Today I get to share with you a beautiful picture book about ocean conservation and a young “mermaid.”
Charlotte Watson Sherman has loved words ever since Pippi Longstocking hijacked her imagination in third grade. She grew up, the only girl, with too many brothers, in the Pacific Northwest’s Emerald City—Seattle. A lifelong daydreamer, she last published a chapter book—Eli and the Swamp Man—decades ago, but never stopped writing. Her debut picture book, BROWN SUGAR BABE, was published by Boyds Mills & Kane Press, February 4, 2020. She currently lives in southern California. You can learn more about her at her website.
MERMAID KENZIE is a picture book about a young girl who is shocked to see garbage in the ocean. She loves swimming in the ocean and being a “mermaid” in her imagination with her special swimsuit. She determines that she will become a protector of the deeps. This is a story with a strong character who knows what she likes and wants. While there is a message, it’s not overpowering or preachy. This is a book that will empower young readers to make a difference without feeling they are too young or too small to make a change when things aren’t right in the world.
Me: I love your story and how it empowers both Kenzie and other children to make changes in the world around them. What gave you the idea for this story?
Charlotte: Thank you, Jena.
The idea for this story came while I was thinking about what I want my legacy to be as a writer, what story breadcrumbs for living a good life I want to leave behind for my grandchildren and their grandchildren, and all children. Promoting self-love and self-esteem in order to deter any child from ever wanting to self-harm is one pillar I hope to build a legacy on, and saving the planet from environmental destruction is another.
Pippi Longstocking was one of my favorite books as a child, so I tried to bring that sense of adventurousness into an eco-friendly story.
Me: Why is taking care of our oceans and beaches something you want to share with young readers?
Charlotte: Our oceans and beaches are awe-inspiring places where we have so much fun. It makes me sad to come across litter on the beach or see it floating in the water where it can end up hurting marine animals.
I was shocked to discover how many toys make it into the Garbage Patches: rubber ducks, glue sticks, dolls, ping-pong balls, checkers, markers, balloons, and more. I believe young readers will be alarmed to discover how toys break down into tiny bits of colorful plastic that fool sea creatures by looking like food for them to eat. They gobble it up, sicken and even die.
Getting plastic out of the ocean can seem like an overwhelming task, but we can start small, in our own houses and bedrooms, just by reducing our plastic consumption, re-using the toys we already have, recycling, and sharing or exchanging toys with others.
I watched my oldest daughter model minimalism and encourage my grandchildren away from over-collecting toys. She invited family members to gift sustainable toys, like beeswax crayons, wooden baby toys, plastic-free games, or toys made of wood or recycled materials, instead of anything plastic and disposable.
I want young readers to know many of us are already working to take care of our oceans and beaches, and they can help too.
Me: I love that! The setting of your story is never clearly stated in your story, but it doesn’t seem like a Seattle or California beach. I have my suspicions about where it takes place given the choices in dialogue and some of the sea creatures that appear in the story, but, even as an adult reader, I’m not 100% sure. Was there a reason you kept this vague?
Charlotte: LOL. The setting is a vivid place in my imagination that is an amalgam of global beaches I’ve seen or stepped foot on in Seattle, Ocean Shores, the Oregon Coast, Southern California, Hawaii, the Caribbean, West Africa. Unfortunately, plastic pollution in our oceans is a global phenomenon and it’s impacting places like Caribbean island nations especially hard. Luckily, there are superheroes and organizations all over the world, like the Bahamas Plastic Movement, working hard to raise awareness about the issue and solve the problem.
Me: What a brilliant way to think globally with your book! What does your writing process look like?
Charlotte: First, I get a spark or idea that intrigues me. The spark may come from an image that bubbles up in my mind, or something I see in the world around me when I’m out walking, or something newsworthy or obscure I read about. Then I start researching. I’m a former librarian, and love research and learning new information, so I read books about a subject and their bibliographies, which lead me to more books to read. For picture books, I also read mentor texts and decide on a structure. At some point, I say, ENOUGH! STOP PROCRASTINATING AND START WRITING. So I fiddle with my notes until an opening line strikes, then I draft. And draft. And draft…
Me: LOL! I too can get lost in research sometimes. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Charlotte: The surprise was how different it is from the initial draft that started as a poem. I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off as a story.
Me: Oh wow! I’d love to see that poem. The illustrations by Geneva Bowers are wonderful. I especially loved the color palette and all the underwater scenes. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Charlotte: I’m always in awe of illustrators and the magic they bring to the text.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Charlotte: Never give up. Find your community of fellow writers for mutual support. Read as many different types of picture books as you can. Keep learning the craft. Join organizations. Tune out the market/business noise when you can. Always hold on to the joy of writing.
That is great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Charlotte.
Dear readers, this book was released into the world this week. If you haven’t yet had a chance to track it down, I highly recommend it. It’s a look at the ocean world through a child’s eyes that also delivers a message of hope. This is one you won’t want to miss.