Guest post by Caryl Hart
Meet the Oceans is a fabulous first look at the wonders of the underwater world for young children. Illustrated by the amazingly talented Bethan Woollvin, it takes readers on an exciting submarine adventure to meet some of our planet’s oceans and seas.
Each body of salty water has its own personality and a poem that highlights some of its wonderful wildlife, physical characteristics and human interactions.
So how did this book come about?
Meet the Oceans is the second book in a series which was launched last year with Meet the Planets, which is proving to be a very popular first look into space.
The series started life in September 2016, as some little animated gifs of friendly-faced planets on illustrator Bethan Woollvin’s website. I was not yet working with Bloomsbury at this point, but had a great relationship with Publishing Director, Emma Blackburn, who had arrived from Simon and Schuster the previous year.
Emma asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book of poems that introduced young children to the planets using Bethan’s illustrations. Of course, I said yes straight away! Bloomsbury featured Meet the Planets on their stand at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2019 and the book published last year, in 2020.
Most of the books I write are based purely on made up ideas from inside my own head. But with Meet the Oceans and the rest of this series, I needed to do a lot of research, which was a very different way of working for me.
I learned so much about the physical geography and wildlife of each ocean and about how humans use and impact on them. Picking out which aspects to focus on for each sea, and distilling all this information into four short lines, as well as deciding which oceans and seas to feature, was quite a challenge!
You might be surprised to discover that my degree was not in literature, but in Biology and I worked in environmental conservation for several years before becoming an author. So getting back to working on a book with an environmental theme was a real joy.
Many of environmental books and programmes we see these days focus so much on the damage that humans are doing that our sense of wonder and appreciation are completely overshadowed by the feelings of doom and gloom we are left with. While I absolutely believe that we need to arm our children with the skills, motivations and the will to address these issues, I did not want to use the book to add to this burden.
Instead, with Meet the Oceans, I was careful to avoid negative messaging, choosing to focus on stimulating curiosity and creating feelings of empathy, awe and compassion.
I want young children and their families to fall in love with our marine nature without feeling guilty or anxious about pollution and plastics. I believe love comes first. And once you love a thing, you will take steps to protect and care about it.
Adding faces onto planets is relatively straightforward, but I had no idea how Bethan Woollvin was going to illustrate the oceans as living characters. I think you’ll agree she has done an exceptional job in bringing these watery worlds to life! Her zingy illustrations are packed with detail and by adding friendly eyes and cheeky smiles, she has really drawn out the personalities of each body of water.
I get lots of messages on social media from families telling me how their young children have learned many of the rhymes from Meet the Planets off by heart. Children have been baking planet-themed biscuits and creating their own planet characters using some of the activity sheets we’ve created for them.
I’m hoping that our new book will be just as popular!
We are currently working on book three together and talking about where to take this series next. I can’t wait!
Meet the Oceans is published by Bloomsbury and was out on 4 March, 2021
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG