Wallingford author pens famous giant panda Bei Bei’s story

WALLINGFORD — Cheryl Bardoe’s passion for writing has led her most recent book — “Bei Bei Goes Home: A Panda Story” — to be a finalist for the 2022 Connecticut Book Awards in the nonfiction picture books category.

“I think stories are things that really bring us together and I think that’s always really nice when an organization says, ‘Hey, this story helps bring people together. This story helps expand people’s view of the world and connect people and is enjoyable,’” Bardoe said.

Bardoe, who received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University, has now written six children’s books that focus on an aspect of science.

“I just really enjoy the creativity and the artistry of writing for kids and that’s just a special time when the world is being introduced and books are a big piece of that. So that’s what drew me in,” Bardoe said.

In February 2020, Candlewick Press, the publisher of “Bei Bei Goes Home: A Panda Story,” reached out to Bardoe to be the writer of the children’s book, which was officially published in December 2021.

“We had developed a concept of Bei Bei, obviously Bei Bei is a very famous panda, and it was a wonderful story and we thought it would make a great picture book, so we were looking for an author,” said Joan Powers, editorial director of “Bei Bei Goes Home: A Panda Story.” “Cheryl, I had not worked with her before, but she was recommended by several people I know, editors and art directors. She has written five or six other nonfiction books for kids and they are just so compelling. Her style is wonderful, her research skills are impeccable, so she was a great choice.”

Bei Bei, whose name in Mandarin Chinese means “precious treasure,” was born at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. in 2015. A beloved figure at the zoo, the giant panda was relocated in November 2019 as part of an agreement with China that all giant panda cubs born in U.S. zoos be sent to a breeding program in China after their fourth birthday, according to the Washington Post.

Giant pandas are indigenous only to China, living mainly in temperate forests high in the mountains of southwest China, where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They must eat around 26 to 84 pounds of it every day, depending on what part of the bamboo they are eating. As a species, they are currently classified as “vulnerable,” the WWF reports.

The book was published in association with the Smithsonian, which reviewed the work at all stages of its development. The Smithsonian operates the National Zoo.

“They checked for accuracy, they clarified certain points,” Powers said. “The Smithsonian, of course, had thousands of photographs from the moment Bei Bei was discovered in utero up until going back to China, so there were so many visual assets that we were able to use.”

Respite from pandemic

Bardoe, 51, worked on the book during the pandemic, which she said was helpful as it gave her something enjoyable to do.

“We were literally setting up and launching the project in February 2020 so it was nice to have something lovable and cute to work on and spending time learning about Bei Bei,” Bardoe said.

The Connecticut Book Awards are held annually, with this year’s taking place on Oct. 23, at 5 p.m. at the Hartford Public Library. They recognize the previous year’s best books about Connecticut or written and illustrated by Connecticut residents.

“Starting in late May, all the judges get the books in hand and they begin reviewing using a set of criteria and we have a rubric that each book type gets run through,” said Lisa Comstock, director of operations for CT Humanities and director of the CT Center for the Book. “The judges are experts in the field of literature. They could be librarians, they could be youth librarians, they could be professors of literature, they could be authors themselves or journalists.”

Powers said that “Bei Bei Goes Home: A Panda Story” is a great combination of various things that create a good story.

“It has this sort of celebrity appeal, it has animal appeal, but she takes it further,” Powers said. “There’s the cooperation between the two countries and the conservation effort in general to save the panda. The fact that it touches all these different areas, that’s what Cheryl really brought to it.”

Pursuing teaching career

Bardoe, whose husband Matthew Bardoe is a mathematics professor at Choate Rosemary Hall, said her next step is to get her teaching certificate and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Connecticut. She is currently interning at Maloney High School in Meriden.

But she is still writing and coming up with new ideas.

“I really like stories that kind of connect to science and history and math and just bring together a lot of lenses for kids,” she said. “Being a children’s book author, you interact with young people a lot … I am excited about the idea of moving into the classroom full time and using what I know as a writer to help kids build their own voice.”

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99


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