Two Aspen Community School teachers put nature at kids’ fingertips |

Two Aspen Community School teachers put nature at kids’ fingertips

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photo

WOODY CREEK – Anyone who’s spent time in Colorado’s high country has no doubt encountered a marmot and heard the call that gives it the nickname “whistle pig.” But did you know each animal has a different call so marmots within a colony can identify each other’s voices?

That is but one of the countless tidbits in a four-volume series of field guides written and illustrated by a pair of Basalt residents who teach at the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.

This year saw the publication of the fourth and final book in the series, “Rocky Mountain Bugs (Insects and Other Crawly Things),” by author Garry Pfaffmann and illustrator Hilary Forsyth.

The labor of love began with 2006’s “Rocky Mountain Animals,” followed by guides to Rocky Mountain plants and then birds, and, finally, insects, all written for an audience close to a teacher’s heart – kids.

Now, said Pfaffmann, he and Forsyth are immersing themselves in another facet of the publishing industry. “It’s time to work as the marketing and sales people for this project,” he said.

To that end, the pair will be among more than 25 area authors at Tuesday’s annual cookie exchange and book signing, to be held at Aspen’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum from 5-7 p.m. Authors will sell and sign copies of their books, with a percentage of the proceeds going to the Aspen Historical Society. Attendees, when they’re not shopping for books, are invited to exchange home-baked cookies (bring a dozen of your own if you want to participate).

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The Family Field Guide Series, as it’s called, is written with young readers, age 6 to 12 in mind, but has attracted a broader readership.

“Adults are buying it for themselves,” Pfaffmann said. “I was totally surprised.”

A former educator at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Pfaffmann has been a language arts teacher at the Community School for seven years. He pitched the initial book, on mammals, to Forsyth, an art teacher, when he saw a need.

“There weren’t really any great resources about our local environment written for elementary-age kids,” he said. “I just one day asked Hilary if she’d want to illustrate a book.

“We decided to do it in about two seconds.”

The pair got plenty of advice from local publisher and hiking guide author Warren Ohlrich, whose wife, Karen, worked as the school librarian when the project began. A parent at the school, Kelly Alford, contributed her talents as a graphic designer.

“I thought it would just be the one book, about the mammals, because I thought that’s what kids were most interested in,” Pfaffmann said.

As it turned out, their interest in the natural sciences was much broader than just the furry critters in the mountains surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley.

Each book in the series has paid for itself within a year of its publication; the plants volume is in its second printing and the mammals book will see its second printing next year, Pfaffmann said. The latter volume will see some dramatic changes.

More information on animal signs, like tracks and scat, will be included with the second printing of “Rocky Mountain Mammals,” making it much more of a field guide, Pfaffmann said.

“In the real world, you don’t necessarily see that many mammals, but you see their tracks – you see they’ve been there,” he explained.

The books eschew pages of lengthy text in favor of short bits of text interspersed with both photographs – some taken by Pfaffmann – and Forsyth’s delightful sketches.

They’re available at local bookstores from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and elsewhere in the Rockies, including Forest Service offices and at Rocky Mountain National Park.

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