Middle school butterfly project transforms into book on Karner blue
GUILDERLAND Natasha Permaul sees herself as similar to the Karner blue butterfly that is the subject of a children’s book of which she was the primary author.
The Guilderland High School sophomore used to be shy, like the butterfly’s cocooned pupa waiting for spring. Now, especially since she authored a book that is being sold to raise money for conservation of the Albany Pine Bush, she is coming out of her shell.
“I’m growing and I’m spreading my wings,” said Natasha, 15, of Altamont.
The children’s book, “Mister Karner Blue,” originated as a scrapbook Permaul did as a final project in seventh grade. The scrapbook included some of her artwork and simple descriptions of the Karner blue’s life cycle from the insect’s perspective.
“I’ve always liked butterflies, and it was just sort of a spark in me that maybe I should write it from the perspective of a Karner blue butterfly,” she said.
She presented it at the Pine Bush as her year-end project for Farnsworth Middle School science teacher Alan Fiero’s class, and members of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission decided they wanted to turn the scrapbook into a children’s book and sell it to support the conservation of the Pine Bush.
“I was just looking for a really good grade for my final project,” she said. When Fiero told her of the plans, “It was so mind-blowing. The thought never crossed my mind.”
The project became a collaboration, with Pine Bush staff and volunteers adding photos taken by adult volunteers, and additional drawings made by students who took Fiero’s class the following year.
“I recognized that we had something special here, and I wanted to push it up a couple notches,” said Jeffrey Folmer, the commission’s Discovery Center director.
The staff got the book copyrighted and got it an International Standard Book Number, the unique 13-digit ISBN code on all commercial books.
“It’s just a fun little read,” Folmer said.
Even though the book is written simply enough for children to understand, it contains accurate ecological information about the butterfly’s life cycle and habitat, he said.
The endangered butterfly lives, eats and mates in a very specific habitat, inland pine barrens like the Pine Bush or the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park. The caterpillar eats only one type of plant, the wild blue lupine, so that is where the female butterfly lays the eggs. The adult butterflies live only a few days after they hatch.
After the two-plus years that it took for the book to progress from scrapbook and concept to publication, Natasha’s mother surprised her with a copy of the full-color book for Christmas last year, wrapping it and putting it under the tree.
“It was like a dream come true,” she said of her mother’s gift. “She kept it a secret from me for about four weeks. It was worth the wait to see it on Christmas Day.”
On Saturday, Natasha and her collaborators will sign copies of the 28-page book at an official launch party at the Pine Bush Discovery Center.
“I’m actually looking forward to it,” she said of the social experience.
For 15 years, Fiero’s class has raised Karner blue caterpillars in captivity and turned their chrysalises over to the Albany Pine Bush for release into the wild each spring when they emerge as butterflies, Folmer said.
The class provides 200 chrysalises to the Pine Bush, which gets another 400 from the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game.
Fiero’s class gets rave reviews from Pine Bush staff, students and parents.
“There’s so much that they learn hands-on at the Pine Bush,” said Natasha’s mother, Gloria Permaul.
One thing Natasha didn’t get to do in class is see a live adult Karner blue. She hopes to do so this year.
“I hope to see some when the good weather comes.”