By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — Natasha Permaul hasn’t yet turned 16 but she is wise beyond her years.
A book she wrote as a 12-year-old has now been published; it’s a children’s book, told from the point of view of a butterfly, a Karner blue butterfly.
Natasha studied the butterfly, on the federal list of endangered species, as a seventh-grader at Farnsworth Middle School in Alan Fiero’s class.
Each year, after his students have studied the globally rare pine barrens located not far from their school, Fiero asks them to create a final project of their choosing, such as making a video or painting a picture or writing a poem.
“I say, ‘Everyone has a talent. Find a way to show what you learned,’” said Fiero who has had his students actively involved in Pine Bush projects for 15 years. Fiero’s students — through the only school program licensed by the Department of Fish and Game to do so — rear Karner blue butterfly chrysalises in captivity to be used in the Pine Bush Preserve.
Natasha recalls that most of her classmates did PowerPoint presentations for the end-of-the-year project.
“I was going to take the easy way out and do one, too,” she recalled this week. “But I decided to do a scrapbook…I feel I’m artistic and I’ve always loved writing since I was really little…I would talk a lot, and my mom and my teachers encouraged me to write down my thoughts,” she said.
“I’m really glad my book is getting published,” said Natasha. “It inspires me to do my best in everything I do because you never know what it’s going to turn into.”
Her mother, Gloria Permaul, says, “Natasha has been more mature than her age since she was a baby…She was ready for school before school was ready for her.”
Mrs. Permaul recalled how her husband would take their son, a year older than Natasha, to Lynnwood Elementary School; Natasha would go along for the ride and wanted to go to school, too, although she wasn’t yet old enough. “She would have her school bag, but she was too little to stay,” Mrs. Permaul recalled.
“Her artwork is all over the house…Her entire room is decorated with it,” said Mrs. Permaul, who has artistic talents herself.
The book that Natasha wrote as a child, called Mister Karner Blue, tells the life story of the butterfly in his own voice.
From his opening “Hi” to his closing farewell, the butterfly speaks with simple words in a charming way. Natasha reads the book out loud, with feeling.
“Boy, did I have to go through some changes,” the butterfly says. “I started off as an egg. I stayed on the stem of a blue lupine plant…I’m very tiny, pin size, to be exact.”
Mr. Blue goes on, “From an egg, I hatch into a beautiful caterpillar…I tend to be a tasty morsel. Luckily I am green, so I blend in…I eat about one lupine leaf in my whole life…After about four weeks, I find a nice stem to make a chrysalis.”
After changing into a blue butterfly, Mr. Blue continues, “I’m ready for the world to see the real me…Look at me! I can fly!…I mate once and eat lots of nectar — yum.”
From story to book
Fiero, on reading Natasha Permaul’s story, went to Farnsworth art teacher Michelle Romano for illustrations. “She was fantastic,” he said, and Romano did some ilustrations herself.
Romano’s students illustrated most of Natasha’s narrative and then the Pine Bush Commission, in publishing the book, added photographs taken by Kristin Russell and Robert Stone.
“It’s professional yet with the child’s touch,” said Fiero.
The commission is holding a book-signing party on Saturday, March 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road. The paperback book, which retails for $11.95, will be sold at the Discovery Shop with profits used for the educational center.
Books will also be sold at Farnsworth Middle School, Fiero said, and the profits from those sales will be used to fund the Butterfly Station, which runs each summer in the middle school’s courtyard where native plants are grown and butterflies are raised. Visitors are given free tours by knowledgeable student volunteers who also run a craft center and museum as well as raise butterflies. Funds for the project have been cut back in recent years.
“He’s knowledgeable and inspiring,” said Natasha of Fiero. “He’s just a really nice guy all-around.”
Asked what she hopes will happen next, Natasha said, “I hope parents will read the book to their kids.”
Natasha is of Indian descent. Both of her parents are from Guyana in South America. “They moved here after they got married,” said Natasha.
An honors student as a sophomore in high school, she is planning a career in medicine “with writing and drawing on the side,” she said.
Her father, Appadoo Permaul, is pastor of the Christ Family Fellowship Church in Schenectady and her mother works at a bank in Troy. Her older brother is a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology and her younger brother goes to Guilderland High School, too.
Natasha concluded, “I’m really thankful to Dr. Fiero and the Pine Bush Preserve for the opportunity to give back. I wanted all of the proceeds to go to the preserve. It’s one of the few places for the Karner blue left in the world. It’s so precious.”