Picture book celebrates Charlotte’s namesake whale

The tale of Charlotte the beluga whale, the most famous marine fossil in Vermont, will be told in a picture book coming out this summer.

Author Erin Rounds imagines the journey of the sea creature, whose bones were found on what is now Thompson’s Point Road in Charlotte in 1849, in her children’s book “Charlotte’s Bones.”

Rounds is a fourth-grade teacher at Union Street School in Springfield, Vermont. She said she was inspired to write the story of Charlotte the whale years ago, when the class of third graders she was teaching lamented the fact that no one ever found evidence of dinosaurs in Vermont. Rounds did a little research, and found something that she said was just as interesting.

Bones were discovered by railroad workers in 1849 during the construction of the Burlington-Rutland railroad. According to the University of Vermont’s geology department, local farmer Jim Thorp suspected those weren’t just horse or cow bones, and called naturalist Zadock Thompson at UVM. He collected the bones and determined that they were from a white whale.

Illustrations by Alison Carver in the book “Charlotte’s Bones” depict the journey of Charlotte, the beluga whale whose fossil was found in 1849, in the town of Charlotte.

The discovery of whale bones helped geologists determine that the Atlantic Ocean used to be connected to Lake Champlain; that salt water body was called the Champlain Sea, which lasted for about 3,00 years.
Over 20 years ago, Kathy Lara and Rookie Manning’s classes at Charlotte Central School worked with Rep. Hazel Prindle to bring a proposal to the state legislature to have Charlotte declared the Vermont state fossil. Gov. Howard Dean signed the bill in a ceremony at the school on June 7, 1993.

Rounds jotted down some ideas about Charlotte the whale in her writer’s notebook, thought it about it for five years, and then finally wrote her first book. “Charlotte was swimming around in my head for so long,” Rounds said, that the first draft of her book took only about a week to write. The book’s illustrations were painted in gouache paint by first-time illustrator Alison Carver, an artist from Maine.

Focusing on the journey of Charlotte, who lived in what is now Charlotte approximately 11,500 years ago, the book chronicles the whale’s journey from living in what was then the Champlain Sea to becoming a fossil to becoming a key clue for geologists figuring out what the landscape of Vermont used to look like so many years ago.

The Flying Pig Bookstore is throwing a book launch party for “Charlotte’s Bones” on Tuesday, Aug. 7 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Charlotte Beach.

Rounds will be there, visiting the home of her book’s heroine for the first time, celebrating National Beach Party Day, and discussing with kids what it might have been like on that beach over 11,000 years ago, when Lake Champlain was a salt water sea.

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