“Dawn kisses the grasslands of the savanna. A lion roars. Long vocal cords vibrate in his throat – back and forth, back and forth. The cords make the air around them move. When one molecule of air moves, its neighbor moves – back and forth, back and forth.”
So opens award-winning author Terry Catasus Jennings’ new book, “Sounds of the Savanna.” Born in Havana, Cuba, Jennings moved to the United States as a teenager, ultimately becoming a Restonian after graduating from the University of Richmond in the fields of Maths and Physics. No wonder her books and other writings, aimed at young readers from kindergarten through fifth grades, are centered on science and understanding the natural world around us.
Her first book, “Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story,” follows the adventures of gopher and a variety of his woodland animal and plant neighbors who survive a volcano and then participate in the journey to bring the seemingly “dead” mountain back to life with the routines of their daily lives.
On a recent drizzly Saturday afternoon, Jennings greeted visitors to the Reston’s Used Book Shop in Washington Plaza on Lake Anne with homemade cookies and read her new book to a number of youngsters – and quite a few equally enthralled adults. No matter how many times she read the story as a new group wandered in, Jennings made each telling seem like the first. Her reading style soon had her listeners joining in, answering questions, guessing what came next, and relating what they heard to an experience of their own.
MOST OF THE TIME she sat with her young audience on the floor, turning the pages for all to see and sharing the story’s illustrations by Maryland artist Phyllis Saroff. “Her drawings really help bring the action to life, like you are on the savanna,” complimented Jennings. The audience seemed to agree as they studied the drawings on each page before moving on to the next.
In “Sounds of the Savanna,” the author educates on a number of topics, from the mechanics of animal vocalization and the way in which animals use sounds to communicate, to the cycle of life performed by predator and prey. Not all of the creatures between the pages survive, but the gentle way in which Jennings explains how that cycle is necessary for the survival of all the species keeps the story from falling into a “Bambi”-type tearfest. “You feel sorry for them, you know, the ones who don’t make it,” said 10 yr-old Tommy McKeon from New Jersey who was visiting cousin Kacey Banga in Reston. “But it’s the food chain, and you need it to keep all of them.”
Jennings is already at work on another book for publication in 2016. Titled “Magnetic Magic,” the book will feature a young female character that Jennings says will appear in other adventures in the future and it will center on “I bet you can guess,” she laughed. Even the youngest of her audience had no trouble shouting out “magnets!”
JENNINGS adds interesting facts and even experiments and research projects at the end of her books, and additional teacher resources for both “Gopher” and “Sounds” are available on her website at www.terrycjennings.com. She is a much sought after speaker and appears at schools, libraries, conferences, and even zoos! In addition to her books, she has written for The Washington Post and Ranger Rick and contributes to the Science and Technology for Children Concepts series.
“Sounds of the Savanna” is available at the Reston’s Used Book Shop and on Amazon, both in hardcover and Kindle editions.