Diana Renn

Mysteries that Matter


Meet Maribel Pregnall Mueller!

Maribel grew up in northern Vermont, Oregon, and the coast of Maine. She was the kind of kid who never could stay inside too long. Her adventures outside gave her an appreciation for nature that shaped her life and career. It led her to whale research, then to outdoor education, and then to a long career teaching public high school science. She is now a retired science teacher from Arlington High School in LaGrangeville, NY, where she taught for 30 years. During her career she integrated hands-on science and outdoor adventure into her teaching whenever she could. Fortunately for her, that made her career lots of fun and brought her to some really cool places. She brought her students to Alaska, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Key Largo, Florida to study the flora and fauna in super diverse ecosystems. They climbed mountains in Denali National Park and went SCUBA diving on coral reefs in Marine sanctuaries. She also worked with her students to battle invasive species in a local park, to work with college professors on endocrine disrupters in our personal care products, and to build an Aquaponics laboratory in her classroom.

The most rewarding project in her career, however, was working to save a species that lived in the wetlands behind her school. For most of her career, she worked with hundreds of students to save a New York threatened species, the Blanding’s turtles, from local extinction. In her retirement, she is still working on the Blanding’s turtle project and working with student interns during nesting season. She is also on the Board of The Wetland Trust where they purchase valuable wetland habitat and mitigate when there is damage to wetland habitats during development. She is also on the Board of The Friends of Peach Hill where she is working on creating pollinator meadows and building an outdoor education classroom in a local town park they saved from becoming a housing development. In her career and now in retirement, she will always be a champion for the earth. Her life and mission to help and study the environment are intertwined.



Franco Zacharzewski and I met at Creature Conserve, which brings artists, creative writers, and scientists together to “study, celebrate, and protect animals and their habitats.” His illustrations address everything from climate anxiety and mental illness, to Uyghur cooking. His striking colors, textures, and subject matter always draw me in. So when he agreed to create a graphic for TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, I was ecstatic, and equally excited when he agreed to answer a few questions for the blog. We also get a sneak peak into his studio where the magic happens!

Q: What got you into conservation work?

A: My generation grew up with a lot of great T.V. programming on the natural world. As a kid, my curiosity for animals was definitely sparked by Animal Planet and Discovery Channel shows. More recently though, I feel like my interest in conservation has been fueled by the professors I met in college that have been working in this field for a long time.

Q: How do you use art in service of conservation?

A: Art speaks to us in a way nothing else does. Even at its most representational and literal, I think art is always imbued with a sentiment that can only be felt. With that in mind, I try to use art to strike a chord with people in a way science can’t. Not to tell people about the value of wildlife conservation—to show them.

Q: What does conservation mean to you as an artist?

A: I’m not sure how my meaning of conservation differs to a scientist’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. In broad terms, I guess I see it as the responsibility to understand the creatures we share our planet with and work towards providing them with the best quality of life possible. As an artist, I’d say I channel that responsibility into making pictures.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Lately I’ve been inspired by cities and the stories unfolding in them. I like how small cities can make me feel, and in turn, how small a city can feel in relation to nature. There are so many fun visual compositions too that it’s hard not to find something to draw.

Q: What’s your favorite animal to draw?


Q: If you could say one thing to a young artist who wants to use their art for activism, what would you tell them?

A: If I had to summarize, I’d say: Art for activism is an act of love, so love wholeheartedly. Do your research. Make sure you understand what the issues are and how your art addresses them. Ask the affected community about their needs, see if they have proposed any solutions already. Assess how your art will impact the community who you are trying to support. And be ready to make mistakes, and correct them.

Q: What was fun about designing this image?

A: My favorite part was finding out how to use the least number of colors and shapes to convey the Blanding’s Turtle’s habitat and personality. I really appreciate the humility in trying to make an image as simple and clear as possible so that the greatest number of people can understand it.

Q: Did any unexpected challenges come up when creating this image and if so, what?

A: Designing text was something new for me! It was exciting to find ways to accommodate both the type and the art in a relatively small image. I had to be mindful of striking a balance between retaining the most important elements in the frame and making the text legible when printed.

Q: What’s your process like when you come up with ideas? What goes into your thinking?

A: As of recently, I’ve been trying to start my compositions from photographs. I like to get lost in pictures and find the painting within them. Then it’s just a matter of removing elements from the frame until I am left with the most synthesized composition possible.

Franco Zacharzewski is an Argentinian illustrator raised in Paraguay, Colombia, and the United States. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Franco is an advocate for climate action and environmental justice. He is currently the art director at Creature Conserve. Occasionally, you may find him relaxing by the waters of Prospect Park Lake. 

Meet Robert Shao!

Robert Shao is a Land Steward for The Nature Conservancy in New York, based off the East End of Long Island. He earned his Bachelors in Environmental Studies  from SUNY Purchase and worked as a Fish & Wildlife Technician with the  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation prior to joining The Nature Conservancy.

And what is a Land Steward, you ask? A Land Steward, to put it simply, is someone who takes care of the land! They make sure the building blocks of a healthy ecosystem are in place. For example: they monitor the soil to ensure it’s healthy, check for biological diversity, and keep tabs on the water and air to ensure it’s clean. In essence, they are masters at paying attention and protecting.

You can support The Nature Conservancy by visiting their site and checking out their programming!


Dear Readers,

There’s just one week until the launch of TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, out from Fitzroy Books / Regal House on April 5!

I’m excited to share that TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND has been getting some love from news outlets, including my local newspaper, The Concord Journal!

The article is also online, if you’d like to give it a click.

I’ve also got a piece out on Zoo New England’s Field Conservation blog. Read on for a teaser!

How Volunteering with Blanding’s Turtles Hatched a Book Idea

“The road to writing my mystery novel for children, Trouble at Turtle Pond, began with a turtle. Soon after my family and I moved to Concord, Massachusetts, I swerved to avoid a large snapping turtle in our street. I had never seen one before. Nor would I have believed that turtles were about to enter my life in a big way.”

Continue Reading at Zoonewengland.com!

Meet Emilie Wilder!

Emilie manages local rare species conservation projects for Zoo New England. Emilie works with turtles, frogs, salamanders, and even rare plants, figuring out what’s going on with their populations and finding ways to help them. For example, the two turtles she’s holding are rare Blanding’s turtles. They got a “headstart” in life – raised in a local classroom as tiny hatchlings until they were bigger and stronger – and now she’s releasing them back into the swamp. These turtles are the next generation that will hopefully grow up to continue the population and keep our local swamps full of beautiful diversity.

You can support Emilie and her work by visiting the Zoo New England site.



Meet Sarah Kollar!

Sarah Kollar is the manager of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup™ (ICC), the world’s largest single day volunteer effort for our ocean. The ICC started on a single beach in Texas in 1986 and has since mobilized millions of volunteers in more than 150 countries to remove approximately 340 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world. What makes the ICC so special is its focus on community science: in addition to collecting trash, volunteers log every item they find, helping Ocean Conservancy build the world’s largest marine debris database. By collecting this data, volunteers help scientists, policymakers, and others better understand the ocean plastic problem and help them to solve it. Sarah has loved marine ecosystems for many years, having grown up along the Great Lakes and now enjoys working with partners all over the world to make coastal -and inland- cleanups for the ICC possible.