If you’re looking for educational sustainability books for the children in your life, you’re in the right place. I’m joined on Eco Chat by Patricia Newman, author of several educational books on environmental and social justice issues including Eavesdropping on Elephants; Sea Otter Heroes; Neema’s Reason to Smile; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue; and Plastic, Ahoy!
Translating complicated scientific research into something the average fourth grader can understand is one of Patricia’s gifts. Every Newman title includes hours of research, location travel, and authentic voices sharing the latest scientific discoveries.
Patricia released her latest book, Planet Ocean with photographer Annie Crawley in early March 2021 to much acclaim. Planet Ocean is currently #1 on Amazon in Children’s Australia!
In this episode Patricia will share what led her to write Planet Ocean, how we need to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.
Podcast: Play In New Window
what started your journey into writing sustainability books for children?
I was sitting at my breakfast table. This was in 2009, munching on a bowl of cereal. I opened my newspaper and I happened to see an article about graduate students sailing to the North Pacific Central Gyre to study the plastic accumulating there. That was surprising for so many reasons. First and foremost was I had no idea that plastic was in the North Pacific Central Gyre. And it actually horrified me.
I followed these scientists along their journey, they were at sea for about 21 days, and they posted a blog every day. When they sailed home, I called them up and told them I had a book idea that I wanted to do about plastic in our ocean, and I wanted to feature some of their research. They were completely for it.
Most of the books that I write are about environmental concerns. Why drives me to write them? I get angry. I want to fix the problem but I don’t really know how to. I don’t have the kind of money that I can just pour into a problem that will make it better all at once. So they way I handle it is I write about it to increase awareness because if I don’t know about these problems, maybe other people don’t either.
Reading is one of those activities that’s promoted for children. Most parents read to their children and they read at school as well. My boys in particular devour books, and if you’ve got a science minded child like I do, your books combine science with adventures and beautiful graphics and photography.
That’s exactly what we are going for. We’re trying to connect with science. Yes there are facts in the book but we are trying to connect those facts to every life. Because once you can make that connection as a child, the learning sticks. So we do that with conversational text, we do it with beautiful photos. We use QR Codes to bring readers below the surface of the ocean where they can watch videos featuring Annie Crawley, who is a diver extraordinaire and the photographer for Planet Ocean.
WHY DID YOU CREATE planet ocean?
I first met Annie when we worked on Plastic Ahoy together. She was the photographer on that voyage. I wrote a proposal to my editor, who said she loved the story but that she couldn’t find any photos. I said you’ll need to speak to Annie Crawley as she was on the boat with the scientists and has all the photos, videos and interviews. I ended up getting in touch with Annie myself and asked if she wanted to work on a book with me. She was excited that someone else wanted to talk trash, and a decade later we are still working together. Planet Ocean is our third book.
The idea of Planet Ocean started during one of our research trips. We were in the middle of a blizzard in Denver, Colorado, and we started talking about an ocean book. It took us years but we finally got around to sitting down and planning it out. We reasons we thought it was so important is because the ocean is our life force. It provides the air we breathe, actually half the are we breathe is from the ocean. The ocean provides our food, it provides water, it provides our weather, it even provides a healthy global economy through trade. We literally cannot live without the ocean.
The issues that the ocean is facing makes us so angry. The ocean acidification, the warming of the ocean waters, the amount of pollution from pesticide run off, the plastic entering our waterways. These are all forms of ocean pollution and we knew we had to do something about it. We had to connect young readers to the ocean, we had to show them that the ocean makes our lives possible. And that’s why we wrote Planet Ocean.
you claim in your book that the maps are wrong when it comes to our oceans. what do you mean by this statement and why is it important that we shift our understanding of the interconnectedness of our oceans?
So we tried to get everybody’s attention with that first chapter. And it’s called The Maps are Wrong. It’s astonishing.
The surface of the globe, it’s a sphere, right. And it cannot be represented on a flat map without some distortion. Most of the maps we use in schools or see in books are what’s called projections. So for instance, a cylinder of paper might be wrapped around that globe. And then different points on the globe are then projected onto that cylinder. And once you do that enough for all of the countries, you can take that cylinder of paper off and then unroll it and you have a flat map. But the problem is that every projection algorithm has its flaws. And the Mercator projection is particularly popular. I know it’s used a lot in US schools. And I know that Google Maps uses it as well. People like the Mercator projection, because it preserves the shapes of the countries as they really are. But it does not preserve the size. So for instance, when you look at a Mercator projection you will see that Greenland looks about the same size as the whole continent of Africa. In fact, Greenland is 14 times smaller than the continent of Africa. So if the landmasses aren’t the right size, then you’re not getting an accurate picture of the size of the ocean either.
If you study the ocean really carefully on a globe, you will see that our five oceans, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian, etc, are actually connected. There are no fences, there are no walls, there are no mountains, separating those oceans, the ‘boundaries’ that we associate with oceans are actually more political than geographical. When we begin to understand this, we understand that what happens in Australia affects what happens in the Arctic. And what happens in the Arctic, affects what happens in the Salish Sea, or the Coral Triangle. Once you see that interconnectedness. You can’t not see it.
That’s the reason why you can take a water sample in Antarctica and it’s got microplastics in it. That plastic hasn’t come from Antarctica, it’s just travel down there.
what is it about the coral triangle in indonesia, the salish sea on the pacific northwest and the artic at the top of the world that made you and annie want to feature these particular areas in your book?
We were looking for three very distinct regions, with different climate, different kinds of marine life, different people who live in the area and rely on the ocean for their livelihood. And when you do a book like Planet Ocean, you have to be practical, you need to have the images. And although Annie has travelled all around the world, she felt that the images she had in these three regions were the best.
Additionally, even those these regions are extremely different in terms of their climate, their habitat and their marine life, they are all seeing the same problems. So we are showing the differences along with showing the commonalities.
you talk about significant issues like ocean acidification, plastic pollution, melting of the polar caps and overfishing in Planet ocean. what can everyday children and adults do to influence these issues ?
Annie and I have included a long list of ideas that kids and teens can implement. It’s the last page of Planet Ocean, and it’s called Go Blue with Annie.
Annie is not only the photographer for the book, but she’s also a character in the book. She is the Guide that takes the children on the journey to the three ocean regions. So that explains why the tips are called Go Blue with Annie.
The first thing we have to do is consider our own habits. Let’s start at home first. Kids and teens can use less plastic, they can walk versus take a bus or drive with their parents, they can pack zero waste lunches or ask their parents to buy sustainably caught fish for supper, they can establish a Blue Crew at school where they audit the amount of plastic that their lunch room is producing, or how do their classrooms do in terms of recycling, and reusing materials.
They can encourage their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts to vote for community leaders and politicians who see the value of our ocean and who are working to protect it. Even as children, you can write to a political leader in your state or in your country, and share your views and ask how they feel about these issues.
And we encourage kids and teens and parents, young adults, everybody to tell their own stories. And through these stories, they can spread awareness. You can make collages of photos, you can make videos, you can make public service announcements, you can start something like a Blue Crew in your school and educate your schoolmates. So there are a lot of individual things that children can do, in fact, I’ve seen places where children are the driving force to actually inspire adults to do something.
We just have to look at Greta Thunberg and the mass movement that she has created over the last couple of years. It has been fantastic to watch and so enlightening.
Do you have any tips for children or adults who are feeling overwhelmed by the scale of damage that’s occurred to our oceans and anxious about the task that lies ahead of us to regenerate these ecosystems ?
Well, first of all, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together, and you have people that think like you that want to do something like you. For me, I find that the antidote to hopelessness is action. I start to feel better when I know that I’m doing whatever it is I can do to become the voice for the ocean. And that’s what I recommend for kids and teens.
Change begins with awareness. So you have to tirelessly spread the word to everybody that you know, and to the political leaders and the changemakers in your community. So I’m quoting from Planet Ocean here for a minute. ‘Global Change starts with the stories from our hearts shared again. One voice grows into many voices that eventually make a difference. People often draw an invisible line between themselves and nature. But we need to blur that line. By helping the ocean, we actually help ourselves. Planet Ocean is us.’
what is next for you and where can listeners go to learn more about your work and purchase a copy of planet ocean for themselves?
I can’t seem to get away from water! I have a book coming out in the Fall of 2022. I’m not even sure of the title yet. But it’s about a river in Washington State that was a life source for people for 1000’s of year. Then some individuals came along and decided to dam the river in two places for electricity. Well, that pretty much killed the ecosystem. But a group of native peoples in Washington convinced the US government to remove the dams. And this story is about the restoration of this ecosystem. And I’m very excited about it. It’s a happy conservation story for once.
As far as purchasing Planet Ocean, it’s available on Amazon (both in Australia and worldwide) or ask one of your local retail booksellers if they stock it.
I’m hoping that your listeners will be able to get a copy and read it to the children in their lives or share it with local schools. Help us double our impact and spread the word to everyone you know!
Photo: Patricia Newman – Planet Ocean
Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
Patricia’s nonfiction is part biography, part science adventure. “Just as fiction authors write about themes that resonate with them, so too do nonfiction authors,” Patricia says. “My themes first have to light my fire with a personal connection, a narrative, and a Wow! factor.”
Translating complicated scientific research into something the average fourth grader can understand is one of Patricia’s gifts. Every Newman title includes hours of research, location travel (if possible), and authentic voices sharing the latest scientific discoveries.
One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.”
Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”
OVER TO YOU!
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