Mike Tibbetts grew up in the English countryside, on the edge of a forest, with his older brother, woodland creatures and a steady diet of Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter books to keep him company. His early love of nature, wildlife and literature would not only follow him through life, but shape his career.
While in high school, Tibbetts met his future wife, Andraya Holdeen, who was in England on an exchange program. The pair hit it off and maintained their budding relationship following graduation, as he went to university to pursue degrees in history and education, and she returned to the United States to study medicine. Tibbetts spent three years in London teaching second grade before moving to Boston in 2001 where Andraya was in medical school. They married and moved back to her native Minnesota.
When the couple learned they would soon be parents, Tibbetts’ literary musings began. “I had never written a book or thought about it until my wife was pregnant with our first child,” Tibbetts says. “We were picking out books before the baby was born, and I thought, ‘It would be kind of cool if I wrote my own book that I could read to my son or daughter.’”
Tibbetts admits he was at a loss where to start, resorting to online advice: Write what you know. “I grew up in the countryside and knew all about English wildlife,” he says. “So that’s what I decided to write about.”
He chose as his characters a fox, deer, hedgehog, badger, and weasel, quintessential wildlife from his childhood. And so began A Badger’s Tale.
The story revolves around Happy, a friendless badger with a sour disposition. When humans arrive in the forest attempting to destroy it, Happy, without realizing it, saves not only the forest but also his fellow woodland creatures from human invasion. Tibbetts hoped to emphasize the importance of teaching children stewardship of the land. “We share this world with animals and trees, and we can’t just destroy habitats for no reason,” he says. “I felt I got the point across while maintaining the innocence of a child.”
It would take seven years for Tibbetts to complete his first book. “I started writing before we had Oliver, and was writing a little bit here and there, and put it down for a year or two, and then we had Charlie, and then I found the book again, then we had Gwen, and I thought, ‘I need to finish it now, before my first child is too old to appreciate it,’” Tibbetts says.
The illustrations presented another challenge, as Tibbetts had no experience in art. He chose to self-publish to maintain control over how his characters were portrayed. “I was worried if I went to publishers they would say, ‘We use our own illustrators,’” he says. “Yet I knew how I wanted my animals to look, and I was not willing to part on that.”
So he sat down one day and drew, with his children offering honest critique on which drawings they liked. Tibbetts wanted to show his children the book was not only for them, but also that they had an important part to play in it.
He credits his brother-in-law, who had also written a book, for helping him navigate the publishing process. “Questions, such as which publishing company to use, whether to use a pre-made cover or create your own, he walked me through it,” Tibbetts says.
He worked with Create Space through Amazon, which printed, published, and sells his book online. Tibbetts admits it was a great feeling holding A Badger’s Tale for the first time. “It’s a huge accomplishment, having this novel right in front of you,” he says. “You created it and can share it.”
As a stay-at-home dad, Tibbett’s relishes time with his children, now 8, 6, and 3 ½, and the opportunity it affords to continue writing. His second book, The Flight of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, due out this month, casts his children in the title roles as they work to save an endangered species. “As long as children are happy, I’m happy,” he says. “And if my children read my books to their children someday, I will consider myself a success.”
Find A Badger’s Tale at the Wild Bird Store in Waconia, and both books are available online at Amazon.com.