ALAMO -- The homely turkey vulture, lowly mole and pesky mosquito deserve to be adored and appreciated.
That's the heartwarming premise behind a new children's book, "Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved," written by Alamo author Diane Lang.
"All animals have a place in our environment and our world," Lang said. "We may not know what a lot of their purposes are, but it's good to realize that everything has an importance and a place. The more we learn about their various uses, the more we like them."
Lang is a longtime volunteer at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek and the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward. She often talks to young visitors about the importance of all animals.
"When I'm talking about insects and spiders in particular, I tell the kids we don't send them birthday cards or Valentines, but we really should," she explained. "We'd have too many insects if it weren't for spiders."
Her regular spider spiel got her to thinking about Earth's other maligned creatures.
"I thought about what we'd say to these various animals that were so unloved and unappreciated,"
Lang said the idea first popped into her head about three years ago. She took action, writing rhyming verses about skunks, opossums and bats.
She ended up with 26 little love letters and started thinking how cool it would be if they could be published. She mentioned it to a friend, who works at a publishing company in Southern
"I thought it was so charming, this idea of doing Valentines for the unloved," said Colleen Dunn Bates, publisher at Prospect Park Media in Pasadena. "I'd never seen anything like it of why we should love these animals that generally our society thinks are unlovable."
The real clincher came when Dunn Bates mentioned the idea to her always-skeptical husband, who said he would have enjoyed a book like that when he was a young boy.
"It's hard to get books that little boys will connect with," she said. "So much of the emphasis in children's book is on the fluffy and cute. There really hasn't been attention for these North American animals that kids might encounter. She even manages to make the cockroach seem not disgusting." Coincidentally, a recent graduate of California State University, Fullerton's prestigious illustration program heard about the project and was eager to get on board.
"We loved her stuff," Lang said of illustrator Lauren Gallegos. "Working together was really wonderful. It was a delightful experience."
Prospect Park had never published a children's book, so Dunn Bates turned to colleagues in the industry for advice. The resounding consensus was to not name the book Vulture Valentines, as originally planned, lest the book be pigeonholed as a seasonal title.
"Vulture Verses" has 13 poems, each with a double-page spread illustrated by Gallegos. Each poem is accompanied by educational facts about the animal. Lang hopes the second set of 13 poems will be released in a book titled "Slimy Sonnets."
Nicole McGinnis, wildlife education director at Sulphur Creek, has seen an advance copy of the book, which is just now hitting bookstore and museum shelves.
"It's amazing," McGinnis said. "One of the most important things in wildlife education is bringing to light an understanding of the animals that are misunderstood, the animals that are thought of to be creepy-crawly or maybe a little gross. All of these animals still matter in the big scheme of nature, and that's what this book does."
The book is geared to preschool and young elementary-age students, but Lang hopes it will resonate with parents and teachers who read it aloud to youngsters.
"It's for everybody," she said. "It's very often the parents who need to look at these animals in a different way. Children don't have their prejudices yet."
The book is already being sold online and in stores, but the official launch date is Sept. 1 -- International Vulture Awareness Day.
"There are surprising and wonderful things about the animals who live right around us," Lang said. "They're all important, and they're all special in their own way."
Author Diane Lang and some animal friends will make these appearances:
Sept. 1: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek
Sept. 1: 2 to 4 p.m., Sulphur Creek Nature Center, 1801 D St., Hayward
Sept. 8: 1 to 3 p.m., Pleasanton library, 400 Old Bernal Ave.