Nov 4, 2009

Meet Author Carole G. Vogel

Our guest blogger today is Carole G. Vogel, co-author of The Man Who Flies with Birds. Carole was kind enough to fill us in on how she connected with co-author Yossi Leshem (the Man) and how her childhood fascination with research and science turned her into a nonfiction writer. Thanks, Carole!

Where did you get the inspiration for your Kar-Ben book, The Man Who Flies with Birds?
As a writer of children’s environmental books, I am constantly on the prowl for new topics that will excite kids. While perusing the October 2004 issue of New Scientist magazine, I tripped across an article called “Bird Traffic Controller” which described the fascinating work of Israeli bird expert, Yossi Leshem. Yossi soars with eagles literally and figuratively. In a motorized glider he flew alongside migrating flocks of eagles, storks, and other large soaring birds so he could track their migration paths through Israeli airspace. Before Yossi came along, the Israel Air Force (IAF) was losing planes to bird strikes—collisions between birds and aircraft. The IAF used Yossi’s research to teach pilots how to avoid the paths of migrating birds.

What most appealed to you about Yossi Leshem’s work?
I always wanted to write a book about Israel that showed the ingenuity of its scientists. I loved Yossi’s passion for birds and his use of science to resolve the conflict between birds and planes. Yossi’s message about bringing peace to the Middle East one bird lover at a time resonated deeply with me, as did his pro-environmental activism. For instance, many people look at owls and hawks and think “large birds.” Yossi looks at them and thinks “flying mousetraps” and then convinces Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian farmers to substitute barn owls and kestrels (small hawks) for pesticides. In one foul swoop Yossi addressed a critical environmental issue (pesticides are poisoning the soil and ground water) and a political issue (finding common ground among historical enemies).

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
I am a physicist’s daughter and part of me is most excited about Yossi’s use of science to solve seemingly unsolvable problems. But I am also excited about a whole compendium of other things. I always had in mind to write a book that cast Israel as a light among nations. I believe that this book fits that bill. Writing a hopeful book about Israel was especially important to me because many of my relatives live in Israel, as does my dear friend Sally Nemzow Esakov to whom I dedicated the book. I also want my readers to learn about this amazing human being, Yossi Leshem. He is proof that one person can make difference if he or she is empowered.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing it?
I was surprised to learn that half a billion birds migrate through Israel’s tight airspace twice yearly during the spring and fall migrations. This may not mean much to the average reader but being bird savvy, I realized that Israel was likely the single most important flyway (highway in the sky for migrating birds) in the world. One of my goals in writing The Man Who Flies with Birds is to raise awareness inside Israel and out, of the importance of protecting the remaining natural areas in Israel. They are crucial to the survival of the migrating birds of central Europe and western Asia.

What are you working on now?
I am exploring several different ideas. Most of my books so far have been on science and environmental topics. They reflect my keen interest in the natural world. But I am also a Jewish history buff. In my spare time I have been researching my genealogy and the places where my ancestors lived. I have come across some amazing material and I am wondering if I can spin it into a book or a couple of books, or perhaps half a dozen books. I also might like to take a stab at collaborating on a biography with another interesting public figure. And of course I am always on the lookout for a new science angle to explore.

What did you like to read when you were a child?
As a kid, one of my favorite books was Songs of the Swallows by Leo Politi (New York: Scribner, 1949). This Caldecott Medal-winning book immortalizes the annual return of the swallows to San Capistrano Mission in California, and Juan the boy who loves them. I was kind of like Juan in that I looked forward to my first sign of spring—the return of robins to my yard in suburban Pittsburgh. I remember watching the robins pull worms out of the lawn and thinking that I was glad that I didn’t have to eat anything so icky. It made me curious about the foods that wild animals ate and why. I was fascinated by the idea that the shape of a bird’s beak determines the kind of food the bird can eat. I was also fascinated by its corollary in the mammalian order–the kind of teeth that mammals have determines the mammal’s food.

As a teeneager, I read incessantly about World War II and the fate of the Jews in Europe. My parents were Holocaust survivors and they steadfastly refused to discuss their experiences under Nazi tyranny or the fate of their many relatives who had vanished. The subject of the Holocaust was never discussed in any of my classes in public and Hebrew school until my 10th grade confirmation class at Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Our rabbi, Rabbi David Edelstein, gave a comprehensive overview, replete with a film from a liberated concentration camp. It was horrifying but I was grateful for finally finding one adult who didn’t shy from the topic.

One of the requirements for confirmation was to write a 10-page term paper on any Jewish-related subject. For my topic I chose “The History of Anti-Semitism.” I needed to know the antecedents in history that set the stage for Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jews. It was depressing reading but it made me realize that events in the distant past could dramatically influence the present and future. This was the first time that I experienced the intellectual rush that I still get from doing research.

What are some interesting facts about you?
I like to hike on the flanks of volcanoes. So far I have hiked at least seven volcanoes (two of them were active at the time but not violently so.)

My idea of a great vacation is to go to a distant land and meet relatives that I haven’t met in person before. So far, I have met up with relatives in Israel, England, Austria, Germany, and Russia. My daughter has visited relatives in most of these countries plus France and Argentina.

About a dozen years ago I got the courage to join a dialogue group that brought together children of Holocaust survivors with the sons and daughters of Nazis or German bystanders. I became good friends with Inge Franken, the daughter of an avowed Nazi who served in the German Army during World War II and died on the Russian front. Together, Inge and I have given presentations in schools and colleges in the United States and Germany, where we discuss growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust from both perspectives.

My dad was a physicist. He took my two sisters and me to his research labs when my mom needed peace and quiet. There, he would perform scientific experiments to keep us occupied. My favorite involved using liquid nitrogen to freeze rubber hosing. When it was frozen, the rubber lost its ability to bend. It became so stiff that Dad could shatter it by whacking it against a table and the bits of tubing flew all over the room. The pieces cooled immediately and became flexible again.

I have identified more than 150 different kinds of birds, including one (a herring gull) that pooped on my head while I was watching it.

You can meet Carole at these upcoming events:

Beth El of N. Westchester Chappaqua, NY
12/3/2009 3:45 PM

JCC of Worcester, MA
3/11/2010 7 PM

Sussex County Main Library in Newton, NJ
3/20/2010 11:00 AM

Interested in having Carole speak at your school, JCC, or congregation? Contact

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