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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The UEC’s young people made me write a book! . . . And move back to Milwaukee!

 1958, City of Milwaukee, corner of Beckett and Glendale Avenues,
beside my house - I'm on the right.

My brother and my neighbor and I are sitting on a sewer cover, making mud pies.

Glendale Avenue is behind us, before the concrete went in.

How a book gets a start 

I’m a writer and a nature nut. In 2013, with five books published, I realized that none of them were the book I really wanted to write. 

I felt inspired to write a book about young people and nature. But where to start? . . .  Fiction? . . . Nonfiction? . . . A combination of the two? I shared my conundrum with a nature-loving friend, Mike Larson, visitor services manager at the Urban Ecology Center (UEC).

He suggested, “Why don’t you come to Riverside? We’ll walk around and talk about your ideas.”

I met Mike at the UEC site at Riverside Park, where he and I ambled along the forest paths. He talked about urban young people whose lives had been changed through their involvement at one or more of the three Milwaukee UEC centers. As he spoke, two things shone through his words: humor and compassion.

At the end of our walk, I had my book idea . . . . No fiction, just the facts: it would be an account of how nature and the Urban Ecology Center changed the lives of young people. Mike gave me a list of names of individuals I could contact. From 2014 through 2016, I interviewed fifteen people ages fifteen through forty. Through all the interviews, I was struck again by what I felt when I first walked with Mike Larson at Riverside: humor and compassion.

How working on a book changes a life 

My goal was to write about how nature changes lives of young people. I never expected a bonus: interviewing those young people changed my life. . . .

Our Menomonee Falls mini-farm at dusk, 2014

The bottle gentians that sprang up on our Menomonee Falls land, 2014

At the same time I was doing interviews, my husband and I were searching for a smaller home. We wanted to move from our mini-farm in Menomonee Falls where we'd lived for 34 years, to relocate closer to our kids and grandchildren who live in Milwaukee (Bay View) and Franklin. The stories told by the UEC young people opened our minds to moving back to Milwaukee, where we had both grown up. In 2015, we did just that.

We have found what those young people found: nature is all around us, even in the city.

                         Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor   

Nature is all around us:

the Kinnickinnic River in the parkway across from our Milwaukee home,
where we moved in 2015

How a book sees the light of day

I'm beyond thrilled to announce the publication of this book that I've been working on since 2014. Four years is a long book-pregnancy for me. I found a perfect match with HenschelHAUS Publishing in Milwaukee. We'll launch the book, appropriately, at the beautiful Urban Ecology Center Riverside location. The launch date, also appropriately, is the eve of Earth Day (please see notice above). People who join us that evening will get to meet some of the young storytellers who are the true authors of this book.

What is the book about? Who is the book for?

Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee is for youth and for those who care about them. In its pages you’ll find real words from real people. They tell you how nature – and a mentor – awakened them. When you read their stories, you get a peek into their lives and into nature’s mysteries they’ve explored.

Children want to play outdoors, but many don’t know how. Some have asked, “Will walking on leaves hurt me?” At the Urban Ecology Center, youthful mentors help kids dive into the wonders and secrets of nature, right in the middle of the city.

The UEC transformed a degraded park that had become a place for drug dealing and murder. And the Center transformed lives. In Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee, you’ll meet these people and more:

African American youth who love science . . .

A once-angry and violent inner-city boy who became a leader at the Center . . .

A young urban mother who was so depressed that she lived with her windows covered, until her sons took her to the UEC, where she found a community of caring people . . .

A boy who had no voice until butterflies became his speech therapists . . .

A young woman who insists you can be "girly" and still get your hands dirty in Mother Nature . . . 

A maintenance worker who couldn’t identify a bird at first but who paid attention, learned, became a promoter of the Center, and in the process, grew closer to his children.

The future of our world is in the hands of those who are learning and growing now. Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee assures us that Planet Earth is in good hands indeed.

Profits from sales of Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee will be shared with the Urban Ecology Center. The book is loaded with color photographs of the young storytellers and nature. The price is $18.95, with free shipping from HenschelHAUS until April 20. (Preorder link at the end of this post.)

How to get a free copy 

Respond to this blog post and I'll enter your name in a drawing for a free copy of Young Voices from Wild Milwaukee. Please try to post your comment here, on my blog. If you have difficulty doing so, I'll include you in the drawing if you respond to this post on my Facebook page. Deadline for contest-entry comments: April 20. If I draw your name, I'll contact you for your mailing address. Thank you!

Gail Grenier is the author of Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, Dessert First, and Calling All Horses, all available at


  1. Congrats Gail. You're an inspiration!

  2. Can't wait to read this one !! Nature had a HUGE impact on my life as a child and continues in my art and music and faith now

    1. Sue, that's exactly what this book is about. You've got it!

  3. Very cool! Look forward to reading it!!