FEATURE: Colin's serious message for next generation
Dr Colin Bonnington has seen his name in print many times before.
As an ecological consultant and conservation scientist, who spends his days surveying wildlife, the former Sheffield University student has written papers that have been published in many scientific journals in the past decade.
His latest publication, however, is somewhat different; the 37-year-old has just released his first children’s book.
“It’s quite surreal,” smiles Colin.
“The concept for the book came through my PhD, when I was studing in Sheffield a few years ago.
“I was looking at the impact locally of grey squirrels - an animal which is not native to the UK, but came here from North America duing the late 19th century. Since its arrival, the grey squirrel has largely displaced the native red squirrel. What I found was that quite a lot of people have issues, even a dislike, with these squirrels as they’re not British, and that seemed, to me, to be a very topical human issue, in a world of Donald Trump, Brexit and Nigel Farage.”
With the seed of an idea planted, Colin began working on telling the story of Mrs Sciurus, a grey squirrel and a single mother living peacefully in the countryside, where she was born, before some of the other wildlife - who have taken issue with her ancestry - decide she must be ousted.
“Some animals have accepted her and her family, and others haven’t, despite the fact all of them were born in the very place they’re now being evicted from,” Colin explains.
“I think it’s a good way of introducing important issues, of prejudice, belonging, and intolerance, to children, in a book featuring memorable animal characters, that tells their tale in such a way that children will be able to take away the simple underlying messages.”
In the book Mrs Sciurus is forcibly removed from her home by horrible hare Lieutent Lepus, who drags her and young her children before Judge Strix on a number of false charges. Thankfully, some more tolerant furry creatures step in to help the family.
“I hope the book will encourage children to welcome the differences in our world, and in each other,” says Colin, who is expecting his first child with wife Suzannah.
“It can’t be a complete coincidence that I started writing a children’s book as we’re getting ready for our own little one to arrive,” says Colin.
“This book definitely parallels human social issues, and in the end, acceptance and kindness win out. Those are the kind of messages I want my own child to grow up surrounded by.
“Of course I’d love to think this book could be used as a learning aid, helping to spread a message in schools that there are things in life far more important than how you look and where you come from. It’s about what you give back and what you contribute.
And that’s not the only teaching Colin is hoping his first book - entitled The Grey Tale of Mrs Sciurus - will do. He also hopes it will encourage an interest in animals and in the enviroment among children, and he has even included a number of elements of scientific learning in the book, including using many of the real animals scientific names as their given names.
“It’s so important, for ecology, to know the latin names, so this was a great way for me to be able to get those across - and give myself a little reminder!” Colin laughs.
“So Vulpes is the name of the fox in the story, Meles is the badger, and - of course - Mrs Sciurus is the squirrel.”
Colin admits he’s always loved reading, and that as a child he particularly enjoyed books by Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, and is a fan of the books of David Walliams, with their quirky comedy.
“I already have ideas for a few other books I’d love to write,” Colin confirms.
“I’ve had 12 scientific articles published in recent years, but now that I’ve found a way of bringing my two passions, of books and wildlife, together, I’m keen to explore other stories.”
And he’s wasting no time. Despite the fact that The Grey Tale of Mrs Sciurus was released just last month, he has already finished another book, due out later this month, and a third one that will be released in June.
“All of the ideas for these stories have come, in some way, from my day job, and the work I do.
“The second book is about the badger, Meles, who is keen to stay in his set, or den, despite a greedy farmer who is determined to get rid of him. The third is about the animals of the countryside all joining forces to help save a tree that these horrible guys are wanting to cut down for timber. It’s a classic animals against humans, David and Goliath story.”
And as well as writing the stories, Colin - who now lives with his wife in Chester - has put pen to paper as illustrator too.
“I’ve always loved drawing, and I’m really pleased with how it’s all come out,” says Colin.
“I worked with a cover artist on the book who did a brilliant job, and was really encouraging, which gave me the confidence to do it.
“Family and friends, and others who have read the book so far have been really positive about it. Sheffield University also wrote a piece about me in their magazine, as a former student, which was really nice and a great boost. The book is on sale now in quite a few outlets, so I’m really keen to get people reading it, and hope they appreciate the story and its message.”
The book, for children aged 7-10, is available on Amazon, priced £5.99.