Stacie Theis interviews published author Mary Ellen Ryall

Meet Mary Ellen Ryall, Author of My Name is Butterfly

What inspired you to become a children’s author?

I became a children’s author quite accidently, perhaps by serendipity. I have a passion and great love for the natural world in which I live. An Ojibwe elder, Margaret Lynk (Soaring Woman) once told me, “Let nature teach you.” I never forgot that lesson.

I am an environmental educator and executive director of Happy Tonics, Inc., a nonprofit, 501 (c) (3) environmental education organization and public charity. Children need to learn from nature. Hopefully they will feel a passion for the natural world throughout their lives. One day, in the not so distant future, children will inherit the Earth from us. Hopefully some will become future stewards of the land. Nature can exist without the human species, but humans cannot survive without nature. Robert Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, addresses this critical fact in his book. He believes children and many adults have nature deficit disorder.

Each of us is given gifts. I was given a great love for nature. I want to share my life’s work and expertise with the younger generation. I want to teach children about the beautiful natural world on this planet, which we call home. 

How did you come up with the idea for your first book, My Name is Butterfly?

Back in 2003, I witnessed a monarch caterpillar in my garden. Each day, I would go to the garden to check on the monarch’s life cycle. I was in the garden when the adult monarch butterfly emerged. I spent the first three hours, of the monarch’s life, taking notes and photographing the experience. I even wrote, “What is this butterfly trying to teach me?” In 2006, I wrote the story of a young girl in her garden who learns about monarch biology from a butterfly. One can read the story behind the book. Frank Zufall, reporter, Spooner Advocate, wrote an article, “This county story begins under a plant,” at www.spooneradvocate.com.

How long did it take to get My Name is Butterfly published?
In the summer of 2008, I hired several youth through a grant from Concentrated Employment Program. It just so happened that I had unwittingly hired a publisher’s granddaughter. I told India Casey that I had written a children’s story about the monarch butterfly. Happy Tonics had implemented a native restored remnant tallgrass prairie, which is a Monarch Butterfly Habitat, on city land in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. India told her grandmother about the story. A few days later Lindy Casey, owner of Salt of the Earth Press, came to the office. She read the story and said, “This is important. I am going to publish it.” It took from 2008 until 2011 to get the book published. The reason it took so long was that the publishing house burned down. The publisher had to resurrect the business from the ashes.

What was your favorite book as a child?
I don’t know the title, and I wish I did. It was a story about an elder, a grandmother- type person. The grandmother had a house that was on the way to school. The grandmother made chocolate candy. The young child, in the book, would stop at the elder’s house on her way home from school. She would open the white picket fence gate. Hollyhock flowers grew along the fence row. The child would walk up to the house. The immaculate white house felt secure and safe to the child. She would visit the grandmother and have a piece of candy before she walked the rest of the way home.

I think it is important to know why a certain children’s book is special to a writer. Children’s books often help youngsters cope with difficult situations. Many children grow up in dysfunctional homes.  In the story, a child needed to feel safe. How wonderful that a child could feel love, in the tidy white house, where a grandmother lived.

What do you hope children will learn from your book?
I hope that children will become curious about nature and want to learn more about butterflies. The book teaches about one pollinator and what the insect needs to survive. Without native host and nectar plants, there would be no butterflies or other pollinating insects, diverse crops, or plant pollination.  Environmental education needs to be taught, in grade school, in the United States. Published author, Eva Apelqvist, originally for Sweden, informed me that Europe taught environmental education starting in the lower grades. No wonder many American youth of today have Native Deficit Disorder.

Children’s authors don’t always get to choose who illustrates their books. Are you happy with how your illustrations turned out? Are the characters as you imagined them?
The characters in the book are based on reality. I chose Tanya and her daughter Cassandra (Cassie) Thompson to model for the story. Cassie attends Northwood School in Minong, Wisconsin. Cassie has been a monarch butterfly advocate since she was a youngster. The publisher requested that I have models act out parts in the story. I photographed the story while Tanya and Cassie acted out the parts. Photographs of a monarch butterfly life cycle, and photographs of the story models were sent to the publisher. Then illustrator and artist, Stevie Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza, Las Vegas, Nevada, was commissioned to do the illustrations. Stevie Marie did a fantastic job. At the time she was pregnant with her first child. By the time Stevie Marie finished illustrating the book, her baby daughter was sleeping in her own room. The illustrator told me that the butterfly would always be with her and Olive, her child. The monarch butterfly teaches us about transformation.

Are you currently working on any more books?
Yes. Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book is about ready to be published. I am waiting for the graphic designer’s cover. Cindy Dyer, of Alexandria, Virginia, is the owner of Dyer Design at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com. I chose an artist, Mora McCusker, of Gordon, Wisconsin, to illustrate the book. Mora used my photographs to illustrate the coloring book. The project is a teaching book. Cindy Dyer is responsible for the art, page layout, and cover. We are jointly publishing the book on CreateSpace, a book publishing company, owned by Amazon.

At present, I am writing a Field Guide for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat, Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The guide will illustrate the symbiotic relationship between pollinators, native host, and nectar plants. Invasive species as host plants cannot support pollinators. The goal of the book is to teach that native plants are necessary for pollinating insects. The finished book will be published by Butterfly Woman Publishing.

Hopefully writers and visitors to your Website at www.beachboundbooks.com will enjoy staying in touch via our Blogs and Social Network Sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. I believe writers and anyone connected to the publishing world will have more success when we work together. It is in working together that we can show our work to the world. Bless each and every one of us. It is all about seeing beyond ourselves.

You can read a sample of  My Name is Butterfly at www.amazon.com.

Find out more about Mary Ellen Ryall and her books at:
www.happtonics.wordpress.com
www.insectamonarca.wordpress.com
www.butterfly-woman-publishing.com

You can also find her on Twitter (@happytonics) and on Facebook.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Butterfly-Woman-Publishing/186481664768990

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This county story starts under a plant – Spooner Advocate: Local: spooner advocate, monarch, mary ellen ryall, shell lake, washburn county

This county story starts under a plant

  • test4Writer and butterfly fan

Photo copyright Frank Zufall

Writer and butterfly fan

Mary Ellen Ryall is surrounded by photos and her journal used to document the emergence of a monarch butterfly in her garden in 2003, which eventually became the story for My Name is Butterfly.

Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 8:31 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Thu Dec 22, 2011.

BY FRANK ZUFALL

For those looking for a Christmas gift inspired by a Washburn County story, one idea is My Name is Butterfly, a book written by Mary Ellen Ryall, director of Happy Tonics, the organization behind the Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake.

Ryall wrote the story based on personal observations in her Minong garden in 2003.

“I saw this chrysalis under a bean plant, attached to the bottom of the bean leaf,” she said. “I thought, ‘What in heaven’s name is this?'”

She took a photo of the chrysalis and sent it to a friend in Ohio. “She said, ‘Mary-Ellen, do you realize you have a monarch butterfly chrysalis there?'”

From ground level, Ryall studied and observed the chrysalis change to adult butterfly.

“While I was there I had my bottle of water and this notepad,” she said. “I kept wondering, ‘What is she trying to teach me?’ I had no idea why I was having this experience, and I wrote down even about that.”

Ryall said a rabbit had eaten part of the leaf where the chrysalis was anchored, so she constructed a little fence around the bean plant.

“If that rabbit had come back one more day, I wouldn’t even have a chrysalis left.”

When the chrysalis turned dark, Ryall knew the butterfly was about to emerge.

“This is the very first time the butterfly comes out. Her wings were completely wet,” she said, “and I was with her for three hours. That’s how long it takes for a butterfly’s wings to dry out. They try to climb higher and higher to reach the sun, to get their wings dried. They pump fluids from abdomen to wings to do that.”

Ryall recalls the butterfly’s journey toward the sun: “And then the butterfly tried to climb up the bean pole, but the top of the plant had been eaten by the rabbit. She climbed to another plant and she went to a sunflower. She almost fell down. She had to right herself.”

During the climb, Ryall saw the male butterfly fold its wings back to let the underside dry.

“I’ve never seen a shot like that before,” Ryall said about the photograph she took of the butterfly.

“Then he gets up tall on this sunflower, and that’s when he flew away.”

From her Minong garden, Ryall shared her journal observations and photos with Patrick Shields, an English professor at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College.

“He said, ‘Knowing you, that butterfly will be immortal,'” she said.

The journal notes were transformed in what Ryall calls a “creative, non-fiction” story – her experience but with other characters: a young girl and her mother.

Publishing

After the story was written, Ryall looked for a publisher. In a twist of fate, a publisher’s granddaughter volunteered at the Happy Tonics office

“Her grandmother came in one day and said, ‘I heard you wrote a story about a butterfly, about a monarch.’ I said, ‘I did,’ and she said, ‘Can I see it?'”

The publisher was Lindy Casey of Salt of the Earth Press, a small publisher from Northern Wisconsin focusing on books for children, the environment, organic gardening, recipes.

Ryall left Casey alone in the Happy Tonics office with the manuscript while Ryall visited the Shell Lake library.

“When I came back, she said, ‘This is important work. I’m going to publish it.'”

After a deal was struck, Stevie Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza of Las Vegas, Nev., was chosen to illustrate the book.

To help the illustrator, Ryall asked Minong’s Cassie Thompson and her mother, Tanya, to recreate scenes from the story which Ryall photographed.

“I told her [Cassie] to wear a baseball cap and she said, ‘I don’t wear a baseball cap.’ I said, ‘In this story she does wear a baseball cap.'”

Cassie takes on the character Sara Reynolds who goes out to the garden and finds a butterfly egg and then a caterpillar.

In the story, Mom cautions Sara to leave the new life alone and also teaches Sara new terms, like pupae.

“Her mother teaches her [Sara] while the butterfly teaches her the actual life cycle, so it’s the butterfly telling the story, basically, and getting more information from her mother.”

Coloring book

Following My Name is Butterfly, Ryall and a graphic designer from Alexandria, Va. created a publishing house called Butterfly Women Publishing.

The first publishing project, due out this spring for Earth Day, is a coloring book of Monarch butterflies illustrated by Gordon artist Mora McCusker.

“There are so many people I can reach locally. If I want the greater message to get out there, I have to get it published,” said Ryall. “That’s why we created the publishing house, so we could get some of my essays and manuscripts out there. If my life is short and sweet, this will be something of me to leave on this planet.”

Book

My Name is Butterfly is available at Amazon.com or by visiting www.happytonics.org.