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Author Melissa Crandall will discuss her book about zookeeper Roger Henneous and elephants Packy and Belle.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEV HENNEOUS - Roger Henneous and Melissa Crandall talked once.a week for six year prior to the publication of "Elephant Speak."

When Melissa Crandall arrived at the Oregon Zoo to spend a day working with elephant keeper Roger Henneous, she didn't realize she would write a book about his work several decades later.

In the 1990s, Crandall had recently moved to Oregon and had volunteered to help keep watch over the Oregon Zoo elephant Belle, who had just undergone surgery.

"The staff person I was partnered with was Roger," Crandall said, noting that he initially wasn't happy about having a volunteer with him. "We sat in dead silence, and then little by little he started to talk to me. By the end of the time, I was obsessed with his story."

Crandall only spent one other day with Henneous after that, but she never forgot about him.

Years later, she wrote him a letter asking about the possibility of writing a book about his experiences with the Oregon Zoo elephants Belle and Packy. She didn't hear back at first, but eventually received an email from one of his daughters.

"He chose me because I'd been there during a tough time, and I remembered Belle 20 years later," she said, noting that Henneous had been diagnosed with dementia at the time and was concerned about losing his stories. "For six years, we talked once a week."

The product of those conversations was "Elephant Speak," a book about Henneous, his work as a zookeeper and the relationship he developed with the elephants under his care. Crandall, who now lives in Ohio, will speak at an Estacada library online program at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to register and receive the Zoom invite link.

Prior to the book's publication in 2020, finding a home for it proved to be difficult. Crandall was considering pursuing self-publishing when she came across Ooligan Press, based out of Portland State University.

"I wanted Roger's story to get out there," she said. "Roger said, 'I don't care if people remember me, but I want them to remember the elephants.'"

The book launched in early March 2020 with a reading at Powell's Books in Portland.

"(After struggling to find a publisher) you reach a point where you don't think it will happen," Crandall said, describing the project as the little book that could. "Seeing (the book) on the shelf for the first time was when it really hit me."

One of Crandall's favorite elements of the book was Henneous' stories about the elephants.

One day, he was in his office and heard a knock on his door. After he said come in, no one did, and he heard another knock.

"He went outside and realized it was Belle snapping her trunk because she wanted him to come out," she recalled.

Crandall said Henneous, who died last year, was always dedicated to the animals he looked after.

"If an elephant was sick or about to have a baby, he was there around the clock," she said. "He worked so hard to meet them where they were. You can't make an elephant do anything, but you can convince them and develop relationships with them."

Crandall is looking forward to connecting with people during the Estacada library event.

"When I was at Powell's, a woman came up to me and said, 'I grew up with the elephants in this book,'" she recalled.

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