THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES
Books: Crusade against stray plastic inspires intrepid seagull
By Jackie R. Broach
School reports were the extent of Goffinet McLaren’s writing experience until last year, but that didn’t hold her back when she sat down to try her hand at a book.
“It flowed out of me once I got started,” the 66-year-old Litchfield resident said. “I did go back and do some re-editing, but the story just came.”
Perhaps that is because the message delivered in the book is one that’s close to McLaren’s heart. Written for children ages 8 to 12, “Sullie Saves the Seas,” is the story of a quest to save the ocean from plastic pollution — something McLaren has made a personal mission. She has spent years campaigning to get businesses to stop using plastic bags and to educate the public about how plastic hurts the environment, particularly marine life.
When McLaren walks the beach, she makes it a point to leave it cleaner than she found it and often stops to talk to families she encounters. That’s what set her on writing a book for kids.
“I noticed that when I said something to a family about not leaving toys or plastic on the beach, the parents didn’t pay any attention, but the children did,” she said. “It was the children’s eyes that would open wide. I decided one way to target this plastic problem we have was to reach out to the children.”
That led to the birth of Sullie, the character at the center of McLaren’s 112-page tale. When Sullie, a seagull, finds that plastic pollution is destroying his beloved home, Turtle Beach, he calls his friends to action and sets out to stop the damage being done.
As Sullie and the plot came to life, secondary characters also started to emerge, including Sullie’s granddaughter, Sullina, who has a deformed wing due to having gotten entangled in a piece of plastic as a chick. She’s a constant reminder of the harm plastic can do.
There’s also a sandpiper, a pelican, an eagle and an albatross.
“I had to have an albatross because albatross chicks are dying by the thousands because of plastic,” McLaren said.
The book was released last month by a local publishing house, Prose Press, which is led by Bob O’Brien. He is also the book’s illustrator.
After working on the book steadily for about a year, McLaren, with help from her husband, Ian, went “the traditional book submitting route,” trying to get interest from a publisher.
“We didn’t have much success there until the very end,” she said.
A publishing house in Canada that specializes in books dealing with the environment offered to sign McLaren, but by that point she had already started talking with O’Brien.
“Having met Bob, we were taken with his honesty, integrity, enthusiasm and ability in every direction. There isn’t a thing this man can’t do,” McLaren said.
She decided she wanted to work with him, so she turned down the offer from the larger publishing house.
The fact that O’Brien is an artist and has a background in marketing and advertising helped in making the decision. McLaren had been looking for an illustrator, but hadn’t had much luck finding someone who could give form to her characters in a timely fashion.
“While we were talking to Bob, he pulled out his pencil and paper and would just move his pen around a little and all of a sudden we had a character here,” McLaren said.
She knew immediately she had found her artist.
O’Brien was a little rusty, he said. “I hadn’t really done any pencil drawings in 30 years. I had to go and re-educate myself.”
When he was done, he had created 26 illustrations for the book and McLaren couldn’t be more pleased with how they turned out.
“I see the character of Sullie as a national symbol, kind of like Smokey the Bear, but for the ocean and pollution,” O’Brien said.
He’ll work on trying to help McLaren get Sullie’s name as well known. Copies of the book will go out nationally to companies including Pixar who might be able to make that happen.
McLaren’s is the fifth book and the first children’s book published by Prose Press, which launched this year.
The book is McLaren’s contribution to bringing awareness to the “plastic plague,” she said, and she views it as her best chance to have a significant impact. “So many people are doing so many things to try and help the ocean, and this is the way I felt I could help,” she said. “The next generation is going to be so important to our planet.”
She hopes her book influences a few of them to make the right decisions.