Libby could see the small horned puffin slipping out of Eddy’s hand, and falling, tumbling, plummeting into the sea, lost from sight in the cruise ship’s wake. Eddy’s stricken face, his cry for Pete, haunted her waking hours. His quest for finding his lost wooden toy troubled her.
She put down her paint brush, and wiped a strand of hair out of her eyes. She needed help if she wasn’t to lose Pete in Alaska’s wild, stormy seas forever. She prided herself on the thoroughness of her research into the turbulent North Pacific currents, and read about the 28,800 yellow duckies, blue turtles, green frogs and red beavers that were washed overboard from a freighter and rode those currents from 1992 to 2003 and are still out there. She knew oceanographers studied these “drifters” to predict the fate of ocean debris.
But where would Pete wind up? How long before she could reunite Pete and Eddy, and where? And how could she tell about Pete’s adventures while sharing Eddy’s frantic search for his lost friend, and still weave in the science of currents and tides, gyres and oscillations? She wanted to depict the perils Pete would face – pollution, plastic debris, disappearing sea ice, climate change – in ways that parents and children would read and re-read.
Libby picked up the phone and called her editor. “We need to talk.” The editorial and design team gathered around Libby’s watercolors. Storms at sea. Pete caught in a crabber’s nets. Words on tissue paper lay scattered over the art. Several hours and multiple cups of coffee later, a subplot took shape – in the form of postcards from Eddy to his grandfather, who’d carved Pete out of a block of wood years before. The reader would turn over postcards glued into the book, following along as Eddy wrote to Gramps about what he learned from maps, books, and the internet to find out Pete’s fate. “Gramps, The captain said there are big rivers in the sea and that Pete could sail on them to Japan or Russia or Greenland. Love, Eddy.” As Eddy searched, his interest in marine science grew.
It was time to call in the oceanographers for counsel. Fortunately, Alaska’s a small town, and the editor knew the work of Tom and Phyllis, two leading scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, who worked with the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS). Called the “eyes on Alaska’s coasts and oceans,” the Alaska Ocean Observing System is a consortium of organizations monitoring remote northern seas and sharing real-time data with shippers, fishermen, industry, cruise lines, search-and-rescue teams and others venturing out into these dangerous waters. The scientists loved the story, sending Libby suggestions for making the text and paintings more accurate. Soon the book took its own journey across the seas to come to life as ink on a page. And AOOS joined with the publisher to place a book in every school and library in Alaska to make sure young Alaskans knew about the currents that carried nutrients and a tiny wooden puffin along their shores.
Did Pete ever make it back to Eddy? What adventures befell this carved puffin far from home? Find out by going to www.aoos.org or visit www.alaskageographic.org. And soon, lesson plans will appear on these websites to help teachers across the country weave this exciting tale into their classrooms.