Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Be Fearless: Read Wild
by Terry Lynn Johnson
A friend once made a passing comment about my first book, Ice Dogs (HMH 2014), in which a young girl gets lost in Alaska for days with her dog team. “I hope this doesn’t scare kids from going outdoors,” my friend said.
It’s something that I have kept in mind while writing my books. Not that I’ve tried to hide the dangers, but rather the opposite. The more kids get to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the nature, including reading about them, the more in tune they will become with that world. Learning about what could happen in the wild and how to deal with it offers a sense of empowerment.
Over the years, I’ve had many misadventures and near misses; I once fell through ice and had the air sucked out of my lungs by the frigid water. Another time, I narrowly escaped getting crushed in my tent by a tree. Then there was the moose that pondered crushing me in my tent. Twice I’ve come face-to- face with a bear. I was almost struck by lightning. I’ve been dragged by my dog team. I’ve been caught in confused seas in my kayak and spent additional, white-knuckled hours tossed by rough waves in my patrol vessel, desperate to reach the closest bay. And most recently, a tick bit me, which very nearly killed me.
We all have misadventures. Maybe yours aren’t in the outdoor survival category. Perhaps, for you, it was “that time I fell off the sidewalk, sprained my ankle, and almost got hit by a bus.” It didn’t make you afraid of sidewalks. It only made you more aware of what could happen if you did not watch your step.
My experiences have not made me afraid to go into the bush. They have taught me valuable lessons. They have given me an appreciation of my capabilities—and kept me in awe of nature. If there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s wild places. My adventures, both good and bad, have energized me. They have taught me resilience, the most important trait for any life challenge. The more I learn, the more prepared I am for the next time.
The more young people know about how to handle a crisis, the more prepared they will be if they experience one. I certainly hope that they never have to deal with the situations I’ve put my characters in—tossed overboard into freezing ocean water, buried by an avalanche, or lost and injured in the Montana backcountry. But perhaps my books will instill within them the same respect for nature that my characters feel. Maybe my readers will be interested enough to get outdoors.
And let’s face it—it’s good, page-turning fun reading about someone else in a snarly situation!
Terry Lynn Johnson talks about sled dog commands!