A Page from Real Life
Sara Hoagland Hunter has worked as a journalist and a teacher in her career as well as a documentary film producer and a writer of both songs and children’s books. Her varied professional background reflects a deep and genuine interest in humanity, a sentiment that permeates her fiction.
“I think the common thread is a desire to share good ideas with people,” Hunter says. Since 1995, Hunter, who has summered on the Cape all her life, has published 10 children’s books. For these efforts she has received multiple awards, including the Smithsonian Notable Children’s Book of the Year and the National Council of Teachers of English Award. Her latest book, Every Turtle Counts, is about a 7-year-old girl named Mimi who discovers a stranded Kemp’s ridley turtle on a Cape Cod beach. Of the eight sea turtle species, Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered, hatching on only one or two beaches in the Gulf of Mexico. Although a colorful cast of adult characters pronounces that the turtle is dead in the story, Mimi refuses to give up hope. Her path intersects with Bob Prescott, director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and she embarks on a heart-warming mission to save the turtle.
Susan Spellman, a New England artist, drew the book’s illustrations. Although this was the duo’s first collaboration, Hunter says Spellman’s drawings complement her prose perfectly. “She is a frequent visitor to Cape Cod and has a real sensitivity to what the beaches are like during the off-season,” says Hunter, who has a home in Centerville by Craigville Beach. “They have a special air and mood, which I think she did a beautiful job of capturing.”
Hunter says she based Every Turtle Counts on two real-life people. Bob Prescott is the actual director of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and he gave Hunter permission to use his name in the story. “Bob is the person who discovered this whole phenomenon,” says Hunter. She relays in great detail the peculiar migratory pattern of young Kemp’s ridleys as they leave the gulf and swim east, then northeast to the fertile waters of Cape Cod Bay.
“When the water temperature drops, the turtles don’t realize they need to go around Provincetown to migrate,” Hunter says. “They get stuck in the hook of Cape Cod, 200 of them at a time, washing ashore between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.” Hunter credits Prescott’s efforts, which over the past 15 years have grown into a state-wide rescue operation, with saving thousands of turtles.
Hunter says the story’s protagonist, Mimi, is also rooted in reality. The character is named after Hunter’s 23-year-old niece, who loves animals and the Cape. And just like the real Mimi—the daughter of Hunter’s younger sister—the fictional one is autistic. “In 1980, one in 10,000 kids were on the autism spectrum,” Hunter says. “Today, the number is one in 88.” Given this prevalence, Hunter believes that teachers and students are well acquainted with kids like Mimi. “It’s okay to do a book where the heroine happens to be on the spectrum,” she says.