An islander’s spirit and children’s books take flight after rescuing baby pelicans
When Brandie Grasso paddled out to see a baby pelican in the days after Hurricane Harvey, she could have hardly imagined that four years later that pelican would be living in the harbor behind her house and become the inspiration behind a series of children’s books.
Instead, she was more focused on finding a rescue to take the baby pelican and its brother, who appeared a day later. But when Grasso learned all the shelters were full and the pelicans would most likely be euthanized, she knew she had to keep them, she said.
Now, those two pelicans, Henry and Henrietta, are the stars of Grasso’s children’s book “Royal Pelican Tales: Introducing Prince Henry and Princess Henrietta,” the first in what eventually will become a series.
“It made me happy,” Grasso said of her decision to write the book. “And it just blossomed from there.”
The book imagines a fantasy world in which Henry and Henrietta are the twin offspring of the pelican king and queen of an island. One day, a storm comes upon the island and sweeps away the king and queen, leaving behind the two young birds. As they try to find a way to survive, they’re met by a shaman who gives them fish.
What happens to the pelicans will be continued in the rest of the series, but the story takes inspiration from Grasso’s own experience finding the birds. The storm that sweeps away the parents is Harvey, which in 2017 caused devastating flooding, and the shaman who appears is Grasso herself, who has studied shamanism for two years and paddled across the small body of water behind her house to feed the birds before they became comfortable enough returning with her to the dock behind her house.
Since then, Grasso has been a caregiver to Henrietta, who was born with a shoulder injury and is unable to fly. She also feeds Henry when he stops by, although his ability to fly gives him more freedom.
The writing process was easy for Grasso, who always had seen the birds as comical. Writing the first book took about a week, and she has since completed the second book and has started on the third. The second is being illustrated and expected to be released in November or December.
“It just flows through me through divination,” she said.
Caring for the birds is something Grasso has dedicated herself to since finding them. She fishes several times a week for Henrietta, sometimes feeding her with bait fish and other times with fresh fish, which the bird much prefers. Despite her injury, Henrietta’s life is mostly wild with the ability to come and go as she pleases, Grasso said.
“I swear she flies in her imagination because she’ll be out there on days when it’s windy and she’ll put her wings out like she’s flying,” she said.
Henry comes and goes as he pleases, sometimes being gone for months at a time, Grasso said. Once in 2018, he was even captured by rescuers and gone for five months. That period was difficult for Grasso, and she found herself praying for his return.
“I was like, ‘God, if I could just see him one more time, even if he just flies by and winks at me,’” she said.
That prayer was answered, and since then, he returns to see her, sometimes bringing with him additional pelicans who all seem to trust Grasso as well. At times, Grasso’s house is like a bird sanctuary.
“I’d wake up in the morning and sometimes have pelicans flying at me,” she said.
The journey was an unexpected one, but one that has left Grasso changed, she said. Not only has she become more in tune with nature, but she also has been healed physically, spiritually and mentally, she said.
“I’m more aware and see really incredible things,” she said.
She also has relied on the assistance of her neighbors, those who share the water, named Laguna del Oro, behind her house. When Grasso can’t be there, the neighbors step in to feed Henrietta.
But the influence of the birds goes beyond just a children’s book.
They also have inspired Grasso to start her own nonprofit. Although it’s still in the early stages, the organization will make sure refugee children or children who have been orphaned have access to children’s books to spark their imaginations, Grasso said.
More than 100 copies of “Royal Pelican Tales: Introducing Prince Henry and Princess Henrietta” already have been sold, many of them from local bookstores, including Moody Gardens gift shop and Galveston Bookshop, Grasso said.
Eventually, Grasso would like to turn the series into an animated movie. For now, she’s working to expand the series and continuing to enjoy the time she spends with the pelicans.
“If this isn’t a spiritual thing, I don’t know what it is,” she said.