Puffling Patrol is the fascinating story of the annual rescue of baby puffins on the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland. In this BookTalk, Ted and Betsy Lewin discuss child activism and what it’s like to be a husband and wife creative team.
How did you first learn about the Puffling Patrol? What interested you the most about this rescue effort?
A friend sent us a short article about The Puffling Patrol from The New York Times knowing we would be interested. About seven years later we finally got there.
Were you surprised by the fact that Erna and Dáni, who are so young, were so involved with this puffling rescue project? What do you think Erna and Dáni can teach us about child activism in a community?
We knew from the start that children were involved in the rescue. Erna and Dáni taught us that you’re never too young to be involved.
Children in Iceland generally learn to speak both English and Icelandic in school. In Puffling Patrol, Erna and Dáni count the numbers one through three in Icelandic. Why did you choose to incorporate the Icelandic language in that particular scene?
Erna and Dáni don’t speak English, and we felt having the children count in Icelandic would add color to our story.
What kind of research did you conduct before leaving for Iceland? After returning?
We researched the best guide, who just happened to run a guesthouse there. When we returned home we checked our facts to verify our personal experiences, and the information we gathered during our time there. Also, Ted had illustrated a book about puffins years before, and had gathered lots of research then.
Are there any funny stories from your trip to Iceland that did not make it into the book?
We transcribed our journals and wrote most of our manuscript in our guide’s kitchen—the one depicted in the book.
If you had to estimate, how many pufflings do you think you’ve drawn during the creation of this book?
We made many sketches, and drew dozens of puffins and pufflings in the process of making the book.
In nonfiction, there is a need to preserve a storytelling voice while reporting on a real life set of events. How do you make sure that the story stays engaging while simultaneously giving readers the facts?
We don’t force the voice. It’s just the natural voice that comes out of our storytelling.
You have created a number of books as a husband and wife team. What are the benefits of working with your spouse? What are the challenges?
The benefit is contributing two points of view, which makes for a richer experience for the reader. The challenge is to make our two styles of art work smoothly together.
If readers are traveling to Iceland, what should they put at the top of their list to see?
Of course we would want them to see the puffins! There are also geysers, hot springs, glaciers, and moonscapes not to be missed.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
We hope our story will instill sensitivity to the plight of wildlife, and an awareness of the fragility of our planet.
You’ve now done books about horse races in Mongolia, the Dasara celebration in India, and the Puffling Patrol in Iceland. Do you have a favorite place or experience?
We always say it’s like asking a parent which child is his or her favorite. How can you choose? Our favorite always seems to be the last place we’ve been—until we get to the next place.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re excited about? Where do you plan to travel next?
We have many exciting projects ahead of us. We’re collaborating on a book about our forty years of travel, kind of the stories behind the books, and we’ve just returned from Costa Rica with a book idea about the rain forest.