Today’s picture book impacted me in such a way that I changed something I do on a regular basis. I love when picture books have that kind of impact!
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History, A Seat at the Table: The Nancy Pelosi Story, and the forthcoming One Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! and Covered in Color. Elisa lives in Maine, and you can learn more about her at her website.
ONE TURTLE’S LAST STRAW: THE REAL-LIFE RESCUE THAT SPARKED A SEA CHANGE is a wonderful non-fiction picture book told from the point of view of a sea turtle. It’s this unique point of view that nails home the facts of what happens to the turtle. Yet there is also a frame to the story that involves kids in the story as well. One is the unintentional start of the problem. The other is part of the solution and shows how kids can be empowered to create change.
I have to be honest with you. This book changed me. Don’t get me wrong. I was already on the “plastic in the ocean is horrible” band wagon, but didn’t know how I could help (short of donating to organizations that help to clean the ocean). I bought metal straws to carry with me, but … I admit that sometimes I forget them. I’ve been lazy and taken a plastic straw here or there. NOT any more. After reading this book (and crying over the viral video–because I HAD to go watch it), I am forever changed. I don’t care if I hate the ice hitting my teeth when I drink. I will never use a plastic straw again. If that is one little thing I can do to create change in the world, then I will do it.
This book put a face to the problem for me. It impacted me in a way that perhaps nothing else has before (and I’ve been pretty impacted already). That’s how powerful the writing is. This book is one I MUST own. I’m excited to be able to share it with you today.
Me: I love your story and how it empowers children to make changes in the world around them. What was it about this particular viral video that ignited the spark for you? What gave you the idea to turn it into a picture book?
Elisa: I’m so glad you said that about empowering children to make changes in the world around them, because that’s my biggest hope for the book, that it inspires young readers to realize the power of one small choice to change the world! When I watched the video, I felt heartbroken for this turtle, who was barely able to breathe. I immediately knew I wanted to write a picture book about it as a cautionary tale. When I interviewed the marine biologist who helped save the turtle’s life, she told me that this was likely the result of someone casually, and without even thinking about it, tossing a straw into the trash. That’s how I got the idea for the book’s opening scene.
Me: You interviewed a couple of the marine biologists involved in this story over a period of a few years. How much research did you need to do in order to write this book?
Elisa: Yes, the marine biologists, Dr. Christine Figgener and Dr. Nathan J. Robinson, were so generous with their time, energy and photographs. I got a lot of my preliminary information from online research about sea turtles and about this particular rescue. And then Christine and Nathan were invaluable in personalizing the story with quotes, anecdotes, and information about what it was like to be the real-life heroes of this story!
Me: I’ve seen several books about sea turtles and plastic in the ocean, but nothing quite like this. You harnessed the perspective of the sea turtle to tell this story! It’s a powerful perspective and approach. Was it like this from the first draft? How many revisions did it undergo?
Elisa: Thank you so much. The sea turtle is such a sympathetic character, and Marta Alvarez Miguens’s illustrations make him even more so! The story didn’t change a whole lot from my first draft, other than the addition of some more quotes from the marine biologists, as well as the addition of more details about children around the country tackling the problem of plastic pollution. That’s one of my favorite parts of the book. I am so inspired by how these children have taken action and created change!
Me: This story brought me to tears. I adore sea turtles and this story almost broke my heart. Plastic in the ocean is a huge problem. Why is taking care of our oceans and ridding them of plastic garbage something you want to share with young readers?
Elisa: I agree, it’s such a big problem. That’s the bad news, right? But the good news is that each of us has the power to create change with the choices we make. That’s one thing I hope the book gets across to young readers: that even when something seems overwhelming, making one small choice can create a ripple effect resulting in big change.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
While doing research for the back matter, I was so pleasantly surprised at how many children across the globe are raising awareness about plastics pollution, in so many different ways. They’re courageously working to create change in schools, communities, restaurants and local governments. I am so inspired by these kids!
Me: The illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens are wonderful. I especially loved the all of the ways she illustrated the water and showed the surface of the ocean. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Elisa: Aren’t Marta’s illustrations fantastic?! She is the perfect artist for this book. And YES, those ocean scenes are incredible! I am in awe of how she manages to make the turtle so relatable to children.
One of my favorite illustrations is this one, which Marta agreed to turn into 5×7 prints as a pre-order bonus! So anyone who pre-orders a signed, personalized copy through my local indie gets one of these prints tucked into the book! Here’s the link.
Me: Oh my gosh! That’s beautiful! Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Elisa: Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, my best advice is to find the emotional resonance and write the story that speaks to your heart. Writers are generally deep feelers. Trends change, but if you follow what tugs at your heart (the turtle did for me!) you can’t go wrong.
That is great advice! Thank you for stopping by my blog Elisa.
Dear readers, this picture book is released one week from today. Keep an eye out for it. This is a picture book you will want to study. Elisa is not only able to squeeze a framework into such a short format, but she’s able to capture the heart of the story and the character in such a powerful way, I have a feeling young readers will want to change the world for the better. You won’t want to miss it!