Author: Deanne White
From beach summers to bookstores
Deanne White can sit for hours watching otters. From the cottage she rents in the sleepy California town of Monterey, she peers down at dozens of whiskered, fuzzy-faced creatures. They float on their backs in the ocean, snack on shellfish, chase each other’s tails and frolic with their pups.
“Otters are so intelligent, and they’re just so fun to watch,” White says. “These adorable little creatures are so important to the future of our coastlines. It’s something we should be paying attention to.”
For years, White walked along the craggy coastline past postage stamp-sized beaches to the Monterey Aquarium to snap photos of otters. She and her husband spent their summers in mild Monterey. A former high school English teacher-turned-real estate agent, White never thought her otter gazing would be more than a pastime, until her husband passed away after an illness.
“He was the one who encouraged me,” she says. “He said, ‘You spend most of your time looking at those crazy otters. Why don’t you get your paints out and do something?’”
So, she did. When her husband of 30 years, Perrin Wynne White, died in 2014, White took out her watercolors and the dozens of otter photos she’d taken, and started to paint. A year later, she self-published her first children’s book, The Otter by the Sea. It tells the tale of Baby Otter and his family. The book, for 2 to 6 year olds, is the first in a soon-to-be three-part series. White both illustrates and writes her books. Her granddaughter Anita’s preschool class chose Otty’s name.
White published her second, more text-heavy book in 2016, Otty the Otter Grows Up, for ages 4 to 8. She’s writing her third book, for 8 to 9 year olds. It features kelp forests and sharks. Otty meets a smart female otter. “She’s a feisty girl,” says White. “She shows Otty why otters need to be the gardeners of the kelp forest.”
Her writing is rhythmic, and her images captivate young readers with their vivid colors and attention to detail. In The Otter by the Sea, White writes: “Baby Otter lives on top of a rock next to the sea across the street from me.” She pairs the text with a close-up painting of a long-whiskered baby otter done in brown, black and orange.
Sea otters once numbered close to a million worldwide before fur traders hunted them nearly to extinction in the 1700s and 1800s. They’ve since gained protection, and numbers have slowly recovered, but they’re nowhere near what they once were. Otters are crucial to the marine ecosystem. When they eat kelp-eating sea urchins, they help protect kelp – a major source of food and shelter for marine life – from dying out.
White sits on her Monterey balcony, listening to the ocean. “I’ve always loved painting watercolors,” she says, in a phone interview. She has blonde hair, a trim figure and a healthy glow, and is the picture of Southern California, where she grew up. She spent her days playing on the beach and building sandcastles and took weekly painting classes at the San Diego Zoo. Her father often regaled her with stories he made up about animals. In one, Inky the Black Bear got sick after eating all the berries in a huge strawberry patch.
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in literature, White taught high school and middle school in California and Arizona. She moved to Houston in 1980, and lives in River Oaks. She taught English at Alvin High School, and then left teaching for real estate.
She’s worked on her books in both Monterey and Houston. First, she paints the pictures, while listening to music from German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. She self-published her first two books, but hopes to find a publisher for the complete trilogy, The Otter Chronicles. Her books can be found locally at Blue Willow Bookshop, Brazos Bookstore and River Oaks Bookstore.
River Oaks resident Kellie Cutsinger has read White’s books to her four children, Zachary, 9, Samantha, 5, and twins Boyd and Ryan, 11. “Otty has piqued their interest in nature,” she says. “We’re never too old for sweet tales of nature that bring us back to simpler times.”
Once her otter series is done, White has her eye on furry land-roaming creatures for her next endeavor. “My grandkids keep saying, ‘That’s enough otters,’” she says. “I’m moving on to dogs.”
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