As a kid, I used to catch a lot of turtles at my grandparents' cottage in Michigan. But these were small, freshwater turtles. I had never seen a live sea turtle. Since it was too late in the year to travel to Georgia or Florida in hopes of finding a turtle coming ashore to nest, like in the book, I did the next best thing. Searching the Internet, I found there was an exhibit of loggerhead turtles in a huge tank at the aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut. Since my three grandchildren lived in New York City, not too far away, we decided to make a family outing and visit this exhibit. In that way I could see the kids' reactions, and study the turtles at the same time.
I took many photos of the turtles as they glided by, so silent and serene, their flippers moving like wings, as they "flew" through the clear water.
I loved the rather determined look I detected on this turtle, just the right expression for a mom wanting to come ashore and lay a hundred eggs.  
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These photos formed the basis of my illustrations. I also read extensively about sea turtles, how they lay their eggs, and what happens then. Many books had excellent photos that provided good examples of what I could not witness first hand.
Each illustration in the book begins with a lot of research and then a detailed sketch of the page, actual size, called a dummy. That's what it's called! Here is the dummy of the turtle laying her eggs in a vase shaped hole she has scooped out with her hind flippers.
The dummy sketches are taken to Boyds Mills Press where my editor, Larry, and the art director, Tim, look over the pages and give me suggestions. Once we are satisfied with the dummy, the pencil sketch is traced onto watercolor paper, and then the painting begins. In this case I did the painting three times before I was happy with the result you see here.
The turtles appear to be crying when they lay eggs. Legend has it that they weep because they will never see their babies. In reality, the crying is a method of eliminating excess salt from their bodies, but who can say they are not weeping as well? I like to do cutaway illustrations where you can see what is going on underground. They are kind of magical because it is the sort of picture you cannot make with a camera, and I get to place other objects underground, like the spoon and shells.
The turtles cover their eggs well and then return to the sea, trusting to luck and the warm sun to complete the hatching. But for a time, animals can smell the eggs beneath the sand. That's when the bandits come out to feed. This is also the kind of picture that would be very hard to capture with a camera, especially since it occurs at night. I have had many dealings with raccoons while camping and, at times, in my house. So this picture was based partly on my experience.  
Raccoons don't eat all the eggs, and the rest of them eventually hatch. The way they emerge from under the sand is remarkable, and so I wanted to show that in a series of panels on one page. The turtles are said to ride the "sand elevator" to the surface. The first turtles that hatch, on top of the pile of eggs, scratch at the sand above them, while those at the bottom of the pile, pack the falling sand grains down. In this way all the turtles gradually move upward. After a couple of days, they emerge at the surface. They will stop digging if the sand is too warm, as it is safer for the little turtles if they come out at night.
Once they hatch, their rush to the ocean is full of peril as well. Many predators await them. Here is one of the scariest, a photo I took at the aquarium. It is a sand shark with wicked looking teeth. It was curious to see how all the kids would place their hands on the glass windows of the turtle tank when the loggerheads swam by. They were equally fascinated with the shark tank, but nobody put their hands on the glass!
You will have to read the book to see what happens to the little turtles. It is the way of nature that many of them become food for other species, but I won't give away any more than that.
I have had a long fascination with the sea, and so I was delighted when the opportunity arose to illustrate a book dealing with the ocean and turtles. Steve Swinburne and I do very similar kinds of books, dealing with nature. We have known each other for some time, and I was very impressed by the dramatic yet simple way he tells the story of the turtle and her hatchlings. Like all good nature writers, he was familiar with his subject on a first hand basis. My job, as illustrator, was to take his wonderful text, and design a 32 page book with pictures that would enhance the story.
 
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