Who knew that Philippine crocodiles swallow stones to control their buoyancy? Or that the giant dragon lizard was the inspiration for Smaug, the mighty dragon in J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit?
I unearthed these little nuggets and many other surprising discoveries on my journey to illustrate 100 Endangered Species, a new non-fiction children’s picture book.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my love of wildlife was sparked in childhood, by a Norwegian teacher who regularly took us outside for lessons. I became fascinated by all the creatures on my doorstep, from pond skaters and tadpoles, to bumblebees and garden birds. 100 Endangered Species gave me the exciting opportunity to reach children and get them excited about the natural world. What started as a social media collaboration evolved into a 224-page children’s book to inspire future generations to conserve and protect our precious wildlife.
Pictures with a Purpose
As a freelance illustrator, I am thrilled to be working with leaders in conservation and publishing, including BBC Wildlife Magazine and Bloomsbury, the Duke Lemur Center and The Wildlife Trusts. Creating something with a purpose, and on top of it highlighting a wildlife cause, puts an extra spring in my step.
100 Species in 100 Days
In 2019, I teamed up with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), to spotlight the species that they are helping to bring back from the brink of extinction, both in the UK and globally. My mission: to illustrate one species a day, for 100 consecutive days. I posted each image on Instagram, accompanied by fun facts and conservation actions.
“The partnership was a resounding success. Rachel produced beautiful illustrations every day. Our followers (and staff!) loved seeing them and learning about endangered species. The amount of work Rachel must have put in to produce each illustration is incredible”, Zoe Roden, Communications Officer at PTES.
The Minute and the Magnificent
From apes and amphibians to bears and bees, the project spanned a huge breadth of species; the charismatic and feared, to the persecuted and overlooked. I focused on what makes each species unique: their characteristic appearance and behaviour, rather than trying to anthropomorphise, objectify or sensationalise them in any way. This involved filling several sketchbooks with observational drawings, until I managed to convey interesting shapes and gestures. I loved illustrating animals that people rarely get the chance to see in real life, from the frozen North and the arid desert, to lush rainforests and the deepest oceans.
Soon after the campaign ended, I was approached by a publisher in the UK to turn my illustrations into a book for older children. As I wrote this book, a few different species were swapped in to broaden our reach and include other conservation organisations. One group of mammals that I became particularly fascinated with was lemurs. Five very different species feature in the book: the Aye-Aye, Anosy mouse, Thomas’ dwarf, Southern woolly and the indri. I’ve gone on to collaborate with Duke Lemur Center – a world leader in the study, care and conservation of lemurs – but that is another story…
“Rachel Hudson has a special talent for capturing the essence of each species of her chosen species and she portrays them with a twinkle in her eye.” Brett Westwood, BBC Broadcaster and Nature Writer.
A Little Book of Hope
100 Endangered Species is a little book with a BIG ambition. It not only highlights the plight of threatened species, it also makes clear the key roles that many of them play, as engineers, gardeners and caretakers of their neighbourhoods. A few are top of their food web, some are indicator species. Losing any one of these species may have serious consequences their ecosystems, and a host of other plants and animals, including us. However, this is not a sad book, not remotely. It is a celebration of each species and the vital work that so many people and organisations are doing to protect them. Whenever possible, each species is accompanied by conservation actions and solutions to understand and address the threats. At the back of the book, readers can find resources from organisations and initiatives that are working to prevent extinctions and maintain the world’s biodiversity, from Kakapo Recovery to Project Seahorse.
Inspiring Future Generations
This book is intended to entertain, inform and inspire future generations. I hope that children and adults alike enjoy dipping into this book as much as I loved researching and illustrating it.
“Rachel is igniting ambition in the souls of future artists and environmentalists who will care for and shape our future world.” Jane Oborn, Headteacher, Medstead Primary School, Hampshire, UK.
Find out more
100 Endangered Species is published in hardback by Button Books in the UK (ISBN-13: 9781787081055), it will be launched in the US in August. It is available from most online book retailers, including bookshop.org.
To see what I am currently working on, or to discuss a possible collaboration, please visit www.rachelhudsonillustration.com and follow me on Instagram @rhudsonillustration