A few weeks ago I read The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell. I was lucky to also get an interview with the author to share with everyone. You can see my review of the book and the author interview below. I do hope you enjoy!
The Last Panther
The Last Panther
Blurb: For fans of “The One and Only Ivan” and “Hoot, ” this is the uplifting story of a girl who discovers a family of panthers that were thought to be extinct, and her journey to save the species.
Eleven-year-old Kiri has a secret: wild things call to her. More than anyone else, she’s always had a special connection to animals.
But when Kiri has an encounter with the last known Florida panther, her life is quickly turned on end. Caught between her conservationist father, who wants to send the panther to a zoo, and the village poachers, who want to sell it to feed their families, Kiri must embark on a journey that will take her deep into the wilderness.
There has to be some way to save the panther, and for her da and the villagers to understand each other. If Kiri can’t figure out what it is, she’ll lose far more than the panthers she’ll lose the only home she s ever known, and the only family she has left.
Kiri lives with her father, who is a conservationist, in the ghost forest near a dangerous swamp. He’s considered a waller (city dweller) and not far from their home are the fugees, the original habitants of the forest. Wallers are considered the wealthy ones and have what they need to survive while tending to preserve the environment and the species that are still living, while fugees consistently need to search for food so they won’t die of starvation or sickness. Fugees will do whatever it takes to feed their community and that includes killing whatever they can catch, including animals that are endangered, if need be. They don’t have much of a choice as the damaged ecosystem they live in has left them with little resources.
Kiri’s mother, who has previously passed away, was once a fugee and Kiri is now caught between two worlds having a waller for a father. The fugees detest the wallers and they simply don’t agree on anything. For this reason, Kiri doesn’t want to be considered a waller and would rather keep the peace between both groups. She doesn’t necessarily agree that the fugees should be hunting these ‘once-were’ creatures, but she understands them concurrently. When Kiri surprisingly discovers a panther she’s never seen before–a beautiful creature she connects with and knows she must protect–not only does she need to protect the panther, but she has to find a way to keep her cubs safe too. From this point, Kiri goes into survivor mode and does all that she can to stop the hunters and trappers from killing the panther, even it means she must go against her father’s wishes. What will Kiri do? She’s a courageous and spirited young girl, always standing up for what she believes in, but will she alone be enough to protect the last panther and its cubs?
After seeing the beautiful cover and reading the blurb, I took a chance and bought a copy for our home library. I’m always in search of stories that I can read with my children, especially those I can enjoy myself. I particularly relished the sweet parts in the story from Kiri’s companionship with Snowflake, her pet rat, to her friendship with Paulo. I found it compelling and full of action and adventure. The mystical world and rich plot that Todd Mitchell has created draws you in and makes you feel like you’re part of Kiri’s journey. It’s un-predictable and written well. I also appreciated that the story provokes questions about climate change and brings attention to the importance of caring for our environment now, as animals are experiencing high levels of endangerment as our world is ever-changing.
This is one I’m pleased to have for my family and I’m overjoyed that it turned out to be such an awesome read. This is a perfect middle-grade read for classrooms and libraries, but essentially, it’s great for all ages. I honestly can’t wait to see what other books Todd Mitchell writes in the future.
My rating: 5*****
Find this book on Amazon and Goodreads:
- Age Range: 8 – 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 – 7
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (August 22, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399555587
- ISBN-13: 978-0399555589
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A: I grew up in a very boring cornfield. As a result, I learned to make up stories and entertain myself with my imagination from a young age. But I’m also dyslexic, so reading and writing were a struggle for me in school. The fact that I became a writer probably amazes some of my elementary and middle school teachers. I’ve learned, though, that struggling with something is a great way to discover things about it that others might miss. I guess I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until much later in life (in college) that I allowed myself to believe I could be a writer.
Q: What influenced you to write books for children and teens?
A: The books that had the greatest impact on me, and the books that first got me to love reading and writing, were books I read in 5th and 6th grade. I still remember how mind expanding many of those books were, and the profound impact they had on me as a person. Now, as a writer, I hope to have that sort of impact on others. I write for children and teens because I care about children and teens, and because middle grade and young adult books have a powerful effect on shaping who we become, and the future we create.
Q: Do you have any plans to write adult books in the future as well?
A: I’m actually writing one right now. It’s a new area for me because it’s nonfiction, too, but I’m going to keep it secret for now.
Q: Do you have any favorite books/authors from childhood or present favorites to share?
A: As a kid, some of my favorite books were Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, and Bridge to Terabithia. I’m also a big fan of The Golden Compass and its sequels. And for adults, one of my favorite books that I’ve read recently is The Name of the Wind.
Q: How many books have you written? Do you have a favorite?
A: I’ve written around twelve books, but so far only five (counting a comic book series I’ve done) are published. Four of those books are practice novels, and shall probably never see the light of day. The other three are currently being revised or sent out by my agent (fingers crossed). I’m working on lucky number thirteen right now. My favorite book is always the one I’m working on.
Q: What’s the publishing process been like for you? Has marketing your books been an easy process?
A: I’m terrible at marketing. If you like a book, especially a relatively unknown book, please tell others about it by posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and by telling teachers, librarians, and friends about it. You won’t believe how happy this makes writers like myself.
Q: What tools do you use in the writing process? (Pen, type writer, or computer) Do you outline?
A: Since I’m dyslexic, I can type much faster than I can write by hand, so I do most of my writing on a laptop. I always outline, but I rarely stick to my outline. As I write, things change. Then I go back and change my outline. I usually keep going back and forth between focusing on a specific scene, and focusing on the big picture until the story feels complete.
Q: What’s your writing space like?
A: Messy. Very messy. I have an enormous desk that I built in my basement (it takes up two walls), and I haven’t seen the top of it in years.
Q: What motivated you to write The Last Panther?
A: My oldest daughter (she was ten at the time) inspired me to write The Last Panther. She
cares a great deal for animals, and I started to wonder how many species we have now might be extinct by the time she grows up. Unless we work to change things, it’s likely that her kids will grow up in a world without wonderful creatures like elephants, gorillas, tigers, leatherback sea turtles, and Florida panthers (just to name a few). Every book I write starts with a question, and for this book, the question was “What is a species worth?” The more I thought about this question, the more I started to explore a second question, “How can the youngest of us (Kiri is only eleven in the book) work to save a species and change a community?”
Q: How long did it take you to write The Last Panther?
A: Usually it takes me around six months to write the first draft of a book, and three times as long to revise it. I do many drafts, and many versions of the books I write. On average, I usually complete a novel in around two years. (But there’s one book I’ve been writing for over ten years, and I’ve done twelve different versions of it.)
Q: Are there any other books that might include Kiri or the characters in The Last Panther planned for the future?
A: Right now I have other characters and other worlds I want to explore, but I never know what stories might call to me in the future. It’s possible Kiri will return. She’s a cool character, and I dig her world.
Q: How did you come up with the character names in the book?
A: Kiri’s name is short for Kiribati (an island nation threatened by climate change). In Kiri’s world, Kiribati is no longer there –that’s why her dad named her after it. There’s a theme in the book of remembering lost or extinct things. If you haven’t heard of Kiribati, I highly recommend researching it. It’s a fascinating place.
Q: Who designed the cover and did you have a part in the design process?
A: Erin McGuire did the cover. Her art is amazing. I got to see different versions of the cover she created, but the publisher was in charge of all this.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your career and some of the work you’ve done with animals?
A: I’ve been lucky to get to work with several different wildlife rescue operations. One of my best jobs I had was feeding wolves at a wolf sanctuary in Minnesota. I also worked with raptors (feeding and exercising hawks and owls), bears, and foxes. A lot of wildlife organizations need volunteers, so if you want to work with animals, check out what organizations are looking for help in your area.
Q: I appreciated the timeliness with the topics in the story as they bring attention to our environment and the importance of caring for it, and our animals. These are obviously things that the younger generation should be thinking about. Can you elaborate more on these subjects and how you feel about them?
A: I think sometimes young people feel powerless to create a better future, but this isn’t true. If you care about something, tell others about it. Tell your parents, your teachers, and your representatives. Then find others who care about what you love, and work with them to protect it. Turn anxiety into action, and you’ll be much happier.
You can create the future you want to live in. Human caused problems have human solutions, and we already have everything we need to solve the biggest problems we face. All we need now are people willing to stand up for what they care about, and to speak for those people, animals, and places that don’t have a voice.
Q: What advice would you give to those who wish to pursue writing?
A: I have a lot of advice on this. If you’re curious, check out www.ToddMitchellBooks.com and click on “For Writers.” While you’re there, you can learn 12 squirrel facts that will blow your mind, and other stuff about zombies and apocalyptic fiction. And you can find discussion questions and activities to go along with The Last Panther.
I’d like to thank Todd Mitchell for his time in completing this interview.
About the Author:
Here’s the dirt on me, as short as I can get it: I was born in 1974, on Elvis’s birthday, in the ridiculously flat cornfields of Illinois. There wasn’t much to do and the sky was far too large. When I was six, I planted an evergreen tree in our back yard. I thought of it as my spirit tree. By the time I left for college, it was about twenty feet high and round as a dinner plate at the base. One night, a tornado touched down in our back yard and tore my tree away. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t meant to live in Illinois.
Since then, I’ve lived all over the place, including Galway, Ireland, Oberlin, Ohio (where I went to college), Minneapolis, Seattle, New Orleans and Portland, Oregon. I’ve also worked a bunch of odd jobs ‘digging ditches, feeding wolves, teaching high school English, teaching poetry to children, slinging coffee, and four miserable days of cleaning out the fryer at KFC.
Currently, I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I teach creative writing and literature at Colorado State University. I live with a hyper dog, extremely cool wife, and two wild daughters who rule us all. I enjoy whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, dog wrestling and surfing. I think squirrels are incredibly amazing. I dream of the ocean at least once a week. I think happiness in life comes from giving back more than you take away. I believe in the power of stories to change the way we think and act. And I spend a big chunk of every day alone in my office writing.
Okay, enough about me. If you want to tell me about yourself, or if you’d like to learn more about my books, upcoming events, or just want to see a big freaky bunny, please visit http://www.toddmitchellbooks.com. – From Amazon
Twitter – tmitchellbooks