Threatened: An Interview With Author Eliot Schrefer
The Combined Book Team September 26, 2014

In Endangered, A National Book Award Finalist, author Eliot Schrefer tells the story of Sophie, a young girl who must, “ save a group of bonobos — and herself — from a violent coup.” While still focusing on great apes, more specifically chimpanzees this time instead of bonobos, Shrefer’s book Threatned is “a gripping journey into the world of chimpanzees…and the life of an African boy whose fate becomes entwined with them when he finds himself alone in the forest.” Threatened will be featured in The Combined Book Exhibit booths at the New England , Illinois and California Library Association Conferences. “Endangered kind of struck me by surprise, I didn’t think I was going to write it,” said Schrefer in an interview with CBE. Schrefer said two of his books published prior to Endangered, The School for Dangerous Girls and Glamorous Disasters, were very different, ” they were not about conservation and not about animals,” he explained. Endangered was the first in a string of novels centered around the great apes, and the for the book came after Schrefer bought a pair of Bonobos brand pants. ” I looked up bonobos online and I thought it was like a nonsense word. And then I lost an afternoon to Youtube videos of bonobos, doing things like making spaghetti and playing Pacman . There was just this moment where the human animal divide got really muddy for me when I was watching those, all these behaviors that I thought only people could do and that’s when I initially started to do more research.” Ape Makes A Fire: Kanzi The Bonobo Makes A Campfire Schrefer spent two weeks in a Bonobo sanctuary in The Congo for research for the book and he also read Bonobo Handshake, by Vanessa Woods explaining that through Woods’ experiences he learned more about the Bonobo society which was peaceful, matriarchal one, and ” a great model for where we came from and maybe.” Schrefer told us that writing about endangered animals forced him to get outside of himself, writing about a real world issue. ” I think with my other books, I could write my own world view, but this book was pleasantly about something so I could really throw myself into another topic, it was a really pleasant loss of myself as I was writing it and ultimately it makes for a better book in the end.” “I’m writing a book about each of the great apes and young people’s relationships with those animals, (Threatned) is sort of like an Island of The Blue Dolphins story, about a boy living in isolation and he ultimately has to become a member of a tribe of chimps in order to survive. So it’s a very different story, he’s fully African and he’s an orphan and has to survive in the wilderness.” “I got bitten by the Ape bug,” he said of why he decided to continue writing about apes. When asked what advice he would give new or aspiring authors, Schrefer had this to say: “An important quality for a first book is some sort of novelty in the premise itself. Something that’s got traction in the newness of the idea,that said beautiful writing is beautiful writing so there are plenty of books that are more quiet in their presence and are fantastic. It’s very hard, sometimes it’s not the first book it’s the second or third or even fifth.” Schrefer explained that going to conferences is an important part of getting the word out about his books, he explained why he believed library shows were essential by saying: “It’s been really crucial for me the support that Scholastic has given that allows me to go to various conferences. I think mainly because a book that’s about something in our world, like the war in the Congo and endangered animals the gatekeepers are often librarians and teachers. So being able to really tell them the story and have it on their radar is such an important access point for a book that doesn’t have an obvious commercial hook. It’s really been very crucial. And it’s an amazing vibe being around people who work in isolation usually, and all of a sudden there are hundreds of them all in one place. It feels really great, there’s a nice electricity to it.”

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