Today, author, Sally Nicholls explains how she came to write a book about the ocean.
Who Makes an Ocean?
I never intended to write a picture book about the ocean.
I never really intended to write my previous nature book, Who Makes a Forest? either. I was asked to write a story to open Britain Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of Quakers in Britain, in 2017. It was a residential BYM which meant there were lots of families attending, and the organising committee wanted to open with a story about lots of little things coming together to make a big change. They suggested something about snowflakes working together to break a branch, but I didn’t like the idea of the change being destructive. I suggested a story about a forest growing from barren land – moss and algae breaking down the stones, little insects eating the algae, dying, and becoming soil, tiny plants growing in the soil and breaking down the stones with their roots and so on. I wanted it to be a metaphor for direct action and grass roots movements, but also for the huge, transformative power of nature.
The rewilding movement is growing in the UK, and it’s a rare hopeful climate story. When left to itself, nature just … comes back. Wildflower seeds blow in on the wind. Birds nest in the trees. Insects return. It’s marvellous and exciting and dizzyingly hopeful, and I wanted Who Makes a Forest? to feel that way too. It’s important that children understand how serious an issue nature depletion is, but we must not present it as inevitable or hopeless. It is neither.
Following the interest in Who Makes a Forest? my publishers asked me if I’d be interested in writing a sequel. You don’t very often get to make an ocean out of an empty stretch of water, so Who Makes an Ocean? tells a different, bigger story. The book is about the growth of all life on earth – starting with the formation of the oceans themselves on a burning new planet.
My children have always been fascinated with the very beginnings of things. Where did the seas come from? What was the first living thing? And where did it come from? These and other questions are the sort I get asked on a regular basis, and it was exciting to finally be able to answer them.
I learnt a lot while researching this book. Did you know that the first organisms – for millions of years – were simple, single-celled lifeforms? They eventually merged with each other to form multi-cellular lifeforms, and suddenly life began to get a lot more complicated. Another big leap forward was organisations who were capable of sexual reproduction – which meant their offspring were different to each other. This development allowed an evolutionary explosion of new life!
Who Makes an Ocean concentrates on the oceans, but it ended up becoming a history of life on earth. And death. The book introduces children to the idea of an ‘extinction event’, of which there have been five big ones so far, most famously the one which destroyed the dinosaurs. Many scientists believe we are living through the beginnings of another extinction event on Earth today, as temperatures rise and nature becomes more and more depleted. The oceans are where life began. They contain rich, complex ecosystems we still know very little about, and we must fight to protect them.
Many thanks to Sally and the team at Andersen for taking part in NNFN2023. You can find out more about Sally on her website- http://sallynicholls.com/. Esther Brown (Mrs Brown’s Bookbox) will be reviewing ‘Who Makes an Ocean?’ tomorrow as part of the Bloggers’ Tour and has 10 copies to giveaway!