Nancy Rose’s neighbours are accustomed to hearing her yell, “Peanuts! Peanuts!” from her back deck. The high school guidance counsellor, turned photographer, turned children’s book author is calling the squirrels down from the trees.
“At first my husband thought it was a little crazy,” she says. “He worried that they would get in, nest and wreck things. But after a while, I’d get up in the morning and the peanuts would already be out.”
Rose started taking pictures of the squirrels that live around her Bedford home in 2008. In 2014, she collected some into her first children’s book The Secret Life of Squirrels, published by Penguin Canada. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers published Merry Christmas, Squirrels! in 2015. Scholastic will reissue both later this year.
Little, Brown will publish The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story in December. Lead squirrel, Mr. Peanuts, returns for his third book, but this time meets the beautiful Rosie. The pair visits a bookstore and a park, and finally, share a candlelit dinner.
“When they go on their little Valentine’s Day date I had to light the candles, take the picture, then move everything outside to wait for the squirrels,” she says. “Then I had to Photoshop in the lit candles later.”
Her squirrel photography career was accidental. After a year of photographing squirrels at play as a hobby and selling the photos as calendars, she felt the photos growing repetitive.
A lifelong crafter, Rose built a squirrel-sized mailbox and hid a nut inside. “He reached in just like he was mailing a letter,” she says. “I started making more squirrel-sized things and looking around to see if I could find anything in stores.”
Doll furniture is often too big, so Rose usually builds her own props. Milk cartons become a washer and dryer. A mesh onion bag becomes a hammock. She easily uses a two-kilogram bag of peanuts each month. But the squirrels aren’t just characters in her books; they’re part of her life.
In April she found a dead squirrel that she thought was Rosie. She buried it under a big rock, and looked out the window for days hoping she was wrong. She was overjoyed when the real Rosie turned up.
“For me it was the connection that I made with this tiny wild creature that trusted me,” she says. “When they came eat out of my hand it was just so cool to make friends with a wild animal.”
The 5,000 fans around the world following The Secret Life of Squirrels Facebook page and Rose’s Flickr photo-sharing page agree. In Rose’s basement, every inch of three ceiling-tall bookshelves is covered with miniature furniture, much of it sent by fans. There’s even a tiny Halifax Regional Municipality green bin.
A large frame, beside the shelves, holds Rose’s favourite pictures. It hung in her office at West Hants Middle School until she retired in January. “Sometimes when the kids came in they didn’t want to talk,” she said. “So we’d talk about the squirrels instead; then they’d open up.”