Science Book a Day Interviews Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley


Special thanks to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley for answering 6 questions about their recently featured book – Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage

Patricia Newman: Writing for children is the hardest thing I’ve ever done—the field is intensely competitive. But I write because I can’t imagine not writing. I write for myself and for the kids who read my work. I write for the joy of seeing a kid sitting in the front row at a school visit, hand stretched high to answer my questions. I write for the kid who tells me he already owns Jingle the Brass and has read it 15 times. – From Jacketflap

Annie Crawley: As an underwater photographer and filmmaker, I started speaking to schools, groups and organizations. Nicknamed Ocean Annie by students, they guessed I lived in the sea. We developed a series of cartoon characters who travel together exploring the sea combining real with our imagination. The Adventures of Ocean Annie, Makaio, Fringy the Ichthyologist Fish teaches leadership, character, science, environment, and more. Through my speaking engagements to a wide variety of audiences, I share personal stories turning obstacles into opportunities. – From Annie’s Homepage

Patricia’s Homepage:
Patricia’s Twitter:

Annie’s Homepage:
Annie’s Twitter:

#1 – What was the impetus for Plastic, Ahoy!?

AC: I spent 22 days aboard the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX) as the documentarian for Project Kaisei. I worked 19 and 20 hour days as I did everything a 3-person film crew would do, including lighting, audio, video, underwater video, interviews, editing, and photography. It was truly an amazing experience yet very different than many I have participated with before, including Indonesia, Galapagos, and the Caribbean. On the expedition we were heading out to study plastic and pollution and the effects it had on the marine environment. When I returned home, I started sifting through all of the material I had collected and sharing stories with my friends about how ubiquitous plastic is in our lives. I received a phone call from children’s author Patti Newman asking if I would want to collaborate on the story she would like to tell about the SEAPLEX expedition. Immediately I said YES and was ecstatic that someone wanted to create a nonfiction book on this expedition. Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began!

PN: For me, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began with an article in my local newspaper. I was immediately intrigued because at the time I wasn’t aware of the plastic that floated in our ocean. The more I read, the more I thought I could work the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into a nonfiction book for kids. The expedition had all of the right components: mystery, adventure, and student scientists to whom young readers could relate. I called Scripps to interview the scientists and Annie. The fact that Annie’s photos grace the book made the story that much more powerful.

#2 – You document the lives of researchers working at SEAPLEX. How did you use their daily work to talk about Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

AC: As a journalist, this was a very high profile project because it was the first time Scripps Institute of Oceanography had scientists heading out to the North Pacific Gyre. The SEAPLEX expedition was funded by a couple of sources including Project Kaisei, whose mission is to clean-up plastic in the ocean and find solutions to the amount of trash entering the sea. My job was to document everything that happened on board with all of the scientists which meant that I followed them around while they worked, carrying either my digital SLR cameras with a wide angle and telephoto lens or a video camera with microphones. Once the expedition was under way, the scientists and volunteers worked shifts. Multiple experiments were going on simultaneously, but from a safety perspective no two pieces of equipment were in the water at the same time. Safety was always the number one priority. So if the scientists were working in the middle of the night, I was up shooting in the middle of the night. I was always on and shot thousands of hours and a couple of terabytes worth of video. I followed their work 24/7 and at first they were very nervous that I was there, but in the end many of them forgot about the camera in my hand and I was able to document their work and the crew of the New Horizon. The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular. I have lived on boats for months and even years at a time, but I had never been at sea without seeing land for 3 weeks.

PN: Any successful children’s book includes layers that support the theme. In Plastic, Ahoy!, I first wanted to introduce readers to the idea of living and working at sea. Readers board New Horizon, and thanks to Annie Crawley’s amazing photos, find out what life aboard a research vessel is like.

Second, I add in the specialties of three of the SEAPLEX scientists—why they are on the journey, what they hope to find out, and how they gather data. I layer this information against the backdrop of the scientific method. Readers see how Chelsea’s, Darcy’s and Miriam’s observations lead to questions. Questions become hypotheses around which an experiment is designed. And results lead to conclusions that potentially shape policy.

#3 – How did you use photography to inform children about the situation? Was it hard to encapsulate something that big?

AC: Our entire crew went on a true expedition to explore where few people had been before and study plastic. This in and of itself is huge, and trying to capture it in the North Pacific Gyre in the largest ecosystem in the world was extraordinary! In the news there were stories that we were going to hit an island of trash twice the size of Texas. We really did not know what to expect. We never found an island of trash, yet we found plastic in every manta trawl. We found ghost nets and other man made plastic floating on the surface thousands of miles away from land. I documented each day, each experiment, each scientist, many of the crew members and more. My favorite time to shoot is just after sunrise and just before sunset, during the golden hours. Documenting an expedition, you have to shoot during all the different times of the day. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe this, yet the caption you put together with image can shift a perspective. There are also many different stories that could have been told about the expedition. When I heard how Patti and Millbrook Press editor Carol Hinz wanted to shape the story about the expedition, I was ecstatic. Chelsea has dedicated her life to protecting our ocean and studying the effects of plastic on marine animals.

PN: I purposely chose a narrative style for Plastic, Ahoy! because the expedition clearly had a story to tell. I start with the problem of ocean plastic and the three female graduate students who guide us along the journey; describe the North Pacific Central Gyre—a term unfamiliar to many; and launch into how Miriam, Darcy and Chelsea gather samples, handle 12-hour shifts, work the on-board science equipment, and design follow-up experiments. The book closes with plans for the future and ways young readers can help alleviate the problem of ocean plastic.

With the narrative set, selecting photos from Annie’s enormous library became fun and exciting. Sometimes we’d wrestle with nearly identical images as we searched for the perfect angle or focus. Finding the perfect image was cause for celebration. The publisher’s book designer helped us determine how many photos would appear on each page. She also designed the book’s graphics. For instance, the water background in every Ocean Science sidebar is actually a stylized image of one of Annie’s photos. The Ocean Trash sidebars flow inside the outlines of a plastic water bottle. The background color of each page is a gorgeous blue that gives readers the impression they are diving into the ocean. We were amazed and pleased with the designer’s expertise.

With all that said, we were forced to leave out many, many photos and narrative ideas because of space constraints. Additionally, ocean plastic is an evolving field. I’ve addressed some of the ongoing research in my blog.

#4 – How did you work together to incorporate visual imagery and narrative into the book?

AC: I agree with everything Patti said above. In addition, I have to mention the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Collaborating with Patti, Carol, and the entire team at Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing was one of the greatest experiences. Patti gave me the manuscript and I edited down my library of images to several hundred I pulled to give life and a face to the expedition and the scientists. Patti and Carol were receptive to my feedback and we created something extraordinary together. We all wanted to create the best book for young readers hoping to inspire kids to explore our world.

#5 – Have you received any feedback from parents or kids about your book?

PN: Both Annie and I speak to school groups about Plastic, Ahoy! and the reception has been extremely positive. For instance, I spoke to a group of first grade students in Alabama who measured the amount of their trash while using Styrofoam lunch trays and then again after they’d abolished the trays. The dramatic trash savings led them to expand the no-Styrofoam-tray campaign to all grades. Next month, I will visit a classroom in San Diego studying plastic in the Pacific.

As a validation of the science in Plastic, Ahoy!, the American Association for the Academy of Science selected it as a finalist in the Science Books & Films Middle-Grades category. The book is also a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Nerdy Book Club Award winner, and recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.

AC: Just this morning I presented to a couple hundred 5th-8th grade students. One student’s mother donated a book to the school library and suggested I speak. I encourage all of my friends and family to donate books (especially Plastic, Ahoy!) to their local schools, libraries and youth organizations to help raise awareness to our plastic problem. My goal as an ocean advocate, photographer, filmmaker, and camp director is to encourage everyone to realize the importance of our ocean in our lives. The ocean gives us so much more than recreation. The ocean is responsible for our oxygen, holds 98% of our water and provides billions of people their main source of protein. We need a healthy ocean in order for life as we know it on our planet. When I show them images and video of plastic in the sea, and then how it affects the animals, they get that it does not belong. They see the impact and also recognize that people make plastic. Our book, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a great conversation opener and baseline for discussion of a topic we all need to discuss. What solutions can we take every day to create less of an impact on our environment.

#6 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

PN: We are working on another ocean book together, but the idea is still in its infancy. Call it a writer’s superstition, but I believe talking about a book too much before it’s completed takes away its energy. Not very scientific, I know.

AC: Patti and I are working on another title together. She is absolutely fabulous to work with, so I am ecstatic for another collaboration. I am also working on a few other projects including a passion project I have with dolphins, whales, grizzly bears and more.

One of the greatest projects I am working on is Beach Camp at Sunset Bay–the BEST water sports summer camp for kids aged 8-17 on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, WA. We have every imaginable water sport, including stand-up paddle boards, sea kayaking, tubing, wake boarding, snorkeling, aquanauts, skim boarding, beach biking, bioluminescent snorkeling, marine science, biology, and more. Our campers spend one to four weeks with us living on a dock during the summer. I also run a sister camp called Annie Crawley’s Scuba Diving Camp and teach kids and teens how to scuba dive here in the Puget Sound Running the camps during the summer feeds my soul. I love working with kids while mentoring our teens, counselors, and instructors. You can see a collection of my eBooks for the iPad here:

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