In real life, a smallmouth bass and a bald eagle would be an unlikely friend pairing, but in the colorful children’s book “Larry and Bob,” by Loudoun County author Karen Schaufeld, they become the best of pals. Though they come from two separate worlds, the two animals bond over their shared duty of fatherhood and form a unique friendship that opens their eyes to different experiences and ways of life.
Now, just in time for Father’s Day, Schaufeld is releasing an animated read-along version on her website free with book purchase. Washington FAMILY chatted with the author about her inspiration for “Larry and Bob,” what she hopes readers will take away from it and what she’s working on next.
What inspired you to write this book?
The first inspiration came from my observation of two animals. I live on a farm on the Potomac River in an area well known for smallmouth bass fishing. There was an eagle’s nest right on the edge of the river that I could see every day, and I knew that they were eating the fish because we had a camera on the nest, so we could see when the eagles brought them up and see the bones afterward.
There was also this [conflict] going on in the country between two (political) parties with differing power dynamics. I was interested in figuring out how to address that and how to bring out the idea that these two parties ought to think differently about each other.
These two ideas started to merge, and I began to think of this “what if” scenario: What if the eagle didn’t eat the fish?
Why did you choose to focus on fatherhood?
This book really didn’t start out as a book on fatherhood. The characters are male because, as the story emerged, they felt male to me for some reason. I chose Larry and Bob because they’re two very common male names.
The fatherhood aspect emerged because it gave the characters a shared duty. Larry was able to recognize Bob’s role as a father, and they were able to connect over this shared passion of taking care of their children.
There aren’t many books on fatherhood, necessarily, but there’s a real value in that role. I think that if we ever want to achieve a society where parenting is valued, then we have to emphasize the importance of fathers being present and spending time with their kids.
What do you hope children and parents will take away from this book?
I certainly hope that people will take away the value of friendship and that it should be embraced and enjoyed. This book deals with loss, which speaks to valuing the important relationships in your life. I hope it will open people up to idea of learning from people who are different from you. We all have different experiences and we may come from different cultures, but we do have those shared bonds and a shared humanity.
There’s also this idea that you should notice the beauty around you and be grateful for it. These two characters ask each other about their respective worlds and learn to appreciate the great things in the other’s world as well as their own.
Another theme is the issue of common humanity and things that bind us together rather than tear us apart. In one scene, Larry Jr. falls out of the nest and, without thinking, Bob swims up under him to save him. That was him going with his best instinct, and I think that’s something we should work on applying to our own lives. People will often come together and also often tear each other apart, and I think that if we can go with our best instincts, then things in the world could be better.
What do you want people to take away from all of your books as a whole?
There’s actually a philosophy behind my books, and it’s that there’s a value in having a parent or grandparent read to a child. It’s a shared experience and an important bonding moment. My books aren’t designed to help a child learn to read, they don’t use small words or repetitive language. They’re designed to showcase the beauty of a story and the beauty of words — so I may choose a word that isn’t the easiest for a child to understand — but it’s what I feel, as a writer, is the right word to use. And that encourages an interaction between the parent and child where they can ask what a word means and get that vocabulary acquisition.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, “Vultures, a Love Story,” that is set to come out this summer?
Where I live there’s a lot of roadkill, so I see vultures every day. They’re a really important part of our ecosystem; they’re kind of like nature’s garbagemen, but people don’t like them because they’re ugly and noisy. People often devalue things in our society, but everybody has skills — and though they might not be the skills you have, they’re still valuable.
I wanted to make vultures endearing, and I created this love story about appreciating the underappreciated. The book is science-based, and I talk about how they eat and what their role is in the ecosystem. I thought to myself, “Is this too raw? Is it too much to describe them eating a dead animal?” But my books are about serious subjects and stuff that kids should know about and understand. This is where the parents come in, because kids are going to encounter these things, and it’s a parent’s job to help them navigate those themes and ask questions.