GLOUCESTER — Gloucester author Dave Bowles’s coming-of-age story, “Mato’s Journey,” shares an important message while also teaching a lesson about the birds in the reader’s own backyard.
The debut novel, published in February, focuses on young mockingbird Mato as he learns that sometimes colorful feathers aren’t the only things that make someone special.
“It’s for the young person that does not become the hero of the book,” said Bowles. “At the same time, kids are learning about themselves and what value they bring to the table. Most kids want to be the quarterback, most girls want to be the head cheerleader. It doesn’t turn out that way for most of us, but what does happen is, is that we find our own way, our own happiness, and our own place in the world.”
Bowles used birds to tell the story, weaving in true-life facts of nature. Each bird is accurately portrayed. From bullying other birds to migration patterns and behaviors, each bird’s personality and characteristics are used to help with characterization, as well as world-building.
“While I’m telling a story that I hope has a message for kids, while they’re learning that story they’re also learning about the birds that are right there in their backyard,” he added, noting that bird behavior in a backyard can be likened to a microcosm of human behavior.
He also chose to give some characters — Mato and Apani — Native American names as a way to honor those who lived in the area and told nature stories long before he did.
Rebecca Kleinhample, Executive Director of the Virginia Living Museum, endorsed the book, calling it “… a beautiful tail of the power of authenticity and the strength biodiversity.”
Bowles said he has always loved birds, growing up watching them in Alabama, and has always found fascinating the variety of characteristics and traits that make each bird different and unique in their own way.
“[Birds] are all different,” Bowles explained. “They all have their own particular roles in nature and they’re right here amongst us. And all you have to do is walk out on your back porch or open your window and listen to them sing.”
Growing up, Bowles said he would wonder about what the birds could be singing about, so he had started making up stories. Ranging from rain to food to own personal vanity, Bowles would make up stories about various species of songs. It was then he started to wonder about the Mockingbirds song.
“I’d watch that and think ‘gee if I was a little Mockingbird, and I’m growing up and I’m peering out of the nest, and I’m looking at the other birds in the backyard, I don’t want to be a Mockingbird.'” Bowles recalled. “But we all learn the value we have and what we bring to the world. In that fashion then, we’re all going to be ok and we’re all going to have a happy ending.”
Bowles met his illustrator, Elizabeth Lester of Yorktown, through his wife. Bowles had finished his manuscript and was searching for an illustrator, having little luck finding someone he was comfortable with on the market.
Lester had just retired as an art teacher with York County Schools. She illustrated birds in her work regularly, which made Bowles comfortable working with her.
“I wanted an illustrator that would be able to take these birds and make them come to life,” Bowles said.
Bowles will host presentations of his book in the Gloucester school system this coming January, where he talk not just about writing, but birds and the themes of the story as well.
“Mato’s Journey” can be purchased on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The intended audience is first through fifth grades. For more about Bowles, visit his official website.