By Melissa Arnold
Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated.
“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”
Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well.
Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.
In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages.
How did you get interested in writing?
My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.
Why did you decide to write a book for children?
I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.
What is this book about?
Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution.
When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?
I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.
Why are these issues so important to you?
My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well.
What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?
Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.
What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?
With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark.
Who is the illustrator for this book?
The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.
Is there an age recommendation for this book?
Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well.
What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?
Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.
Do you plan to write more books in the future?
This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well.
Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing.
Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.