Provincetown Banner
January 26, 2017

Turning the Cape into children’s lit
By Susan Blood
Banner Correspondent

Artwork from one of the books written by Corinne Demas — she’s the author of two collections of short stories, three novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, a play and numerous books for children — hangs on the wall of her study in Western Massachusetts. It reminds her of the place she considers her true home.

“It’s nice in the wintertime to look up and see the beach,” she says of the Wellfleet-inspired images. 

Demas and her husband came to the Cape many years ago, camping at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary until they bought a house here. Their daughter, Artemis Roehrig, has been coming to the Cape since she was born. Like her parents, Roehrig spent time at the Wellfleet Bay sanctuary, doing naturalistic training at their summer camps for seven years.

“That's where we started the idea of doing a fiddler crab book,” says Roehrig of Wellfleet Bay. “Kids love fiddler crabs because they are so charismatic, but there weren't really any children's books on them. So I told my mom we needed to write one.”

In fact, they co-authored two children’s books, both of which were released in late 2016. The first, “Do Fiddler Crabs Fiddle?” (Persnickety Press), depicts the crabs snorkeling, wearing sunglasses, doing magic tricks and more, all illustrated by John Sandford. A science-based author’s note at the end answers any lingering questions readers may have about all the anthropomorphic goings-on.

The second book by the pair, “Are Pirates Polite?” (Orchard Books), was likewise born of necessity. The mother of toddlers, Roehrig was looking for ways to teach her kids about manners through stories. Roehrig and Demas went to the library and picked up all sorts of books on the subject.

“We thought about these manners, and had a lot of fun thinking about how they relate to pirates,” Demas says, and once again the Cape became a source of creative inspiration.

“Kids listen a lot better to books than they do to their parents,” Roehrig says. “I like having books that teach my kids something, but aren’t necessarily didactic. That can be hard to find.”

Writing about pirates was familiar territory for the two, who had co-authored a previous book, “Pirates Go to School,” though Roehrig had declined to be credited when it went to print. That first pirate opus was so successful, they returned to its format of rhyming couplets in “Are Pirates Polite?” And in case kids might get distracted by David Catrow’s hilarious illustrations, such as a pirate with a bunny rabbit tattoo, the book ends with a list of 12 good manners.

Demas says that about half of her books have some kind of Cape connection. “Hurricane!,” for example, is about a family going through Hurricane Bob on the Cape. “The Boy Who Was Generous With Salt” is the story of a boy on a fishing schooner in the 19th century, and is based on the journal of an Orleans sea captain. “If Ever I Return Again” is an epistolary novel based on letters Demas found in the archives of both the Wellfleet Historical Society and Cape Cod National Seashore, written by a whaleship captain’s daughter. A course Demas took by Wellfleet Audubon’s Bob Prescott became the base of “Returning to Shore.”

But the book with the strongest tie to the Cape for Demas is “The Disappearing Island.”

“When Artemis was really little we took her out in a little boat to Billingsgate Island,” Demas recalls. “I wanted to capture that whole sense of exploring nature on the Cape with a child, and having these incredible things uncovered.” 

The two women met recently in Demas’ study to work on their next two collaborations. They also talk about returning to Wellfleet, where they continue to be “very connected to the sanctuary,” Demas says.
“We’re hoping this summer to do a book event for 'Fiddler Crab' at the sanctuary, where all the books we sell will benefit the sanctuary.”

If history is any guide, they’ll return to Western Massachusetts with even more ideas.

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