Nibbles isn’t your ordinary squirrel.
Instead of searching for nuts in neighborhood yards and trees, Nibbles’ hunt for nourishment typically comes with a rhyme and a side of a Bull City adventure, like riding a bus to Corcoran Street and finding a nut on a bull as tall as 10 feet.
Nibbles is the main character in the children’s book “Nibbles the Squirrel Explores Durham” and the creation of Durham Police Department Cpl. Paul Clark. In the book, Nibbles visits various Durham landmarks, including Major the Bull at CCB Plaza, the Museum of Life and Science and the pickle building, also known as University Tower, searching for nuts.
“Nibbles sniffed the air and his nose got a tickle, he saw a big building that looked like a pickle,” the book says. “A nut was sitting by the window on the 17th floor, ‘Hooray,’ he said ‘now I have four.’ ”
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Clark, who has been an officer for eight years, works for the Community Resource Unit. Community resource officers develop and maintain Neighborhood Watch, Partners Against Crime and other programs, as well as conduct security inspections for businesses and residences, present crime-prevention programs and distribute crime prevention literature at local events.
Clark got the idea to write a children’s book after reading to his three children, who range in ages from 11 weeks to nearly 4.
He noticed a pattern of abstract drawings and a lack of realistic photographs.
“I wanted to make a book that encouraged landmark identification. A real photo that my kids and other kids can see in their normal day and kind of associate the two,” said Clark, 33, who lives in Carrboro. “It’s great whenever I am driving around Durham and my kids will yell out, ‘Hey look, the pickle building. Do you think Nibbles is up there?’”
Clark said he has always enjoyed writing, a hobby his father encouraged.
Clark wrote a screenplay – about a character who got hit by a car and couldn’t tell the difference between day dreaming and real life – that was a finalist about five years ago in the Charleston International Film Festival. He also wrote a book based on his first few years in the Police Department, but he is going to wait until he retires to publish it.
Nibbles is based on a real-life squirrel that Clark and his family watch in their yard. They named that squirrel Half Tail because half its tail his missing.
Like Nibbles, Half Tail also isn’t an ordinary squirrel.
“It seems like every time he sees us at the window, like eating breakfast, he’ll throw a nut off the tree, and chase it, or he’ll hang upside down on the branch,” or play hide and seek with one of the toys left out in the yard, Clark said. “He doesn’t seem to be doing any type of squirrel thing. It’s like an entertainment thing.”
However, when Clark tried to draw Half Tail, he looked more like chipmunk, he said. Clark wanted to stick with a squirrel because children in Durham see them often and can identify with them.
The book, which includes photography with a superimposed Nibbles, was written, photographed and illustrated by Clark. It took about a year to complete the self-published book that was finished in January. Clark also did his own marketing, reaching out to local sellers that include Parker and Otis, The Regulator Bookshop and Learning Express in Durham. The book is also available on Amazon.
Police Department spokesperson Kimberle Walker said they plan to use the book in the Police READS program, in which officers read to kids in schools.
“I think it is a fine example of the breadth of talent and interests that our offices have,” she said.
Tom Campbell, co-owner of The Regulator on Ninth Street, said he was a little surprised when Clark brought the book in.
“I thought it was really charming in a way that a Durham police officer wrote this book for young children,” Campbell said.
The book is doing pretty well, and Campbell asked Clark to read it as part of the celebration of Independent Bookstore Day last month. Campbell also thinks there should be a sequel.
“I said to him, ‘You need to do another book and put this great little local book store in it,’ ” Campbell said.