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Author’s Corner: “Tar Pits Cantos” a poetic adventure for children

Holly Viers • Jan 17, 2020 at 3:30 PM

After writing several books on business topics, Greg Harmon recently made his poetry-writing debut.

Harmon, a former consultant for the Times News, recently published his first children’s book, called “Tar Pits Cantos.” Using old-form poetry, the book tells the stories of many long-extinct animals, such as the American mastodon, the dire wolf and the Columbian mammoth.

What’s your background?

Harmon grew up in Chicago but has lived in San Francisco for the last 40 years. He attended the University of San Francisco and the University of Chicago for undergraduate and graduate work, respectively, before embarking on a career in business.

“Most of my career was in market research, specifically surveys and media,” Harmon said. “I worked for the Times News and the whole Sandusky organization as a consultant for a number of years.”

Talk about the book.

Though Harmon said he’s done “lots of business writing” and has even written a few plays, “Tar Pits Cantos” is his first book of poetry for children. The idea for the book came about after a visit with his grandson, who lives in Los Angeles near the La Brea Tar Pits.

“It’s right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles,” Harmon said. “Over the millennia, it’s been a trap for animals, and so in this pit … there are literally tens of thousands of animal bones — saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths and all that sort of thing. So it’s a pretty astonishing archaeological site.”

Harmon said his grandson was fascinated by the tar pits and the animals found there, which inspired him to assemble a picture book of the North American Ice Age animals for children. He enlisted the help of his son’s girlfriend, Larissa Barddal Fantini, to create artistic renditions of the animals, and designers from Net360 created the graphics.

For the text, Harmon decided to do a collection of poems that tell the story of the animals’ lives, from their perspectives. The poetic structure draws from the Western metrical traditions of epic poetry and the “bragging songs” of American frontier and Indian traditions.

“The idea is for it to be read by parents and grandparents to kids,” Harmon said. “So it’s a lap-sit book; that’s the idea.”

How can readers purchase the book?

Harmon published the book in October of last year. While it will eventually be available for purchase on Amazon, it is currently exclusively sold in hardback format on tarpitscantos.com.

In the future, Harmon is considering writing a similar book about European animals. For now, he hopes children and their families will connect over the stories of animals from long ago.

“I tried to write it in a way that would encourage people to read the book out loud to their kids,” Harmon said. “It’s a book to be spoken, not a book to be read.”