In the 35 years since the publication of her 1988 debut novel, The Bean Tree, Barbara Kingsolver has written fiction, nonfiction, essays, and poetry books for adult readers. Now the Pulitzer Prize-winning author has written her first book for children, in partnership with her daughter, Lily Kingsolver. Coyote’s Wild Home, illustrated by Paul Mirocha, aimed at readers ages six and up, will be released on October 17 with a 25,000-copy initial print run by the Gryphon Press, a small press in Minneapolis. Gryphon Press is headed by Milkweed Editions founding publisher emeritus, Emilie Buchwald, and her daughter, Dana Buchwald.
Coyote’s Wild Home is set in the Appalachian region in the southeastern U.S. during Diana and Grandfather’s hike through the woods to their campsite. As the two walk through the forest and then fish for their supper, they see signs throughout—such as different kinds of tracks and scat studded with fish scales—demonstrating that the forest is home to a variety of creatures. Grandfather explains that it is important that the eco-system maintains the proper balance of predators and their prey. Coyotes, Grandfather notes, are predators that play an essential role in maintaining that balance.
Meanwhile, two coyotes, Auntie and Coyote Pup, make their way through the same forest, hunting for food on Coyote Pup’s first such excursion under Auntie’s supervision. They occasionally pick up the scent of human beings in the vicinity. As the two prowl, gobbling up mice, a vole, berries, and other delicacies, Auntie reflects on the changing nature of the forests. Auntie’s world is shrinking because humans are cutting down trees and building up the land, forcing coyotes and other woodland creatures to hunt for their food increasingly close to where humans live.
Complementing the text with its two parallel stories are alternating sets of illustrations: Diana and Grandfather are the focus of one set, and Auntie and Coyote Pup are the focus of the other; in one illustration, the two animals peer through the foliage and see the two humans.
When asked how a small children’s book publisher in Minnesota was able to entice Kingsolver, who usually publishes with HarperCollins, Emilie explained that “it started a long time ago,” when she was publisher of Milkweed, which has always been renowned for its books on nature and the environment. Emilie solicited a blurb from Kingsolver regarding “a wonderful book,” Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, which Milkweed published in 2004. “She was very gracious and gave us a marvelous blurb,” Emilie recalled.
Emilie, who retired from Milkweed in 2003 and launched Gryphon in 2006, described the mission of the press, which has published 25 picture books to date, as providing “a voice for the voiceless,” with its emphasis on books about animals.
”All of our picture books are illustrated by great artists,” she said. “They talk about the issues that animals face. The idea of these books is to develop empathy for all animals.” While initially Gryphon focused on the humane treatment of companion animals, it expanded two years ago to include a line of books about wildlife.
“We began approaching very distinguished authors,” Emilie said. “The idea was to ask these authors of adult books to write a picture book, their first children’s book.” The first book in the series, published in November 2021, is Jake and Ava: A Boy and a Fish by biologist Jonathan Balcombe, illustrated by Rebecca Evans. “He translated his extensive knowledge of fish into a picture book,” Dana commented. This was followed by naturalist Scott Weidensaul’s book, A Warbler’s Journey, a tale of bird migration illustrated by Nancy Lane.
“When we decided to do a book about coyotes, it seemed to us that the best possible choice would be Barbara Kingsolver,” Emilie said. “She wrote this marvelous book, Prodigal Summer. In the book, coyotes are very important characters and she writes positively about them. In fact, the last scene is from the perspective of a female coyote, the mother of a litter.”
Dana added, “She’s Barbara Kingsolver, and she writes brilliantly: we love her writing. And she is trained as a biologist; she had really studied coyote biology when she wrote Prodigal Summer.”
After the Buchwalds asked Kingsolver to write a picture book “about co-existence with coyotes and their value as predators in keeping the wilderness alive,” Kingsolver was “intrigued,” Emilie noted, at the prospect of writing in a new genre. But it was Lily, who is an environmental educator, who conceptualized the plot. “Lily proposed the story of two youngsters, a coyote pup and a little girl, having intertwined adventures in the wilderness. They were excited to work together to do that.”
“We’re not saying in this book to go out and be friends with coyotes,” Dana pointed out. “They’re not dogs; they’re wild animals. But the idea of co-existence is a good place to start in understanding coyotes and their place in the eco-system and why they need to be protected.”
Kingsolver intends to promote the book with her daughter as their schedules allow, Emilie said, though much of the promotion will be online. Kingsolver has already announced Coyote’s Wild Home on her social media accounts. In a May post on Instagram, she wrote, “I’m extremely excited to announce my foray into a whole new genre. Co-author Lily Kingsolver and I decided that after centuries of bad wolves and bears, predators needed better representation in children’s books. Illustrator Paul Mirocha brought our best dreams to life. Coming out in October from Gryphon Press.”
“We enjoyed working together,” Dana said. “It was fun for us because we’re a mother-daughter team and the Kingsolvers are too. And the artist, Paul Mirocha, is someone whom Emilie had worked with while at Milkweed, who is also a long-time friend of Barbara’s. He stayed with them on their farm in Appalachia and they all walked around this forest area near the farm; that’s what you see in the illustrations of the book. It was a fun collaboration all around.”
Expressing her pride in her company’s forthcoming release, Emilie said she expects it to have a big impact due to its topical nature. “It’s a beautiful book and it has something important to say about co-existence and the wilderness,” she declared. “Coyote’s Wild Home couldn’t be more timely as smoke from the recent Canadian wildfires spreads over much of the U.S. and we are reminded of how precious and fragile our forests are and how all ecosystems and all life are connected. We agree with what Katherine Applegate said in her blurb for the book: Coyote’s Wild Home is ‘a love letter to the natural world.’ ”