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Finding 'Teachable Moments' In Animal Tales

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Finding 'Teachable Moments' In Animal Tales

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Finding 'Teachable Moments' In Animal Tales

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

A baby hippo named Owen, rescued after the Indonesian tsunami hit the coast of Africa, befriends a 130-year-old tortoise named Mzee. A dolphin trapped in a crab trap loses her tail. The bottlenose named Winter learns how to swim again with the help of a newly designed silicon tail.

And when a snow leopard named Leo is just seven weeks old, he's orphaned in the Himalayas. The story of his journey, and those of all these other animals, are chronicled by writer Craig Hatkoff and his 12-year-old daughter Isabella.

This father-daughter team tackles animal rescue stories in pictures and essays in a series of children's books, and they're in our New York studios.

Craig and Isabella, welcome to the show.

Ms. ISABELLA HATKOFF: Thank you.

Mr. CRAIG HATKOFF: Audie, thanks for having us on the show. We're very excited to be here.

CORNISH: So tell us the story of how you guys got into writing books together?

Ms. HATKOFF: Well, in early 2005, when the tsunami disaster hit Africa, there was a picture in the New York Times of a baby hippo snuggled up with a giant tortoise. And I asked my dad to read me that article because at that time, I could not read. And then we decided it would be a great children's book.

CORNISH: Tell us about their story.

Ms. HATKOFF: In the tsunami, Owen had gotten separated from his pod of hippos, and he got washed up into coral. So a bunch of people tried to rescue him. Then they moved him to Haller Park, which is a wildlife preserve in Kenya. And then he saw Mzee, and he started following Mzee around.

Mr. HATKOFF: Mzee wanted nothing to do with Owen to begin with, but that's the resilience part. He wouldn't give up.

CORNISH: So they tell the stories of animal rescues, but they also tell, I guess, bigger stories about bigger issues like loss or dealing with a disability. Tell us a little bit about that aspect.

Mr. HATKOFF: Well, I think we're looking for stories that have teachable moments. They're very, very uplifting. So it starts with a trauma or a tragedy, and we actually have, you know, a protagonist or a hero or heroine. And I think kids relate to that. So we're always looking for people who can overcome obstacles. I think that's just one of the basic, fundamental tenets of what it means to be human.

But they're stories of resilience and hope through the eyes of young animals, and what we found is that kids, in dealing with difficult subjects, it creates a point of entry that's much easier to start the discussion.

CORNISH: Isabella, kind of putting the goose bump test to you, which one of the books you've written, which story or animal are you most fond of or did you feel a kind of special connection with?

Ms. HATKOFF: Probably Winter - with Winter. She's really...

CORNISH: And Winter is the dolphin...

Ms. HATKOFF: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...that had the prosthetic tail.

Mr. HATKOFF: Winter will actually end up with probably close to 30 different prosthetic tails.

CORNISH: Wow.

Mr. HATKOFF: And they're constantly improving the prosthetic tail. So while there is silicone, the secret to success is they created a silicon, like, sock - like a giant sock that's about two feet long but can stretch out to almost probably 10 feet. And you slip that over and that kept the tail on Winter when we get you know, I've had the opportunity to do a lot of presentations in public schools and classes, and everybody always gets such a huge kick.

And invariably, someone in the audience will have a prosthetic leg or an arm or something. So it's very poignant.

CORNISH: So the newest book is "Leo The Snow Leopard." And tell us a little bit more about his story.

Mr. HATKOFF: Leo was orphaned in the Himalaya Mountains and discovered by a goat herder who rescued him. Leo quickly started growing, and he became too big to live with Kamal, who's the goat herder. And it began a process of amazing international cooperation of finding an appropriate home.

And one of the most important things, one of the lessons, is that the snow leopards are critically endangered. So having Leo brought to the United States at the Bronx Zoo, where they do have a breeding program, was very important scientifically.

CORNISH: That's Craig Hatkoff and his 12-year-old daughter Isabella. They are the authors of the new children's book "Leo The Snow Leopard." And they joined me from our studios in New York.

Craig and Isabella, thank you.

Ms. HATKOFF: Thank you so much for having us.

Mr. HATKOFF: Audie, thank you very much.

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