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Author dedicates book to biology professor, childhood chum

February 24, 2011

Groundhogs (aka marmots) have brought Greg Florant and Susan Blackaby - friends since childhood - together again.

Author Susan Blackaby and Professor Greg FlorantFlorant, a Colorado State University biology professor known for his research on hibernating mammals, and Blackaby, a popular children’s book author, rode their bikes together and played as kids in their Palo Alto, Calif., neighborhood. They’ve stayed in touch over the years, but Blackaby had a big surprise for Florant this year – just in time for Groundhog Day.

A story of friendship

Blackaby dedicated her most recent book, Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox, to Florant with three simple words: “To Greg, obviously.”

How Sterling Children’s Books, Blackaby’s publisher, describes the book: “Happy Groundhog Day! But when Brownie steps outside, there’s not even the slightest sign of spring - just her shadow, a frosty field, and a hungry fox who wants to munch her for lunch. Determined not to become a meal, Brownie finds a clever and tasty way to melt the ice and turn Fox into a friend…and make the wait for winter’s end a little warmer.”

Blackaby said the idea for the book started with a sketch.

Great connection through storytelling

“Meredith Mundy, my editor at Sterling, showed me a scrap of artwork by Carmen Segovia - a sketch of a groundhog holding a cup. Meredith asked me if I could/would write a story for the character, and Brownie was born,” Blackaby said. “When it came time to make the dedication, I naturally thought of Gregory. We’ve known each other since grade school—our moms were great pals, our families are close, and he and his brothers have always been my special friends - and his connection to marmots is clear.”

Florant’s wife arranged for Blackaby to visit over the December holidays without her husband’s knowledge and even sent him to pick her up at the airport.

“She breaks out this book,” Florant said. “It absolutely blew me away that she wrote this book. Susie is the sister I never had. We not only rode bikes together, but took family camping trips together. Our families are still close.”

During her visit to Fort Collins, she saw the critters she had written about.

“It was wonderful to have the chance to surprise him with the book - and then he surprised me with an armful of groundhogs at work and foxes in his backyard at breakfast. So we’re even...for now.”

Yellow-bellied marmots studied by biology Professor Greg FlorantAbout Gregory Florant

Greg Florant, professor in the Department of Biology at Colorado State University, has spent a large part of his career studying how marmots and ground squirrels use fats and other nutrients to hibernate. In his most recent study, Florant has identified a molecule that, when activated, makes marmots hungry during their hibernation phase when they normally don’t eat. This molecule, named AMPK, is common to all living things. Knowing how to manipulate this molecule could open the door to understanding human obesity and eating disorders.

About Susan Blackaby

Susan Blackaby started writing in Mrs. Nichols' third grade class at Green Gables. She didn't think of becoming a writer until she had tried a few other things, including goat milking and weaving. Over the past 30 years, Susan has written textbooks, workbooks, and readers by the dozen for kids in elementary school.

In 2002, her first trade book, Rembrandt's Hat, was named one of the top 10 picture books of the year by the Washington Post, and her poetry collection, Nest, Nook, & Cranny, was one of the NY Public Library’s top 100 books of 2010. Susan lives with her husband and daughter in a lab-mandatory neighborhood in Portland, Ore.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
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