April Azary Thomas

April Azary Thomas loves nature and finds joy in sharing that love with others. "If kids learn about nature early on, they will love it all their lives," the 68-year-old former park ranger and naturalist said.

She has authored outdoor activity books that explore local and regional parks and wildlife and she is delighted to be able to share her knowledge and love of the outdoors, especially the Northwest region. The books, which include information and activities such as puzzles, anagrams and word searches, are both kid-friendly and fun for adults.

"I wanted something that children and adults could do together, make connections in nature," Azary Thomas said.

She has also created kits for children to learn to cast animal tracks or dissect owl pellets. An author of more than 10 nature activity books, including "Discovering Lithia Park" and "Discovering North Mountain Park," spoke with the Daily Tidings about her work.

DT: How long have you lived in Ashland?

AAT: I moved here in 2001. I'm from California, I grew up in the Bay Area, but I've lived all over the United States, worked everywhere.

DT: What brought you here?

AAT: I was working in Texas and I was looking for a summer home because I couldn't take the summer heat there. I had five criteria: there had to be a national park within two hours, there had to be a Shakespeare festival (I had been coming to the Oregon festival since I was 8 years old), there had to be a university, a good church and public transportation. Everywhere I went during my travels, I looked for those criteria. I narrowed it down to Bozeman, Cedar City and Ashland. I was partial to Ashland anyway and, since I have a daughter in San Francisco and a daughter in Seattle, I decided Ashland would be perfect. And it is.

DT: Talk about your books.

AAT: They are field guides and activity books about different areas. I have one on the Crater Lake, the Oregon Coast, closer to home I have books on Lithia Park and Oredson-Todd Woods. They all talk about the plants, animals, history and geology of the area. The information is followed by activities to do. As a park ranger, I was taught you don't ever tell anybody what something is, you try to get them to figure it out for themselves. And that's what I do with my books. There are activities to reinforce what you have read or if you haven't read it then you have to read it in order to do the activities.

DT: What sort of activities do the books include?

AAT: There are activities to help children learn to bird watch, dissecting owl pellets, recognize animal tracks. Kids have fun learning about nature. If they get out in nature when at a young age, they learn nature is there to be observed and it is where animals live and we are simply visitors.

DT: Are all of your books for children?

AAT: Nope. I like to say they are written for ages 1 to 101. They are for all ages. There are coloring pages for small children. I have adult clients who buy them for the activities, the word searches and anagrams. I have a client on the coast who owns a condo complex. She buys them for all the guest rooms. I have clients who use them to homeschool their children. The Lithia Park book has activities, but it has a guide to native plants and it talks about the history of the park.

DT: Do you have a favorite book?

AAT: They are all my favorites. But I love geology. The one that is coming out in February is called "Discovering the Cascades." I talk about Lassen Peak, Garibaldi Peak, 17 volcanoes and waterfalls. I love the volcanoes and I talk about lava beds like Medicine Lake. It's fun. You go to lava beds and you can't believe you are standing in a crater. It's amazing.

DT: What's next for you?

AAT: The next book coming out after "Discovering the Cascades" is a family activity guide called "Discovering Oregon." Saturday, I'll be at the book fair at the Ashland Springs Hotel. I've been going since the very first one back in 2003. It's always fun. I get to meet new people, sell my books.

DT: Any advice for aspiring writers?

AAT: You have to find something that is your passion — you have to really love it. If you love something, then it writes itself. One piece of advice I can give, especially to young people, is journaling. Keep a journal. It doesn't matter what you write, just write.

DT: Any advice for aspiring naturalists?

AAT: Volunteer at a local park, national park, state park, a trailhead or whatever. Volunteer and get to know people. The people in the parks know you and they will recognize your passion and help you. That's how I got my start.

DT: When you are not writing, what do you like to do?

AAT: I play the piano, I play tennis, spend time with my children, go for hikes (laughs). Of course, I like to go on hikes.

For more information about April Azary Thomas' activity books, go to www.AdventuresInNatureBooks.com.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact her at decker4@gmail.com.

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