Across the globe, one million plastic bottles are bought every second. Five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In fact, half of all plastic materials produced — 400 million tons a year! — have single-use purposes, meaning they are used just once and then thrown away. Even worse? Only ten percent of these practically indestructible products are disposed of properly. Combined with the tragic effects of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, and littering, at least 14 million tons of this unrecycled plastic ends up in the ocean every year. If these trends continue, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
Our oceans and all of their unique, fascinating sea creatures are quite literally choking on plastic. Thousands of marine animals — from seabirds to Hawaiian monk seals to Pacific loggerhead sea turtles — are killed every year by eating or getting entangled in plastic litter. Even more terrifying, marine scientists have recently discovered that plastic is destroying their homes, too: coral reefs. When plastics disintegrate into microplastics, these tiny pieces cling to coral. And where it clings, it sickens and kills. Nearly a third of all corals and half of all marine mammals are in danger of extinction. By 2100, they may disappear altogether.
Ocean pollution affects everyone. But the population most affected is the one we cherish most: our children. Luckily, in recent years, children’s book authors and book manufacturing companies have made strides to give kids the power for change. Let’s look at three ways children’s books have effectively helped reverse the lethal damage we have done. Together, we can protect ocean health!
1. Educating the Youth
Education is one of the most important, long-lasting instruments for social change. More specifically, ocean education plays a crucial role in raising awareness about the many issues affecting our seas and sea creatures. By teaching children about the vital relationships between marine and land ecosystems, the impact of human activity on ocean pollution, and the immediate need for conservation efforts, educational tools help our next generation understand the need for a climate revolution.
Children’s books are where this education begins. Today, children’s literature is not as simple as the cute narratives and bedtime stories we remember it being. In modern society, the genre has moved toward representing a range of children’s experiences, covering themes such as racial justice, gender identity, and environmental issues. And not only are these books being published at a rapid rate, but many have risen to become widely popular bestsellers. Keep reading to examine three examples of children’s books that educate children on ocean pollution!
Written by Meeg Pincus and illustrated by Lucy Semple, this rhyming children’s book reveals that the ocean is not as clear, sparkling, and blue as it seems from a distance. Take a small scoop, and you’ll see that our oceans look like plastic soup! Throughout Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea, Pincus teaches children about the many plastic materials that end up in our oceans and then get stuck there.
By asking questions like “Who created this stinky mess?” and “How do we keep our oceans clean?” this book asks children to hold adults accountable while doing their own part to recycle. However, the story does not end on a dire note. While educating children on how we got tangled in this plastic mess, Pincus also provides hope on how we, and our sea creatures, can get out.
The Mess That We Made takes a closer look at the direct impact of trash and plastic on our ocean and marine life. Told through the eyes of four multi-ethnic children on a boat through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, author Michelle Lord and illustrator Julia Blattman offer concrete facts about ocean pollution. During the first half of this book, the four children observe how this swirling mass of plastic creates a cycle of destruction and harms plant, animal, and human life. After building to a rhyming crescendo — ”This is the mess that we made. These are the fish that swim in the mess we made.” — Lord finishes the book by rallying children to make the changes necessary to save our oceans.
In 2020, kindergarten teacher Nyasha Williams set out to write a children’s book with three goals in mind. One, she wanted to explore the fantasy lore that she grew to love as a child. Two, she desired to write a story with a humanitarian goal in mind. And three, she aspired to help reverse a dismal statistic in the children’s literature genre. In the past 24 years, only 13 percent of children’s books contain multicultural content.
Therefore, with the help of illustrator Sofya Glushko, Williams published What’s the Commotion in the Ocean? Told through the eyes of an African American mermaid, this rhyming story reflects on the current state of our ocean and what we can do to help.
2. Ocean-Friendly Book Covers
Although educational children’s books are a great way to start inspiring environmental change, we don’t necessarily see any immediate effects on our ocean health. Therefore, book manufacturing and printing companies have begun looking at creative ways to remove and reuse plastic found in water channels that flow to the oceans. And what was their first major success? Turning plastic into cloth-textured book covers!
We can thank Winter & Company, a company that has produced creative coverings since 1892, for this innovation. Their process begins in Southeast Asia, a part of the world where extremely high levels of plastic waste end up in rivers, seas, and shores. Before this discarded waste can reach the ocean, local fishermen and employees collect it and send it to Basel, Switzerland. There, a company known as #tide recycles the plastic and transports it across the globe in a carbon-neutral fashion. #tide has also made major strides in ensuring that Southeast Asian locals are employed under safe and fair working conditions.
This is where Winter & Company steps in. Using renewable energy, the company turns the plastic into a granular material before spinning it into a plastic yarn like cotton or wool. Using this upcycled yarn, Winter & Company successfully created a material suitable for book covers called Toile Ocean. Although this material is slightly more expensive than traditional book coverings, Winter & Company markets it toward printing companies who wish to achieve a legacy contributing to cleaner oceans. Today, companies such as Swallowtail Print have already made Toile Ocean available to its book publishing customers.
3. Plastic Pages
Book covers made out of plastic are great, but can we do even more to make children’s books ocean-friendly? Absolutely! We can begin by making all the pages between the covers out of upcycled plastic, too. That’s exactly what the charity Waste Free Oceans and the Japan-based tech company Teijin have set out to do. In 2019, their hard work finally paid off. They successfully created The Ocean Plastic Book, the first book ever to be made entirely out of ocean plastics.
Trigger Warning: This video contains graphic images that show the detrimental effects of plastic ingestion on marine life and sea birds. Please watch at your own discretion.
After Waste Free Oceans did its part to collect ocean plastics washed up on the beach, Teijin developed a process to turn this plastic into fibers. Using innovative technology to align the fibers into a cohesive product, Teijin was able to turn this upcycled plastic into paper. The best part? Paper made from plastic is stronger than regular paper. In fact, it’s also both water and tear-resistant. All the excess plastic leftover from producing the pages was devoted to the process of making the 3D-printed, laser-cut book covers. As the plastic burned away under the laser, the title was revealed: How Pippa Became The Queen of the Ocean illustrated by Chervelle Fryer.
How Pippa Became The Queen of the Ocean tells the story of a brave little girl who finally gets to live her dreams. Eager to dive into the depths of the ocean and become acquainted with her ocean-dwelling friends, Pippa’s dreams quickly crumble. When she gets there, none of the animals can swim. They’re all stuck in a human-made material. Plastic. Throughout the book, Pippa learns ways to reverse the damage we’ve done, thereby freeing the sea creatures from their indestructible trap. When she finally watches the last fish swim away and bans plastic from her ocean forever, Pippa steps up to receive her rightful title. Queen of the Ocean!
After this book’s release in 2019, Waste Free Oceans published it on its website, where every child could experience the book interactively. There, parents could also order their own individual copies. But they didn’t stop there. After packaging the book in a box filled with single-use plastics, Waste Free Oceans sent a copy to leaders at companies who contribute most to ocean pollution.
Looking to get your own copy? How Pippa Became The Queen of the Ocean is currently in production for its second release. You can find more information here.
Looking to the Future
Of course, although children’s books have made major contributions to educating our youth and cleaning up our oceans, we still have a long way to go. And many questions still need to be answered. Is using 3D printers to make entire books economically possible? Can we find new ways to produce ink? How can we recycle plastic and use it beyond the book industry? However, there is one significant message we can take away from all of this. Where there is great concern, there is a need for great change. And where we see a need for great change, that is where we find great hope.
Here at Bookstr, we encourage children and adults alike to continue advocating for reef safety and ocean conservation. How can we print books more sustainably? Can we leave behind traditional manufacturing methods and move toward greener ones, showing our commitment to environmental stewardship? Although we do not yet have answers to these questions, it’s our bibliophilic duty to continue asking them!
Are you interested in fostering a closer relationship with our oceans and all of their incredible creatures? Click here to read three poems that will make you feel one with the water!