Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


A Visit to Walden Pond

Walden Pond is a lake in Concord, MA. The writer, transcendentalist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived on the northern shore of the pond for two years starting in the summer of 1845. His account of the experience was recorded in Walden; or, Life in the Woods, and made the pond famous. The birch trees along the path were the inspiration for the name of Birch Tree Publishing, publishers of the fantasy anthology Beyond the Pale. Thoreau’s book is hauntingly beautiful, and so are the woods. Below are some images from our visit.


A birch tree along the path circling Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond.


The beach along Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond.


The gorgeous path circling Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond.


Another birch tree along the path circling Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond.


The gorgeous path circling Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond.


My co-author sons posing in front of a statue of Thoreau and a replica of the house he built in the woods near Walden Pond.

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Interview with ‘Weeds Find a Way’ children’s book author Cindy Jenson-Elliott

Cindy Jenson-Elliot is a children’s book author and environmental educator. Her latest book, due out in Feb 2014, is ‘Weeds Find a Way,’ a lyrical nonfiction picture book about weeds and their adaptations. It is illustrated by Carolyn Fisher and is published by Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.


For what age audience do you write?

I currently write nonfiction for children of all ages, as well as articles for adults. My focus is often nature, but I write about anything I am assigned to write about, as well as projects close to my own heart.

Henry: I write fiction for kids, but I’m always sprinkling nutritional nonfiction nuggets in the recipe.

What do you hope readers will get from reading your latest book?

What I hope people get from reading this book — and all of my books — is a new way of looking at something that they see every day. I hope they notice something that they never noticed before — something plain and ordinary, and see how extraordinary it really is. I hope they have a new appreciation that nature is all around us, even poking out of urban pavement. I did a column for my little community newspaper for many years that was just called “Nature Journal” about what I was noticing in my neighborhood. I wrote about birds and worms and trees and mammals and weeds. I got so many comments about that locally  — people really want to get to know their natural neighbors and love seeing the wonder in their own backyards.

Henry: I’ve got a scifi early chapter book that is very much aligned with your idea of getting readers to look at things in new ways, and see the extraordinary in the common.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part of writing for me is the long process of discovering how to frame a nonfiction piece. I usually start with what I know, then write down what I don’t know and want to learn about a topic. Then I research. Once I have collected a mass of research, I consider different ways of approaching the topic, often writing as many as 40 drafts of a book — many with completely different approaches to the topic. There are a thousand ways you can write about any subject  — so what is the right way to write about a particular topic? What is the best way to explore and topic and share it so that kids understand the topic? Once I have decided on that, everything becomes easier. I pondered the subject of weeds for about a year and a half before I wrote ‘Weeds Find a Way’. I needed a book about weeds because I was teaching gardening and there were no books for children on that topic. But it took awhile to decide what I wanted to say about them.

Henry: 40 drafts!?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice for aspiring authors is just to write, write, write. Find as many venues for your work, in any genre, for any audience that you can. Every type of writing strengthens every other type. Get assignments and turn them in on time. Embrace editors — they are your friends, even when you don’t like what they say. They are our clients and teachers, and we can learn so much from them. Give yourself time to learn. Writing is a lifelong process.

Henry: I embrace editors too, but some of them have gotten restraining orders…

Do you have any favorite quotes?

A favorite quote is one by musician Dana Lyons, from his song Willy Says: “Here’s a story that you may not comprehend: the parking lot will crack and bloom again. There’s a world beneath the pavement that will never end. The seeds are lying dormant — it will never end.”

I like this quote because it speaks to the permanence of nature and nature’s ability to recover, even in the face of our bumbling and mistakes. It speaks to the hope that is always waiting for us beneath our worries. I think it’s important to give children a love of nature first, and a wonder of what they encounter. Problems and environmental challenges can be introduced later, when they already have developed a strong bond with nature and an understanding of its cycles and healing nature, and when they are mature enough to know they have the power to change the world. Introducing problems before love, and without empowering children to change the world leads to despair. I want them to see the wonder of nature through my books.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

That’s tough for me. I read constantly, but am terrible about remembering what I read. I remember mostly just the visceral sense of beauty of a piece of work. I am always blown away by writers in the New Yorker magazine — the way they come up with interesting topics and really get into it. I enjoy narrative nonfiction. I just read ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’, and would love to meet the author Katherine Boo. Last summer I read the autobiography of Zora Neale Hurston, ‘Dust on a Road’ was the title, I think, and I would have really enjoyed meeting her. And I adore the book ‘Wandering Ghost’, a biography of Lafcadio Hearn. I wish I could have met him.

But in person I am pretty shy, so I would probably be tongue-tied around any of these people, so dinner would be a quiet, dull affair, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t mind dinner with Sonia Sones. I love her lyrical novels, and I actually met her at an SCBWI event and told her how much her work means to me, but felt too shy to talk much. I also love the work of illustrator Kadir Nelson — especially his interpretation of the poem Ellington Was Not a Street. But, again, what would I say? I’d just like to listen to these folks talk and see what I could learn.

Henry: I’ve met you, and you’re not dull! But you cheat, because you listed five invitees! 🙂

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I am not writing, I spend time with my family, camp in the High Sierra and Big Sur, garden in schools and at home, do long-distance swimming in the ocean, bike and teach.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Tombstone? No tombstone. Perhaps just a rock somewhere that says, “Thank you”. In the end, I think that’s all we are left with — our gratitude for being able to share this lovely world.

Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find my work on my website at http://www.cindyjensonelliott.com.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Goodreads giveaway of our book Twignibble

Those of you who are fans of sloths or conservation in general will love our easy reader (for 5-8 year-olds), Twignibble.

Twignibble is a very smart and mechanically adept sloth, with animal friends all over the world. When he learns that his friends are in danger from pollution and poaching, he builds a helicopter to visit them. Twignibble helps each friend by making them a special gadget. Kids love the cute animals and funny inventions; parents appreciate a book that promotes resourcefulness, empathy, and protecting the environment.

What’s the only thing better than a good book? A FREE good book! Sign up soon at Goodreads for our book giveaway!


Additional images can be seen at www.twignibble.com.

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Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog Spotlights the Herz Authors

from http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/author-spotlight-no-310-henry-herz/:

Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and tenth, is of children’s fantasy author and interviewee Henry Herz. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.

authors72Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction stories for children, aided in this noble endeavor by his two young sons, Josh and Harrison. Henry’s love of the fantasy genre began in elementary school with Where the Wild Things Are and The Lord of the Rings, and continued in high school, college, and beyond playing Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer. Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and writes for the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.

Like their father, both boys are big fans of fantasy, science fiction, and the annual Comic-Con convention. They have an entrepreneurial bent too. They’ve started three web-based businesses selling LEGO party favors, custom cast bases for Warhammer, and painted concrete yard sculptures. Their efforts have been featured on Young Entrepreneur Magazine, Wired GeekDad, CNN iReport, TheOneRing.net, and the Warner Brothers’ website for The Hobbit movie.

The writing trio’s first book, Nimpentoad, is a stunningly illustrated high fantasy early chapter book. It has earned over 85 Amazon 5-star ratings to date. The unlikely hero is the bright-eyed Nimpentoad, a furry little creature who’s been victimized by the bigger creatures of the ancient forest one too many times. Nimpentoad convinces his fellow Niblings to make a perilous journey to a castle where they hope to find refuge–if they can just evade and outwit the ravenous goblins, trolls, rhinotaurs, and other perils that stand in their way.

TwigFront72Nimpentoad expands the ecosphere familiar to fantasy fans with adorable, fuzzy nibling protagonists. Their dark Grunwald Forest is also home to creatures like rhinotaurs (menacing, muscular minotaur/rhino hybrids) and neebels (two-legged beasts with gaping maws). Parents appreciate the implicit lessons on bullying, teamwork, perseverance, and leadership.

The writing trio’s second book, Twignibble, is a fantasy easy reader. Twignibble is a very smart and mechanically adept sloth, with animal friends all over the world. When he learns that his friends are in danger from pollution and poaching, he builds a helicopter to visit them. Twignibble helps each friend by making them a special gadget. Kids love the cute animals and funny inventions; parents appreciate a book that promotes friendship, empathy, and protecting the environment.

And now from the author himself:

NimpFront72I originally drafted our first story, Nimpentoad, as a way to interest my young sons in the fantasy genre. It did that, but my sons also gave me feedback on the plot and suggested character names. So, what began as a simple tale to instill a love of fantasy gradually morphed into a collaborative writing effort.

We had no plans to publish initially. We just shared the book with family. When my sister-in-law commented, “You know, this is really good. You should consider publishing it.” We thought about it, and decided to go the self-publishing route. Nimpentoad was born. And thus, my writing career offers a good example of the Butterfly Effect*.

The book has gotten a very positive response, and this has encouraged us to write other books. All of us are big animal fans and lovers of nature, so a book featuring pro-conservation animal characters was an easy choice. We were tickled when we came up with the idea of a sloth protagonist who must overcome his torpid nature to race around the globe to help his animal friends.

Other books we have in the works include re-writes of classic children’s tales and a science fiction picture book. Finstin, an inquisitive alien boy from the planet Nubnub, gets lost on a hike and hopes his encounters with strange creatures don’t prevent him from reaching home before nightfall and its perils.

I should caution aspiring writers about self-publishing. It is very much a two-edged sword. Self-publishing offers some distinct advantages over traditional publishing, such as complete control and speed. But, as Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” A self-publishing author is responsible for (i.e., must personally perform or pay someone else to perform) a diverse and daunting range of tasks, including copy editing, book formatting, technical aspects of publication (e.g., getting an ISBN number and barcode for the book), promotion, printing, warehousing, and fulfillment (the last three just for printed books).

So, self-publishing is not for the faint of heart or for people who don’t enjoy learning new things. When we think of a writer’s career, we imagine them honing their literary craft over time. Self-publishing authors have a second path they must follow simultaneously, which is to hone their publishing craft. Because I’m self-employed, I have flexibility with my time. The process of writing and publishing children’s books would have been even more challenging were that not the case.

The other practical consideration for self-publishing is financial. Do NOT think you’ll write a great story, push it out on Kindle, and immediately be able to retire on a never-ending stream of royalty payments. Just as developing your craft takes time, developing a platform and an audience take time. So, by all means write, but do NOT quit your day job. At least not immediately.

We’ve all hear the term “midlife crisis”. I didn’t give it much heed up to this point in my life. But then I look at myself and see that I’ve transitioned from salaried employee to being my own boss, and from being a reader of books to a reader AND writer of books. But whether you are middle-aged or not, writing offers a wonderful way to express yourself and bring enjoyment to others. Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step, the journey to your book starts with that first keystroke.

*Per wikipedia: “The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction, especially in scenarios involving time travel. Additionally, works of fiction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting in a significantly different outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the butterfly effect.”

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Writing with My Kids

CNN iReport recently put out this call to dads:

“It’s been 30 years since the release of Mr. Mom, the 1983 comedy-drama about a dad who loses his job, becomes a stay-at-home dad, only to discover he’s clueless about managing a household.

At the time, that was being a mom. Now it’s just being a parent.

Though the stereotype of the incompetent, bumbling father still persists in consumer-product ads, the reality is, today’s dads bake cookies, change diapers, drive mini-vans, have tea parties with their daughters – and are proud of it.

So dads, we want to hear from you. How do you spend your time at home with the kids? How is your parenting style different from your own father’s? What kind of dad are you?”


Last year, my beloved father passed away after 59 years of marriage to my mom. He was a kind and gentle soul; hardworking, soft-spoken, and absolutely devoted to his family. I asked him to be the best man at my wedding because he was the best man I knew. I miss him.

My childhood memories of dad are right out of 1960’s TV like The Dick Van Dyke Show, complete with him coming home from work with briefcase, sport coat, and hat. He was the breadwinner. Mom was the homemaker. Much of dad’s time outside work was spent fixing things around the house, maintaining the yard, paying the bills, and other tasks required to provide for his family. I remember being just a little sad that he couldn’t spend more time relaxing with us.

After I became a father, I decided that while I may not be as good a man as he was, I could spend more time with my family than he did. Three years ago, I made the switch from salaried employed to self-employed entrepreneur. This affords me wonderful flexibility in how I spend my time.

One day, I drafted a story to interest my boys in reading fantasy (being a Lord of the Rings fanatic myself). They liked the story, but something else happened. They gave me feedback on the plot. They came up with creature names. A simple learning exercise morphed into a rich collaboration. After that, my sons helped provide art direction to the illustrator, and participated in promoting the book.

Our first book Nimpentoad is a fantasy for 3rd-5th graders. It has earned 86 Amazon five-star ratings. Nimpentoad has reached as high as #1 in Kindle Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy. And my young co-authors have been featured in Young Entrepreneur, Wired GeekDad, and the Warner Brother’s website for The Hobbit movie. But this is about more than writing a book kids enjoy. It’s been about spending time with my boys as I fulfill my paternal duty developing them into kind, successful adults.

The fun time we’ve spent has also taught my sons valuable lessons about creative expression, public speaking, interacting graciously with others, running a small business, and being responsible with their money. They split the book profits, half of which goes into savings which they cannot touch.

We just published our second book Twignibble. Hang on to your hats!

This article also appeared on San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.

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Young San Diego authors publish conservation-themed kid’s book

The Carmel Valley (San Diego) father-sons writing team has done it again. Henry, Josh (13) and Harrison Herz (11) just published their second book, Twignibble. Twignibble is a 1000-word easy reader for kids in 2nd-4th grade that’s Frog & Toad meets MacGuyver. It will appeal to animal-loving kids and to parents who support conservation (and who want to encourage their kids to be empathetic and resourceful).


Twignibble the sloth learns that his animal friends are facing threats to their habitats, and races to help them. The mechanically-inclined Twignibble, knowing he could never walk to his friends in time, builds a solar-powered helicopter, flies all over the world, and engineers devices he hopes will help each of his animal friends.

View the 30-second  Twignibble book trailer.

The wonderful independent bookstore Mysterious Galaxy Books will be hosting a book release party for Twignibble from 2-4 pm on Sunday, August 4. They are located at 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA 92111 ~ 858-268-4747. The Herz men will be there signing copies of Twignibble. Also in attendance will be James Morris, local teen author of Skybound and Water Tower.

Henry Herz is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and writes for the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner. He and his young co-authors’ first book was the fantasy early chapter book Nimpentoad. It has earned 86 Amazon 5-star ratings so far. Nimpentoad has reached as high as #8 in Amazon Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy, and #1 in Kindle Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy. The father-sons team has been featured in Young Entrepreneur, Wired GeekDad, CNN iReport, Fictional Frontiers, the Warner Brothers’ website for The Hobbit movie, and TheOneRing.net. The trio is looking forward to attending this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

If you live in San Diego, we hope you’ll come out to meet the authors and enjoy the great selection of books offered by Mysterious Galaxy Books.

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Giant mechanical animals stalk French theme park

Courtesy of CNN at http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/16/travel/machine-theme-park-france/index.html


A prehistoric roar drowns out the delighted squeals of children madly dashing out of the path of the giant creature plodding towards them.

They need not hurry. The fantastical 48-ton elephant with flapping leather ears and undulating wooden trunk takes his time as he huffs and puffs his way across the park.

Welcome to Les Machines de L’lle — a former shipping yard turned mechanical animal “dream factory,” in the industrial port city of Nantes, in northwest France.

The once dilapidated warehouses lining the riverfront have been transformed into a type of psychedelic Santa’s workshop, with artists building everything from enormous flying herons to a carousel revolving with deep sea creatures.

But these whimsical animals are more than simply elaborate children’s toys.

They’re moving works of art, available for the public to climb on board and experience a retro fantasyland that “blends the invented worlds of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo Di Vinci.”


“The animals are conceived to be ‘traveling machines’ instead of big thrills entrainment,” said its co-artistic director Francois Delaroziere.

“It’s the desire to conceive a city through a common imagination, in which the public becomes an actor.”


The remarkable amusement park is the brainchild of La Machine, a street theater company famous for such creations as the 15-meter spider that crawled through Liverpool, in Britain, as part of the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008.

In 2007, the $19 million Les Machine de L’lle opened in the hope of regenerating Nantes’ deserted dockyards, which had been in decay since closing in 1987.

Backed by the local Metropole, the 337-hectare site is now one of the largest urban projects in Europe.

Free to the public, anyone can wander around the workshops filled with artists hammering and carving their latest creations — though if you want to clamber on one of the marvelous animals, you’ll need to buy a ticket.


The 25-meter tall Marine Worlds Carousel is the park’s newest attraction, featuring 24 mechanical waves and three levels of rotating sea creatures — from slack-jawed lantern fish to wriggling squid.

The animals’ hand-carved vintage style has a charming Steampunk quality — a genre of science-fiction featuring steam-powered machinery.

The alluring aesthetic is all the more fitting, considering Nantes is also the birthplace of 19th century writer Jules Verne.
Indeed, the sea monsters of his famous novel “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” come alive in the glowing merry-go-round teetering on the water’s edge.

The 12-meter tall elephant — lumbering beneath an ornate balcony of waving passengers — is also reminiscent of Verne’s book “The Steam House,” featuring a group of colonialists living in a wheeled house pulled by a steam-powered elephant.


The Great Elephant may amble across the park at a gentle three kilometers per hour, but inside he’s a hive of activity — propelled by a 450-horse power motor, 60 cylinders, 2,000-liters of oil, and a complex system of jacks, pulleys and gears.

A steel skeleton forms the base of the wooden body — replete with wrinkles carved beneath the blinking eyes.

Read: Thought-powered bionic arm ‘like something from space’

But the hydraulic beast isn’t quite left to roam free, with an on-board driver steering him across the park, spraying onlookers with water from his rippling trunk.

“Sketchbooks are a starting point in creative process,” says Delaroziere. “They offer ideas for the seizing, define the rules of the game, and provide a rich basis for builders to begin constructing their interpretations on.”


The fantastical world of Jules Verne looms large at Les Machines de L’lle.

But there’s a distinct difference between the French author’s pioneering novels and the psychedelic Steampunk park of his birthplace.

As Delaroziere says: “Jules Verne’s creations remain imaginary. Whereas we built real machines.”


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Bugs: The Other Other White Meat

by  from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/14/cicadas-grasshoppers-locusts-ants-among-the-tastiest-insects.html

Pine nuts, bacon, soft-shell crab—these are the flavors of caterpillars, beetles, and tarantulas, if you can believe it. On the heels of a U.N. report urging more insect consumption, Nina Strochlic rounds up the yummiest.

A new study from the United Nations is encouraging people to take a break from red meat, poultry, and fish and instead fill their plates with an alternative protein source: insects.

Supplementing a diet with bugs is not only nutritious but reduces pollution, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization writes. “Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” the report notes. Besides, they’re high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Indeed, more than 2 billion people around the world already eat insects, but most Western countries have been slow to adopt the practice. The main problem? “Consumer disgust,” writes the agency.

L.M. Otero/AP

But not everywhere: in the Netherlands, three insect-raising companies have built production lines for locusts and mealworms meant for human consumption, and Dutch restaurants have obliged, adding the crunchy bugs to their dishes. Adventurous diners across the globe have slowly seen insects creeping into the menu. In some Mexican restaurants, you can opt for dried grasshoppers in your tacos. If you’re dining out for Thai, fried worms or bamboo caterpillars might make an appearance under appetizers. They’re not just for the dare losers or thrill seekers. There are more than 1,500 edible insects, and here we present some of the best tasting (unconfirmed by The Daily Beast).


Caterpillars are considered delicacies southern African countries, where they sell for high prices. Said to be the best-tasting insect, the “wax worm,” or wax moth caterpillar, feeds on beehives’ wax and honey. Sweet as that sounds, one blogger who proclaimed them her favorite described the taste as “enoki-pine nut.”

Grasshoppers and Crickets

The Old Testament mentions eating crickets and grasshoppers—so If they were good enough for biblical times, they’re good enough for us, right? The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook recommends stripping off the antennae, limbs, and wings before baking them in the oven until crisp. Then sprinkle the crispy bugs on salads or mix in with Chex Mix. When on location in Cambodia for a photoshoot, Angelina Jolie told E! News that her children eat crickets “like Doritos.”


This spring, Israel found itself in the midst of a locust invasion. The solution? Eating the pests. Turns out locust is the only kosher insect—there are no stipulations around their slaughter and the Torah says four types can be eaten. One Israeli chef recommends boiling them, cleaning them, rolling them in flour and spices, and then deep-frying them. “There is a big interest. People will pay a fortune. They say, ‘Let us know when you are doing them,’” Moshe Basson told the BBC.


Good news for the East Coast: the millions of cicadas about to descend on our fine region are basically a swarm of free meals. After they’ve emerged into adults, they’re tender and juicy. And, according to experts, their high protein and vitamin levels make the insects quite healthy.


The sago palm weevil, a type of beetle, is eaten, roasted or raw, as a larvae in Southeast Asia. Their taste is apparently similar to bacon. The rhino beetle—fried, stewed, grilled, or roasted—is high in calcium and protein.


Shudder as you may at those eight legs, this one makes a bit more sense. With their meatier body, tarantulas are said to taste like to soft-shell crab or shrimp.


In some South American countries, theatergoers purchase roasted ants at the concession stands instead of popcorn. In Laos and Thailand, the chrysalis of weaver ants are served on sticky rice with shallots, lettuce, chilies, lime, and spices as a prized delicacy. In the Amazon rainforest, lemon ants are said to have a tangy flavor.

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Photos of animals exhibiting human behavior

Casual kangaroo finds you tedious


Clever dolphin uses a shell to catch fish!


Tiger’s parents don’t approve that she’s dating a lion.


“This is the coolest rock I’ve ever found!”


Hugging is a great way to stay warm!


“I hate driving in Manhattan, so I use a scooter.”


“Be true to your teeth, or they’ll be false to you.”


A rock makes an awesome nutcracker!


“I don’t always drink soda, but when I do, I drink Sprite.” – world’s most interesting otter


“Give us this day, our daily fish” — world’s most pious otter


“Everyone’s an art critic”


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9 Reasons/videos why I love hedgehogs (adorable)

images courtesy of http://www.storycrush.com/blog/10-cute-hedgehog-gifs-to-make-your-day/

They have a good sense of smell


They are masters of camoflage


They are very quick for their size


They do not get sea sick


They can make a hood if their head gets cold


They understand the value of relaxing


They don’t have body shape issues


OK, so they’re not Mother Nature’s smartest critter…


But how many creatures can turn themselves into a boat?!