“Vultures, A Love Story” by Karen Schaufeld

 Written by Shayda Windle

Local children’s book author Karen Schaufeld is a mom, a lawyer, and the CEO and co-founder of multiple business ventures. An active philanthropist and advocate for early childhood education, Schaufeld founded the nonprofit All Ages Read Together (AART) with her sister in 2006. AART’s initial purpose was to provide children with enriching children’s literature so they would be exposed to advanced vocabulary and better prepared for entering kindergarten. 

Photo by Michael Butcher

Schaufeld and her sister soon learned that children needed more than advanced literature in order to lay the groundwork for their first experiences in school. They needed to practice gross motor skills, learn how to sit in a circle, follow directions, and adapt to their surroundings. With these things in mind, AART evolved into a school readiness program for children in need. Schaufeld says AART’s mission is to create a world in which “all children, especially our most vulnerable, enter school prepared to learn and succeed. We strive for a future in which public education includes universal access to preschool making the need for AART obsolete.”

As a mom of three, Schaufeld found joy in reading to her children when they were young but was not impressed by the quality of books available at the time. “Books are segmented by age and if you pick up a book that’s for someone between the ages of 3 and 5, it usually contains very basic words and sentence structurewhich isn’t indicative of the way we talk to our children,” she says. “We don’t leave big words out just because our kids may not understand them.” In 2014, she wrote the first of her four children’s books, “The Lollipop Tree,” a story based on resiliency, courage, and perseverance. 

Schaufeld lives on a farm in Loudoun County so turning to the natural environment for inspiration has always been easy for her. Her latest book, “Vultures, A Love Story,” focuses on “two young vultures whose eyes meet across a carcass.” She adds, “Living where I do, we often see vultures playing an important part in disposing of carcasses. Imagine if vultures weren’t there to do this job. Sometimes it is the most misunderstood of creatures that perform some of the most important jobs in nature.”

The book’s main character, Igor, pronounced “eye-gor,” was born with a limp and an unusual feather sticking up from his otherwise bald head. 

Although Igor is clearly different from the other vultures, he has some characteristics that make him very special including keen eyesight and a heightened sense of smell. Still, he doesn’t feel welcome at the communal buffets. Igor eventually meets Ingrid, a female vulture that he senses is as different as he is. The book is beautifully illustrated by local artist Kurt Schwarz who doesn’t shy away from the graphic and gory details that occur so often in nature. Because of this Schaufeld graciously warns readers that, “Children interested in science will enjoy it. It may not be suitable for some children.” 

Igor and Ingrid deepen their bond after she nibbles bits of flesh from his stray head feather at which point, he feels “a rush of warmth and thankfulness to her for her kindness.” “Vultures, A Love Story” is nothing short of genius as Schaufeld humanizes some of the most ostracized animals in nature to teach children to appreciate “our differences, our skills, and recognize that we all deserve love.” ML

You can purchase your own copy on her website karenschaufeld.com or on Amazon. To learn more about how you can support All Ages Read Together, go toallagesreadtogether.org.

This article first appeared in the April 2022 Issue.