Message in a Bottle is above all a personalised story book but there is another, more educational and even scientific side to it.
When we began developing Message in a Bottle, we knew that choosing the animals of the story would be one of the most crucial step. Our ambitious plan was to have the story follow real geographical locations and the animals along the way to be true to these locations.
Most importantly, we needed the animals in order to create the story! What would happen in the story, depended on the animals and their own special features. For example, do they swim or fly, what is their geographical range, do they migrate?
We love nature documentaries but we weren’t biologists. So we set out to find one.
We found Dr Szymek Drobniak, an enthusiastic evolutionary biologist from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Wojtek and I had already developed the route the bottle would take, starting from Hawaii and ending in Europe, and we asked Szymek to find the animals that would fit along the journey. Full of excitement, he took the challenge that was surely quite different from the ordinary academic projects.
These are his discoveries that eventually became the very characters of Message in a Bottle:
#1 – Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper
Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper was one of Szymek’s very first findings and soon it was clear that this little red bird would be Kiki, the hero of the whole adventure.
The nature of this bird took our hearts instantly – they only live on certain islands in Hawaii, they are quite poor flyers and they never see anything outside of their home. What a perfect hero, longing for adventure and seeing the world! Her tiny size emphasized even more the message of the story: you can do extraordinary things with courage, good heart and help of others.
What’s with the curvy beak? Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreepers love nectar and with the thin beak they can drink it from tropical flowers.
#2 – Thin-shelled crab
The crab was one of the very last additions to the story – I felt like Kiki needed to interact with someone when finding the bottle.
There are dozens if not hundreds of crabs in the whereabouts of Hawaii, some of them no more than half inch long! We ended up choosing the thin-shelled crab, which is one of the most unknown crab species out there.
#3 – Humpback whale
When looking for animals that can travel great distances in the sea, the choice was easy: the big and mighty humpback whales of the Pacific Ocean travel from the warm Polynesian waters all the way to the arctic Canada – so Hawaii is on the way!
Did you know that humpback whales sing to find their way through the oceans?
#4 – Spectacled caiman
Kiki’s journey takes her through the jungles of Amazon, full of many not-so-friendly animals. One of them is the spectacled caiman. How can you tell a caiman from an alligator or crocodile? Caimans have the longest teeth! They can also shift colours when they are cold. This helps them to keep warm.
#5 – American golden plover
With 40 pages of story, we had to limit the number of animals to keep the length of the book reasonable. Some animals had to be able to make vast distances to keep the journey moving in a good pace. An American golden plover was a great find – they make one of the longest migrations in the bird world, from the Northernmost Canada to the most Southern America. They can fly thousands of miles without rest and food!
We also wanted the selection of animals to be rich and surprising, with some animals that would be very new to children and even to adults. Plover was one of them. Many questioned this choice – understandably, as nobody seemed to know what a plover is (and that’s precisely why we chose it)!
#6 – Jaguar
Jaguar is another addition to the scary animals of the Amazon. Jaguars are one of the fastest runners in the world, although on short distances they can easily be outrun by cheetahs.
How can you tell the difference between the jaguar, cheetah and leopard? Jaguars are the biggest in size, but otherwise take a look at their dots: Jaguar’s dots are polygonal rosettes with a dot inside, Cheetah has simple dots and Leopard has round rosettes with a dot inside.
#7 – Red-bellied piranha
When you think about the Amazon River, I bet you think about the piranhas! Actually the red-bellied piranhas are quite small fish with wide but sharp teeth. Although even they can’t bite through Kiki’s bottle!
The red-bellied piranha can ‘sing’ to communicate to their mates. Now how bad can a singing fish be?
Stay tuned for the part 2 of the animals of Message in a Bottle!
Edit 11/02/2017: Click here to read part 2!
Is your child as excited about animals as we are? Visit Kiki’s Kids Club, a special place on our website we created especially for children to learn more about the animals featured in the story. Children can discover the animals on an interactive world map, test their knowledge in animal quizzes and print out our fun activity sheets!