ASouth Hills native and retired teacher is sharing the lessons she learned as a child from a family pet named Blackie, a crow who was rehabilitated at her childhood home.
Amy Leput Strahl, formerly of Scott Township, wrote “Blackie: A Memoir of a Year With a Crow” based on recollections from her childhood when she was 6. Her father, Pete Leput, served in World War II training pigeons to carry messages about troop activity. So when a friend found himself with a young, injured crow, he brought the bird to Leput.
“This crow ended up spending the year with us,” said Strahl, a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania. “It was just amazing what I learned from that little crow.”
Her father built an aviary in a tree with a step ladder so the bird was safe and had the freedom to come and go as he pleased. Strahl and her older brother, Walter Leput, waited patiently to gain the bird’s trust, and within about a week he was flying to them and greeting them. Soon, he began following them to school, and he would scare off a neighborhood menace whenever he approached.
Strahl wrote stories of the crow’s antics and intelligence. He learned to untie and unlace shoes, and seemed to feel pride when he learned to unpin clean laundry from the clothesline.
On their walks to school, a neighborhood woman would show angst toward the bird, saying that the bird was evil because it was black. Strahl and her brother learned about prejudice through the hostility.
“There is good and evil. Some people are bigoted,” Strahl said, listing things she learned from the experience. “Observe and learn and persevere.”
“Probably the biggest theme is not judging things from what you hear, (but) experiencing things and forming your own opinions,” she added.
One of the final lessons she learned was when Blackie left and did not return, she said. He had been spending more and more time with crows in the wild, and left during the early spring mating season. Her dad told her and her brother that Blackie likely found his mate for life.
“My father did a good job of preparing my brother and myself for his eventual departure. He’d say ‘Blackie will know when it’s time to go.’ That was a really nice lesson to learn,” she recalled. “I clearly remember coming home from school. Dad sat us down and said ‘I think Blackie found his girlfriend.”
She hoped that Blackie would tell his offspring that she and her brother could be trusted. Later in life, a group of crows in the same neighborhood provided comfort to her following her father’s death. She later learned of a wildlife researcher’s findings that crows pass on information to their offspring about humans that can be trusted.
Strahl said she planned to write the story ever since she was a little girl, and “the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity.” She pitched it to publishers, and a publishing house in Austin, Texas agreed to publish the book.
She wrote the book at a 5th grade reading level. Strahl also drew sketches to illustrate the opening of each chapter.
She said her adult friends have also enjoyed the story, and she provided a glossary in the back of the book for young or challenged readers. The retired teacher also created lesson plans to accompany the book, and plans to provide them to teachers for free.
Strahl hopes that young people will enjoy the book outdoors and experience nature as she did as a child.
“If you are a child, I encourage you to go to a quiet space, preferably outdoors, and enjoy this book about a gift of nature as seen through the eyes of another child,” Strahl wrote in her preface.
“Blackie” is available in both paperback and eBook versions through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and from White Bird Publications. For more information, visit blackiethecrowbook.com.