. Again, it was a virtual hug to hear this.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll give you a hint. In Ranger Anne and the Proud Flamingos, you would see that Anne is dedicated to her work even if the results are not what she had hoped for. You see, her care for animals is sincere and not based on rewards.

If you would like to share other lessons or values you gather from the books, drop me a note: RangerAnneBooks (at) gmail (d0t) com

Our current reading theme this January-February has to do with fairy tales. Could you share with our GatheringBooks readers what your favourite fairy tale was as a child?

Oooh I loved getting books from the mobile library as a child. It was my highlight of the week. I would get fiction with fairies and princess, spells and riddles. It was a beautiful world to escape to.

The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen would be my favourite. It gave me hope that there is a possibility to change from “simple” or “ugly” and become “special”. And it is not just about looks.

Also, it may not always be easy to ignore what people (or ducks) say about you. Just remember the swan.

There is much strength in stories.

Any upcoming books that we should look forward to?

Yes, eight more books! On February 29, the second set of four books will be out *wheeeee*

So look out for Ranger Anne and the Magical Fireflies, Ranger Anne and the Noisy Elephant, Ranger Anne and the Graceful Giraffe, and Ranger Anne and the Smiling Slow Loris.

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In September 2016, the last instalment of the Ranger Anne series will be out. They are Ranger Anne and the Mischievous Orang Utan, Ranger Anne and the Clever Tiger, Ranger Anne and the Playful Tapir, and Ranger Anne and the Gentle Antelope.

Thank you again, dear Anita, for being our featured guest in GatheringBooks.

  1. This sounds like a fun way for kids to learn more about animals! I love that we get a little background information on this author and her writing.

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