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Author John Himmelman.| (Submitted.)

Writer brings passion for nature to library talk

Killingworth resident and naturalist John Himmelman says, “I write about what I am passionate about.”

That passion has led him to pen nearly 80 books, most of which help connect children to the natural world. “I write about what makes me laugh or what I’m interested in,” he said. “I learn about things by writing about them and doing the research. It forces me to delve into the subject, and then I can check it off as one more thing I know. I also illustrate my books, which I learned by drawing every day.

“I became a naturalist by playing outside a lot, by learning from friends, by reading, and by being out in the field.”

As a child he was fascinated by insects, and he enjoyed writing about them and drawing them. “I like the way insects look,” he said. “They’re interesting to watch. I can go out in my backyard every day in the summer, and find something I’ve never seen before. It’s a treasure hunt.”

When he was attending the School of Visual Arts, in New York City, where he got a bachelor of fine arts degree, Himmelman took a course in writing and illustrating children’s books. Impressed with the book Himmelman turned in for his final project, his professor showed it to an editor at a publishing house. It was picked up, and Himmelman’s writing career was off.

He visits schools and libraries, sharing his knowledge of and passion for the natural world, and will present “The Stories and Songs of the Crickets and Katydids” at the Durham Public Library at 11:15 a.m., April 10. He’ll talk about the sounds those insects make at night, and what was involved in writing Guide to Night-Singing Insects of the Northeast and Cricket Radio: Tuning In the Night-Singing Insects.” The research for those books entailed travelling up and down the east coast recording their songs.

“There are 74 different species of singing insects in the northeast,” Himmelman said. “Birds and insects sing to claim their territory, to attract females, and to repel competing males. The songs are different for different situations. A mating call is more sustained-they’re casting their nets out, hoping a female will respond-while an aggressive call is shorter. When I’m in my bedroom with the windows open, and I hear these songs, I get a picture of what I’m listening to. I can identify them by their sounds. And it just takes me out with them. It takes me back to when I was a kid.

Himmelman is one of the eight founders of the Connecticut Butterfly Association, begun in 1994. “Connecticut has about 121 species,” he said. “I like butterflies because they’re like flying flowers, and they’re beautiful to watch. People don’t realize how ephemeral they are. Most only live a couple of weeks.” One exception is the Monarchs, which start out in Connecticut, fly to Mexico for the winter, then on to Texas in the spring, where they die. Their offspring fly to Delaware, where they die. Their offspring come to Connecticut in June.

“I love what I do,” Himmelman said. “I can step outside and it costs nothing to have the time of my life, every single day. I can be in a city and find hidden insects. When I was visiting my daughter in Philadelphia, I saw tree crickets singing on some plants that people were selling by the side of the road. Wherever you go, there’s something to see.”

Mike Digiorgio created the illustrations and some of the recordings for “Guide to Night-Singing Insects.” He spoke about his friend and said, “His enthusiasm for all different aspects of nature is infectious. He has the intellect of a really seasoned and knowledgeable naturalist and the heart of a child. When I’m out with him I see his childlike fascination with every aspect of the environment. It drives him to study and get to know each thing fully, and it’s a combination that manifests in his books. He’s able to give important information about creatures, in a very attractive style, that is easily digested by children.

“He’s a funny guy. When he does a presentation he drives home a particular point about something with humor, because he knows that people remember things better when they laugh. He’s just a joy to be around.”

For more information about Himmelman, go to his website:

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