Author urges ‘Sea Change’ with kids book

In his first children’s book, Joel Harper asked kids to follow trash from local storm drains All the Way to the Ocean, learning how littering can harm marine life.

By the end of the story, the young protagonists and their classmates clean up their neighborhood, making sure junk like plastic bags, fast food wrappers and cigarette butts don’t make their way to waterways.

In his latest release Sea Change—which has its official launch on Wednesday, April 22, just in time for Earth Day—Mr. Harper challenges kids to roll up their sleeves for another ocean-saving adventure.

Want words of wisdom on how to make a difference? You’re barking up the wrong tree because this book, published through Mr. Harper’s Freedom Three publishing imprint, has no text. “I love wordless picture books. I love reading them to kids,” he explained. “They can inspire kids. Sometimes we say too much.”

He mapped out the story and then collaborated with Erin O’Shea, an art instructor at Saddleback College. The result is the tale, told in expressive watercolor images, of what happens when one sea-loving youngster encounters trash all over the beach. She’s plucky, as redheads are reputed to be. Rather than letting the mess get her down, she picks up a plastic bag and fills it with garbage, from bottles to straws and from discarded toys to a hairbrush.

She uses the refuse to craft an ocean creature and then brings it for show-and-tell to school, where they are discussing ways to celebrate Earth Day. Her efforts are amplified many times when her class and then her entire school comb the beach for detritus to make into outstanding art. 

The book ends features a 5-by-7-inch tear-out card that encourages kids to share what they make from marine debris by sending a photograph to the Sea Change website, Mr. Harper will use the submissions to create a virtual museum of projects mixing creativity with stewardship of our oceans.

He is looking forward to seeing what his Sea Change Challenge yields. “It’s a tough subject to get across to kids in a way that doesn’t just bring them down. Kids need to see their impact, that they are making a difference.”

There is a moment when an idea is born. For Mr. Harper, it happened three years ago when he headed to the Santa Monica Pier with his family for an enjoyable walk. He encountered an unnerving sight: miles of garbage marring the shoreline.

“It was absolutely trashed. I was hurt,” he recalled. “It ended up being a beach cleanup day.”

Mr. Harper is the grandson of Dorothy and Charles Chase, founders of the Folk Music Center, and brother to recording artist Ben Harper and musican and sculptor Peter Harper. His mother, Ellen, is a multi-instrumentalist and a folk musician. Needless to say, creativity is the order of the day in the Harper family.

So rather than grieving about mankind’s pollution of our once-pristine waters, he set about creating something to “get everyone involved with this terrible challenge, this crisis of our time.”

It’s an exciting time for Mr. Harper. An animated version of his first book, a 12-minute film called All the Way to the Ocean, will be released this July. The movie, which is perfect for viewing in classrooms, will feature music by Burning Spear, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper. Actresses Marcia Cross and Amy Smart and actor Xavier Rudd provide the vocal talents. Visit alltheway for information.

Mr. Harper has also teamed with Green Toys, a company that makes toys from recycled milk jugs to make playthings for kids, to create a special set. First produced in commemoration of Earth Day, it was so popular that the Green Toys Safe Seas Set—featuring an eco-friendly sub or sea plane and a copy of All the Way to the Ocean—is now a permanent product. It’s available at and through retailers like Boon Companion in Claremont.

Mr. Harper, who counts promoting a green lifestyle among his priorities, is also pleased to share that Freedom Three Publishing was recently certified as an Environmentally Responsible Publisher by the Green Press initiative.

And since its 2006 release, All the Way to the Ocean has become a true self-publishing success story, selling 30,000 copies in English, 5,000 copies in Spanish and 5,000 copies in mandarin.

Several large publishers, all of who insisted his story wouldn’t work for children, turned down Mr. Harper’s first kid’s book. They wanted it dumbed down and said the subject matter was depressing.

As a result, Mr. Harper has become a huge advocate of authors putting out the books they feel need to be published. He provides consulting services to people ready to forge their own literary path.

“We can’t allow corporations to dictate what stories are told,” he said.   

Sea Change is available at the Folk Music Center and at venues like Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific, as well as on the distributor’s website,

For updates, visist the Sea Change page on Facebook.

—Sarah Torribio



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