Author coming to Fresno zoo

Shawn Thompson’s research for his new book, "The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species" (Citadel, $15.95), brought former Chaffee Zoological Gardens resident Azak to his attention.

Thompson dedicates a chapter in the book to how Azak, an orangutan born at the Fresno zoo in 1969 and who died there in 2003, learned to associate brightly colored plastic letters with words.

Thompson will visit Chaffee Zoo at 5 p.m. Saturday for a book signing and to stress the importance of preservation of orangutans.

Thompson was teaching a course in environmental journalism in British Columbia when he noticed there where 10 times more books on chimps and four times more on gorillas than on orangutans.

And the books he found dealing with orangutans were written by scientists who wrote in such technical terms that there was little appeal to mainstream readers.

The ex-newspaper writer spent 10 years in Borneo and Sumatra jungles to get an up-close look at orangutans and to talk to the scientists who study them. The book is a big switch for Thompson, whose previous works include a look at federal prisoners in Canada and the United States.

Thompson’s book, available at, has been endorsed by the Rainforest Alliance, the Australian Orangutan Project and the Orangutan Land Trust. Here's a look at other new books of local interest:

* "Seasons of Joy" (PublishAmerica, $16.95): Selma author Maxine Clark has put together a collection of inspirational poems, essays, and stories that talk about love, faith and answers to prayer.

Clark, a long time fan of poetry, has been published in a variety of Christian publications. Her book is available at

* "Aries Rising" (Running Press Kids, $9.95): Fresno writer Bonnie Hearn Hill will be signing her new book at 2 p.m. March 13 at Barnes & Noble, 7849 N. Blackstone Ave.

This is the first of a three-book series aimed at young adults about a girl who uses astrology to empower her life.

* "California’s Melting Pot: A Celebration of Ethnic Cuisine" (Lulu, $25.50): Roseville’s Richard S. Calhoun’s new book looks at the culinary diversity of 26 California communities, including several in the central San Joaquin Valley.

This diversity is shown through 200 recipes.

Among the area’s featured are Dinuba, Selma, Kingsburg, Reedley and Sanger.

The book is available at

* "Breathing, In Dust" (Texas Tech University Press, $26.95): Dinuba native Tim Z. Hernandez will have a book release event at 7 p.m. March 26 at Orosi Memorial Hall, 41645 Rd. 128, Orosi.

The book is a coming-of-age story that looks at poverty and desperation in a farming community in California’s heartland.

Hernandez is familiar with the area having lived in Reedley, Cutler, Visalia and Fresno. You can buy his book at

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at