It all started when Dr. Holland met the Executive Director of the National Park Trust, Grace Lee. “Grace had brought to two small plush Buddy Bison toys as gifts for my granddaughters, “ Dr. Holland said. Upon learning that there was no story to go with Buddy”, Ilona pitched the idea to write one, and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure was born.
Each purchase of the plush toy, Buddy Bison, helps the National Park Trust send a student to a local state or national park or wildlife area. “Knowing this project can help send kids to parks through buying Buddy makes me feel great,” Dr. Holland added. “State and national parks are treasures and not all kids get to know or enjoy them. I am thrilled to be a part of an effort to help get more kids to appreciate and love nature and our beautiful parks.”
To celebrate the National Parks Service’s 100 birthday, the Buddy School Program has been selected as a National Parks Service Centennial Challenge Project. The proceeds from the purchase of Buddy or any donation to the National Park Trust are being matched dollar-for-dollar by the National Park Service so many more students will be able to visit our nation’s parks.
While researching for the book, Ilona went to Yellowstone National Park. She visited hot springs and learned a great deal about the microbes that create the amazing colors that surround the springs. “The springs are very hot due to the volcano that is below them,” she explained. “In the hottest part of the springs, nothing can live and the color is an incredible deep blue. But as the water cools around the edges different microbes live at different temperatures. These microbes form circles around the edges of the springs that are spectacular.”
While at Yellowstone, Ilona was rewarded by seeing lots of wildlife, including many bison. Interesting note – bison and buffalo are the same animal by a different name. Even though she had read that bison could weigh up to 2,000 pounds, she couldn’t believe how big they look in the wild. In fact, she learned that they are the largest land animal in North America.
In the story, twins Elena and Christopher, visit their aunt Rosa who is a park ranger. Christopher wanders off and the small plush bison clipped to Elena’s backpack springs to life and helps her find her brother. Buddy’s size and speed help save the day.
Dr. Holland always wanted to write children’s books. It was not until she recently retired from teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, that she finally had the time to do so. Dr. Holland received her Masters in Reading from the University of DE in 1978. Later, she decided that she wanted to continue her studies in cognitive psychology and completed her doctorate from Harvard University in 1991. A few years later, Harvard asking her to become a part of the faculty. She commuted to and from Milford, DE for 14 years to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her special field was evaluating informal learning environments, like educational television, IMAX movies, museum exhibits, and NPR programs to identify how well people, especially children, were learning from them.
During the show, Ilona answered questions from the audience. When asked if it is hard to write for children as opposed to writing for adults, Dr. Holland explained that her consulting work with educational programs helped prepare her for writing to specific grade levels.
“I had to figure out what kids liked and understood when I was evaluating educational TV shows like Martha Speaks, Word Girl, and Cyber Chase,” she said. “Over the years, I got a lot of practice knowing what works and doesn’t work with kids.”
Dr. Holland is looking forward to writing many more children’s books. She has several in mind and can’t wait to be able to send them out. None, she thinks, will ever be quite as special as her first, however.