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Horned lizard stars in Tinker woman’s book

Brenda Rawlins is a government worker by day, children’s author by night. Her latest book, “Lil’ G.I. Jo Critter,” is based on the horned lizards that live at Tinker.  (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Brenda Rawlins is a government worker by day, children’s author by night. Her latest book, “Lil’ G.I. Jo Critter,” is based on the horned lizards that live at Tinker. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Talk about leading a double life. Tinker's Brenda Rawlins, who works Weapons and Targets for the Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manuals office, is also a spunky children's book author.

"My mind has so much going on in there!" said Ms. Rawlins. "I don't know how I get all these ideas, I'll just see something and I'm moved to write a book about it."

Ms. Rawlins has written 14 children's books, including "Lil' G.I. Jo Critter" about a horny toad who lives in the tall grass outside the runway on an airbase in Oklahoma and is looking for greener pastures. With his little backpack on, Jo starts off on his journey, only to finds himself on the other side of base where he discovers the grass isn't always greener.

Ms. Rawlins' idea for Lil' Critter came from stories she's read in the Tinker Take Off of the horned lizards who call Tinker home. The horned lizards are endangered and are protected by federal law. The 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate's Natural Resources Division has been tracking the lizards since 2003.

"There have been a lot of books written about the horned lizards and it is good because the children just love the lizards," said Ray Moody, a biologist with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate's Natural Resources office. According to Mr. Moody, Lil' Critter is much more adventurous than most horned lizards, who normally stay within a close proximity to their home. They lead a simple life of eating ants, sunning themselves in the mornings and cooling down in the vegetation or soil when they're too warm.

"I think it is wonderful what the base does to protect these little guys," Ms. Rawlins said.
Lil' Critter has good company in Ms. Rawlins' imagination. There's Mr. Weaver, the Weather Beaver; the Cap Kids, who are made out of bottle caps; Bello, the Mello Dragon; Patsy Blue, a hippo; and Brayden, a boy, who is named after her grandson.

Ms. Rawlins' friend, Shelly Barton, who lives in Missouri, illustrates her books and makes the characters come to life. "Shelly just does such a beautiful job and she always puts at least one character looking directly at the reader for a fun touch," Ms. Rawlins said.

Ms. Rawlins has been invited to appear on the "Ellen" show to promote her books in the coming months. "I'm so excited," she exclaimed. "I'm working on a dance to do with Ellen."

Also in November, Ms. Rawlins has a new book about Tinker coming out, but she won't give any details on it. "It is a surprise," she said.

Just ask Ms. Rawlins and she'll tell you she's finishing what she started. She has boxes and boxes of ideas and books she started years ago. All of them represent something important she wants to pass on to the children, such as the preserving the environment, recycling, animals and heaven.

Ms. Rawlins has a goal to write 55 books, a number she chose to honor her best friend, Charlise Youngblood, who died at age 55.

Peggy Oster, Ms. Rawlins' editor and friend, is a retired civilian employee from Tinker.

"Editing Brenda is fun," said Ms. Oster, who started working with Ms. Rawlins in 2003.

"The story sometimes goes in different directions, so it is my job to keep it all on track."
Spend any time with Ms. Rawlins and that statement takes on new meaning. There is a lot going on in that wonderful mind.

"I'm not looking for fame or fortune. It is just a real honor for someone to read my books," she said.