Writer and illustrator Janeen Mason was 13 years old the first time she saw the ocean, and it terrified her. “It was enormous,” she remembers. She was in Key West, Florida, snorkeling, and out of the corner of her eye, a dark shape whipped around her head. A shark? Thankfully, no. It was a little yellow fish with horns, only inches from her mask. Once Janeen calmed herself, she spotted a coral reef, teeming with life and color, 10 feet beneath her dangling feet. “A warm sense of wonder wrapped around my heart,” she remembers. This is when Janeen fell in love with the ocean, a connection so powerful, it has inspired her books ever since.
“New stories bubble up to the surface all of the time,” says Janeen, who has written and illustrated 14 books. Such as this true news event: In 1992, during a terrible storm, a container holding nearly 29,000 bathtub toys tumbled from a cargo ship into the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, the toys washed up on beaches near and far—Alaska, Seattle, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti. The last toy drifted up on a lonely coastline nearly 20 years later and 18,000 miles away, helping scientists understand how the ocean currents are connected. In Ocean Commotion: Caught in the Currents, Janeen took this true event and wrote a picture book about the rubber toys’ journeys.
“This is my way to help the planet,” Janeen explains. “See, I know the oceans are in trouble, and they need our help. Perhaps a girl who reads my books will grow up to invent a better alternative to plastic, one that will not pollute our waters. Maybe a boy will devise a stronger way to secure containers onboard cargo ships so they won’t break loose and fall in during ocean crossings.” Janeen says that up to 10,000 containers go overboard every year and all of their contents are left to sink or drift.
Janeen’s books are a great source of inspiration for Take Action projects, perhaps for Brownies on the WOW! Wonders of Water Leadership Journey. “Together we can make a difference,” Janeen concludes, “and storytelling gives me a chance to do my part.”
Read more about Janeen’s books about sea turtles and coral reefs, and find out how she comes up with her ideas, writes, and draws on The Studio.