Jun062009
World Oceans Day: Saving The Ocean, One Word At A Time
Written by Ava
Brad Herzog--traveler, children's book author, ocean conservationist??   
 
Well, yes, all that and more.
 
Herzog, who quotes John Steinbeck as his favorite author of all time, is an auspicious writer of more than two-dozen books for children and four for adults, including three acclaimed travel memoirs of his traveling through small-town America.  
 
And yes, while Herzog himself is an ocean lover and has always preferred to live by the sea, would one ever think we'd use the term ocean conservationist to label him?
 
Well, yes we would.  Because Herzog has promoted his own brand of ocean conservation through environmentally-aware books like S is for Save The Planet: A How-To-Be-Green Alphabet and more important than this, he's done it for children--the future generation of environmentalists who have the ocean and its livelihood in their hands.  
Read on to hear Brad Herzog's take on his surprising new role as environmentalist for childern, what being a writer means to him, and why he is on The Ocean Project's list of what to do on World Ocean Day. 

How did you get started writing and particularly writing children’s books?
 
I’ve always knew I was going to be a writer, and at the beginning I dreamed of a sportswriting career. That’s how I started, in fact. A summer job at Sports Illustrated for Kids (two decades ago) introduced me to the children’s market, and I’ve been writing for both kids and adults ever since. Now that I have two sons of my own, I can see first-hand how important it is to inspire children to read and learn – and to enjoy doing both.  
Why do you choose to write children’s books about protecting the environment?
 
My first seven alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press were about sports – soccer, baseball, football, golf, extreme sports, etc. And I think that’s important, too – in fact, a love of sports sparked a love of reading and writing in me as a child. But I live on California’s Monterey Peninsula, offering a daily glimpse of gorgeous Monterey Bay and the natural wonders all along the coastline here. There are pristine beaches, otters gamboling in the waves, whale-watching excursions, tide pools… You can’t help but be motivated to protect such wonders. And I’m a writer, so I figured I’d be most useful putting the possibilities into words. 
Tell me about S is for Save the Planet.  What does it say about ocean conservation or other marine conservation related topics?
 
Like my other alphabet books, S is for Save the Planet has a two-tiered format. Each letter of the alphabet is celebrated with a short poem concerning a certain eco-related topic (A is for appreciating Earth Day every April, C is conserving fuel by carpooling, P is preserving rainforests and planting trees, V is vermicomposting)… For instance: 

      O the lovely oceans,

      So beautiful and vast.

      But O no! Earth’s mighty waters

      Are being polluted fast.  

      Plastic can harm animals

      Throughout an ocean’s reach.

      Save the world’s sea creatures.

      Make time to clean a beach.  

However, the great thing about these books is that readers may grow with them. So on the side of each page are – several paragraphs of expository text. For example, I discuss the dangers of marine animals mistaking plastic for food. I also describe the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup and how volunteers have collected more than 100 million pounds of debris along 170,000 miles of beaches and inland waterways over the past two decades.  
 
Why did you write that book?
 
As I’ve gradually become greener in my thinking (as many people have), I realized that the key is to start kids early and make it a simple and natural part of their everyday lives. Increasingly, that seems to be the case – and in many instances kids are leading the way, teaching their parents what to do. So I wrote S is for Save the Planet hoping to point out Earth-friendly behaviors that can be done on a daily basis – from checking for leaks around windows and doors to reducing, reusing and recycling. I also felt it was important to discuss some of the basics of fossil fuels, global warming, acid rain, the ozone layer, etc.  
 
You traveled through 48 states in 1996 to write your first travel memoir.  Tell me about the experience, why you chose to live near the ocean, and why, as a writer, you are inspired by the sea.
 
I grew up in Illinois. Great place to grow up, but it offers a lousy ocean view. During a 314-day RV journey to research my first travel memoir, States of Mind, my wife and I embarked on a 48-state home search. Obviously, it was a magical experience. We visited everything from the Black Hills of South Dakota and the White Sands of New Mexico to Yellowstone and the redwoods.  But we found ourselves drawn to the central California coast, eventually settling in a charming and picturesque town called Pacific Grove. Here’s what I wrote about the ocean in my book: 
      I have always felt enlightened by the sea… The ocean is like some Copernican revelation that we are in the grip of something bigger, something so profound it tests our understanding. More so even than the most imposing mountains (which can be conquered) or the endless prairie (which lacks mystery), the ocean is perspective and, consequently, humility. It inspires a subdued sense that we haven’t begun to decipher millions of life’s secrets. 

You call author John Steinbeck your literary hero.  Tell me about living in the same town that he wrote about.
 
He is simply the finest writer America has ever produced, in my opinion. Cannery Row is one of my all-time favorite books, just a remarkable study of character and place, incredibly lyrical. Now I live about one mile from Cannery Row. How can I not be inspired by that fact alone? When I stroll along the rocky shores of Monterey Bay, I can recall what Steinbeck wrote about contemplating teeming life everywhere, big and small: “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”  

What’s your take on the importance of ocean conservation?
 
I’ll quote Steinbeck again. He wrote that the study of a “small and perfect pool” offers an understanding that “all things are one thing and that one thing is all things.” By protecting the oceans, we are saving ourselves – not only environmentally, but also in a moral sense. I’m not much for the metaphysical, but I tend to believe that conservation and karma go hand in hand. 

What are your plans for World Oceans Day?
 
I’m going to be reading S is for Save the Planet to a group of children at the wonderful and world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium. Then I’m thinking I might take my kids to the beach.
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