Retired teacher’s book, ‘Moonglow,’ encourages kids to learn about nature

04/28/2019 6:00 AM |

“Have you ever seen a night when the moon glowed so bright it almost seemed like daylight?”

Those words popped into Peggy Dickerson’s head late one night in 2013, as moonlight creeping through her Cutchogue kitchen window sparked her creativity.

“I walked back into a dark bedroom, pen in hand, and wrote it out,” Ms. Dickerson said last week. Her 15 initial lines would eventually become a 48-page book, “Moonglow,” which will be released next month.

“Moonglow” takes young readers into an eastern North American forest during a full moon, as songbirds, deer, raccoons and other critters play and find magic among indigenous flora.

Ms. Dickerson, who taught at Cutchogue East Elementary School for 30 years, credits her late father, Paul Stoutenburgh, with her fascination with nature. 

Mr. Stoutenburgh and his wife, Barbara, wrote the “Focus on Nature” column for Times/Review newspapers for 50 years.

“I was very much influenced by their love of nature,” Ms. Dickerson said. “My dad’s teachings were every day and every moment we were outside.”

Examining pond inhabitants or taking bird watching hikes through the woods, Ms. Dickerson’s most cherished memories are entwined with nature. “My dad’s articles were always about informing the public so they would have a love of nature and would want to protect it,” she said. 

It’s something Ms. Dickerson aspired to embody, both as a schoolteacher and as a former Southold Town Trustee. 

“I always got the kids outside,” she said, recalling local field trips to ocean, river and woodland habitats. 

Ms. Dickerson also brought nature into her classroom, once catching a garter snake for a lesson. It got loose and, to her students’ surprise, she picked the snake back up and placed it in a tank. “I think they expected me to squeal and scream and get a custodian,” she said, laughing.

“[‘Moonglow’] is a place where I can continue teaching children after having retired,” she said.

“Moonglow” also features an appendix that encourages children to learn about other woodland creatures as well as phases of the moon.

The story is brought to life with illustrations created by Southold resident Cynthia Wells. The women met after Ms. Dickerson served as a town Trustee with Ms. Wells’ husband, Geoffrey. “I handed Cynthia a sheet with the sentences. Her first illustration blew me away,” Ms. Dickerson said. “Cynthia envisioned what I had in my head.”

Ms. Wells is a fine artist and animation filmmaker whose work includes Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound.”

As an animator, Ms. Wells said it was important to get the anatomy correct. “I’ve learned so much,” she said. These illustrations presented a fun challenge for Ms. Wells, since the action takes place at night. “In the dark with the moonlight, that was a really interesting creative problem for me to solve,” she said.

Ms. Wells created each drawing on a tablet in Adobe Photoshop. “I couldn’t believe how much time she spent on moonbeams and pond ripples,” Ms. Dickerson said, pointing out subtle details in each image.

Following the moonbeams on each page, she pointed out, is where the “magic” happens. Keen observers will also spot a field mouse hidden among each species.

It took three years for Ms. Wells to complete the illustrations for “Moonglow.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Dickerson was writing and sending out query letters to publishing companies. “I would write and get rejected and write and get rejected,” she said. Eventually, Mr. Wells suggested they publish her book through his production company, Ice Wine Productions.

Mr. Wells was tasked with designing the book and, after months of reviewing various proofs, the team is ready to hit the printers for a May 1 release.

Ms. Dickerson is planning a local book tour to read to children at East End libraries this summer and hopes to have a booth at the Strawberry Festival in June.

An occasional substitute teaching stint has provided the educator a trial run at how kindergarten through fourth-graders react to the story. “They have loved it. Their first comment is that the pictures are amazing,” she said.

Even fifth-grade classes have enjoyed the book, which is used as a launchpad for a lesson in creative writing. Mr. Wells created a website to expand on thematic elements of the book, including multimedia learning opportunities and ideas for family activities. “It’s been an adventure,” Mr. Wells said. “It goes well beyond the book.”

Holding a copy of her first published book in her hands represents more than just accomplishing a goal. It allows Ms. Dickerson to continue teaching science, art and writing skills to children. “I love sharing the love of the natural environment with children, the hope being that they’ll grow up loving the environment and preserve it one day.”

“Moonglow” is available for pre-order on Amazon for $23. It will also be available at several local retailers. For more information, visit moonglowkids.com.

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