Elisa Boxer is the author of the new children's picture book One Turtle's Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked a Sea Change. Her other books include A Seat at the Table. Also a journalist, she is based in Portland, Maine.
Q: How did you learn about the story of the sea turtle and the plastic straw, and why did you decide to write this book?
A: I've done many years of environmental advocacy work, and am particularly passionate about highlighting the dangers of plastics pollution. But it's such a broad topic, so in order to narrow the focus to something that would work for a children's book, I began researching specific incidents.
When I came across the video of the poor sea turtle who nearly died from swallowing a plastic straw, I knew I had found my story! I set up an interview with the marine biologist who filmed the video and helped save the turtle's life. After speaking with her and finding out more about what had happened, I was so inspired and even more motivated to share this story with kids.
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: This book was a fun one to research. In addition to learning more about this specific incident and interviewing the scientists who were on the scene, I compiled information about kids across the globe tackling the plastics pollution problem in their communities.
I am so inspired by these kids. Anna Du from Massachusetts, for example. At just 12 years old, she created an ROV (remote operating vehicle) to detect microplastics on the ocean floor.
With every book, there are always random tidbits that come up in research.
For example, in order to craft the narrative, I needed to know details like how exactly sea turtles breathe, how they swim, what happens with entanglement, things like that. I probably watched at least 50 videos on sea turtles underwater just to get an idea of how they move through the ocean.
I think one of the most surprising facts I learned was that even in landlocked communities, straws can blow into storm drains and make their way to the ocean, causing tremendous harm to marine life. You hear a lot about plastic bottles on beaches, six-pack rings from boats, etc., but the problem is so much bigger.
Q: What do you think Marta Alvarez Miguens' illustrations add to the book?
A: Marta's illustrations MAKE the book! Every time I look at it, I find a new detail to appreciate. The colors, the scenery, the expressions, everything is just spectacular. I love the mix of close-ups and wide angles.
She somehow manages to make the turtle realistic, adorable, and emotionally relatable. The scenes where the turtle is struggling are heartbreaking, but Marta strikes the perfect balance between showing the turtle's pain and giving us hope that these heroes will save him.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book about sea creatures and the environment?
A: Thanks to Marta, this turtle's soul is front and center, so I hope kids see marine animals as sentient beings who highlight the need to make conscious decisions about plastics.
I also hope that, beyond the plastics issue, kids realize that they have the power, with their choices, to change the world. To me, that's what this story is really about -- the ripple effects of each and every choice we make.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm so excited to be working on a new nonfiction picture book, a chapter book series, and a middle-grade novel. I'm also in the revision/proof stages for several more picture books coming in 2023 and 2024.
And in the short term, I'm working on marketing/publicity for SPLASH! Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change, coming in July from Sleeping Bear Press, and Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom, coming in August from Abrams. It's going to be a busy summer!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm thrilled to be partnering with my local indie, Print: A Bookstore, here in Portland, Maine. We have limited-edition prints and stickers for everyone who orders signed copies of my books. If you're interested, here's the link:
Deborah, thank you so much for having me on your blog!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb