The Rapidian

Gator Comes Full Circle: Local Author Brings Alligators to MLK Leadership Academy

Underwriting support from:
Sue Stauffacher and Komani with Alphabet Soup and friend

Sue Stauffacher and Komani with Alphabet Soup and friend /Roger Gilles

Critchlow distributes alligators to the class at MLK elementary

Critchlow distributes alligators to the class at MLK elementary /Roger Gilles

"Do you want to hold him?” asked David Critchlow, the cheerful owner of Alligator Sanctuary outside Battle Creek. He had in his hands Alphabet Soup, a foot-long baby alligator with gray eyes and a decidedly nonplussed expression, taking in the carpeted library of this elementary school with the air of a bored prince.

Of course I wanted to hold him. Holding an alligator would be up there with the time I hugged a koala and he marked me, perhaps forever, with his scent gland. I think as we age, we forget the fun of show and tell, the pleasure of holding weird things for a time (and the relief of giving them back). But I had the distinct feeling that I’d drop Alphabet and he’d end up squirreled behind the bookshelves of this elementary school library, awaiting his first kill.

“It’s hard to tell at this age whether or not they’re male or female,” Critchlow said as I wrapped my hand around Alphabet’s cool neck and braced him in my other hand. “You can tell by the size of their cloaca.”
The occasion of Critchlow’s visit to MLK Leadership Academy was the release of Gator on the Loose!, a new novel for younger readers published this week by Knopf that took shape here at Grand Rapids Public Schools Martin Luther King Leadership Academy on Logan Street and sparked from the pages of the Grand Rapids Press. It’s a local story gone full circle — from news tidbit to New York publishing industry and back again, and in a great way closes the gap between finding new readers and making new writers.
In 2007, local author Sue Stauffacher read a front page story about a domesticated alligator discovered in a pool. From that, she approached MLK principal Carrie Tellerico about the idea of using a third-grade class to develop plots for a potential book. As part of a writing exercise, students in the class wrote short stories describing how they would rescue the gator.
“Some of them were very creative and involved cranes and helicopters,” Stauffacher said at Tuesday’s press conference in the MLK Academy library. Stauffacher later adapted these potential story lines into Gator on the Loose, the first of four books in her series about an “animal rescue team.”
“I learned that it takes a village to write a book,” Stauffacher said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Oh, and you can’t ship an alligator.”
For the book, she consulted with John Ball Zoo’s director Bert Vescolani about gator care and with Critchlow, whose sanctuary had opened that year. Also in attendance at the press conference were two MLK elementary school students, Mikhela and Komani, who had been apart of the early book development process. This summer, the John Ball Zoo will host a 13-foot, 800-pound alligator, and Staffacher will host an event on June 26.
“Collaboration is what we’re all about,” said Vescolani. “We saw in this book the connection between caring for animals and getting people to appreciate wildlife.”
Critchlow, who came to creating his sanctuary later in life, believes Stauffacher’s book teaches important lessons about engagement. “You can see things on television or in the news and it can inspire you to do something," he said.

Disclosure: Author Stauffacher invited the press and public to this event.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.