A Tale of Two Passions

Krista Connor

Royal Pest marketing director pens children’s books—about bugs and wildlife

In the office of Royal Pest Marketing Director Rick DeDonato, bugs are practically crawling off the walls from his array of entomology posters, charts and diagrams. And the theme continues among the piles of paperwork on his desk. But there the bugs are the fictional kind—the ones depicted in DeDonato’s illustrated children’s books, which nicely marry his passion for writing with his fulltime career at the planet-friendly pest control center in New Castle.

The Wilmington resident’s first book, Pipsie, Nature Detective: The Disappearing Caterpillar, is geared for children ages 5-8 and follows the adventures of a young girl named Pipsie.

And even though it’s been a full year—Pipsie was published last March—DeDonato still is giddy with excitement and surprise, interrupting himself with stories of the book’s triumphs: Teachers from around the country send in photos of classroom reading sessions; women’s equality groups champion the young female detective; national libraries have placed the book on shelves thanks to a nod from the School Library Journal, and DeDonato is frequently invited to book signings and readings.

And The Disappearing Caterpillar, an Amazon-published book, is just the beginning. Nature detective Pipsie’s second adventure, The Lunchnapper, is out on April 12, with a third book scheduled for some time next year.

In the first book, curious young Pipsie and her turtle friend, Alfred Z. Turtle, notice that their new friend, Frannie the caterpillar, has vanished. Pipsie is on the case with her magnifying glass, running through the scientific process: discovery, organization of facts, hypothesis.

“She approaches it as if it’s a scientific project, which is what sets the story apart from other children’s fiction, of cute characters doing cute things,” DeDonato says. “And she doesn’t use the internet—does all the discovery herself.”

Rick DeDonato and State Representative Kim Williams answer questions about Pipsie for students at Marbrook Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Rick DeDonato)

Rick DeDonato and State Representative Kim Williams answer questions about Pipsie for students at Marbrook Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Rick DeDonato)

Between his private advertising agency and working with Royal Pest—which, take note, focuses more on pest control and education rather than total obliteration—DeDonato has been interacting with entomologists since the ‘90s. So it seemed only natural that his heroine should be a gutsy detective searching out buggy clues in The Disappearing Caterpillar.

DeDonato knew from the start he wanted the Pipsie stories to be educational—and to make clear that not all bugs are bad—so to ensure total accuracy he solicited help from area experts. For the first book he worked with Jess King, entomologist and wildlife conservationist at the University of Delaware, and he also compiled “fun facts” about butterflies online at pipsienaturedetective.com. For The Lunchnapper, DeDonato worked with wildlife expert and DNREC employee Jason Davis. For the third book, Royal Pest entomologist John Moore is assisting with bee facts.

Bugs and wildlife aside, Pipsie herself has been in DeDonato’s mind for almost 30 years.
Raised in Totowa, N.J., he earned a BA in advertising from Penn State in 1977 and went on to receive several advertising awards for his work. But his lifelong dream was to become a children’s book writer, and despite a growing stack of rejected manuscripts, he didn’t give up.

It wasn’t until DeDonato married in 1984 (and later divorced) and had two children, Alexis and Matt—now young adults—that he met Pipsie.

“The way it started: when she was little, my daughter used to have this little invisible friend she called Pipsie,” DeDonato says. “We’d do stuff—carve pumpkins, go to the grocery store, go for a walk—and write these adventure stories with Pipsie in them. And my son had a pet turtle named Alfred E. Turtle. So when I needed a name for the turtle in the book, I was inspired by him.”

DeDonato endured the exhaustive publishing process, which started four years ago when Amazon signed him to a contract based on the Pipsie concept. He wrote the book in 2013, and illustrator Tracy Bishop worked her magic on it in 2014. Once The Disappearing Caterpillar went up on Amazon last year, it started selling “like crazy,” says DeDonato. “I was blown away.”

He says there is at least one aspect of the publishing process that doesn’t “bug” him: “My whole career, my job has been to make products look good as a behind-the-scenes person. Now, I’m the one. I’m the author and others are doing the marketing.”

The Disappearing Caterpillar is available on Amazon, and The Lunchnapper can be found there starting April 12.

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