Photo credit: Misha Verhagen
Writer Jennifer Shelby first began to write by the faithful light of her flashlight beneath the covers when she was supposed to be sleeping. She soon progressed to writing stories behind her textbooks during classes and sharing them with her friends at recess. It was all downhill from there, leading to a dreadfully exciting life of fiction and imaginary characters, seeing faeries everywhere, and coming up with ridiculous occupations for people who never even existed.
It is very likely that being raised by trees had something to do with it. We’re not really sure what her parents were thinking, letting her run wild in all that nature when she was an impressionable growing person. You can bet Ms. Shelby is allowing her own offspring to do the same.
Horrifically, she was also encouraged to read. She had read most of L. M. Montgomery’s works several times before she was twelve, and the author’s influence over her is undeniable. The Emily of New Moon trilogy, in particular, was dear to Jennifer’s heart, and to this day she still believes every child that aspires to be a writer should get to know Emily Starr immediately.
As she grew, Jennifer attempted to live in the “real world” but quickly gave that up. In her late teens, a decidedly sketchy fortune teller told her that she would find success as a so-called “normal person”. Ms. Shelby thought this to be an entirely inappropriate use of her life. She has avoided fortune tellers since then and prefers to write her own story, thank you very much.
She soon found employment in as a theatre projectionist which only reinforced her love of a good story. Later she became a horticulturalist in a zoo where she claims to have landscaped solely for the pleasure of the lions that lived there. Then there was an entomology lab where she stared at tiny critters through a microscope and did little to progress science, but most definitely learned to see the magic in the little things. This was followed by a tree nursery where she read the wee seedlings bedtime stories and saw that they ate all of their dinners.
Ms. Shelby studied the terribly questionable subjects of forestry technician at Algonquin College and anthropology at the University of Victoria. We are not fooled. She clearly chose those subjects so she could learn more about her favourite things: trees and the mysterious secrets of the human being.
Today Jennifer Shelby is still writing and running wild in all the nature she can find. She rarely writes by the faithful light of her flashlight under the covers anymore. It has proven difficult to find a blanket big enough to support a full grown person doing so without drafts getting in and letting all the cozy out. Personally, we think that is a rather silly excuse.
She lives with her family, dog, and cats in a wee cabin nestled into the side of a mountain by the sea in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. She still sees fairies everywhere and spends too much time coming up with ridiculous occupations for fictional people. We do not expect her to recover.
The Incredibly Truthful Diary of Nature Girl
Jennifer Shelby: writer of fairy tales and dastardly deeds, nature, and kid lit. Author of 'the Incredibly Truthful Diary of Nature Girl' (middle-grade fiction, 326 pages).
Magic happens in the forest. Things happen in the forest. Things no one would ever believe. But I know, and now you know, even if you are rather naughty for reading my diary.
Middle graders and adults alike will love following along with Nature Girl's adventures in a forest full of fairies and wonderful beings. Along the way, she will introduce readers to biology, ecology, and enhance their sense of wonder for the natural world. Through the lens of her best friend, the Stately King of Firs (an old fir tree), readers can join Nature Girl as she begins to see the elements of the forest as only part of a whole, and begins to better understand her own role in the ecosystem.
ReviewsReview From Rural Delivery (rurallife.ca) by Janet Wallace
The Incredibly Truthful Diary of Nature Girl
A novel by Jennifer Shelby. Self-published. 2014. 317 pp. Target audience: youth and young adults but will appeal to imaginative nature-lovers of all ages. For sale for $10.99 + shipping from http://jennifershelby.ca
Reviewed by Janet Wallace
About: The diary of an imaginative girl who discovers beauty and magic in the forest.
In two words: Whimsical & insightful.
Discussion: If I had The Incredibly Truthful Diary of Nature Girl when I was ten years old, it would have been my favourite book. Like me, the young protagonist loves discovering beauty in nature and imagining stories behind the inhabitants of the forests.
As in Anne of Green Gables, the protagonist names her beloved trees, streams and forest glades. But Shelby delves further in the wonders of wild ecosystems and the joys of spending time alone in the woods. The protagonist is a budding biologist, who explains complex ecological concepts in simple terms, and is unencumbered by the scientific taboo of ascribing human attributes to other species. For example, she describes how the cones of a Jack Pine require fire to release the seeds, but then reflects on the emotional turmoil of a tree that wants a fire so it can reproduce but doesn’t want to see harm come to neighbouring trees.
While reading The Incredibly Truthful Diary, I found myself recalling wonderful moments I have spent in nature, both as a child and as an adult. An example of Shelby’s evocative writing is in her description of the insect tunnels in the wood of a dying tree. “The bark is beginning to fall off in chunks now, revealing the labyrinthine scrawls of bugscript. These bugs, you see, are great writers who love to share their stories... Are they poetic epics? Are there even rhymes in bug language? I have so many questions and really, no answers at all.”
Shelby aims to educate, as well as entertain. Not only does she explain biological processes and how to take care of an infant porcupine, but she also provides lessons for children exploring the wild. She cautions against eating wild berries and mushrooms unless with an adult and writes about the dangers of fire. She also offers advice on being a responsible steward of nature – by not bothering birds on their nests and not removing animals from the wild (the mother of the porcupine was dead and she took care to avoid letting the young animal become comfortable with humans).
I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who loves nature, but particularly the children drawn to the bugs and leaves and trees around them. The book is great for families leaving in the woods but also works for urban settings. Shelby writes, “All plants pay worship to the sun but none pay it more unabashedly as the dandelion. Their roots break apart pavement to please her… A lawn is pretty, but give me a lawn dotted with yellow jewels over grass alone any day. Let them echo of wildflower meadows and life.”
The book is fanciful with talking trees and fleeting glimpses of fairies, but most of the magic is unquestionably real – the mysteries and wonders of the forests and streams.
According to the author’s biography, “Jennifer Shelby lives with her family in the forests of Caledonia Mountain, where they attempt to cultivate their sense of wonder amidst the trees and raspberries. She can often be seen hauling her dog away from yet another porcupine, getting chased by the cooper’s hawk along the Crazy Road, and searching for faeries with her daughter, Evening.”