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Allowing kids to see the sea

A new children’s book aims to make environmental education enjoyable.

“See into the Sea,” written by Laguna Beach resident and Ocean Foundation member Molly Peckels and illustrated by Australian artist Svett Strickland, is a 16-page coloring book designed to educate children about tide pool behavior, sea critter identification and environmental responsibility.

Each page has an illustration of common shore and near-shore animals for coloring, information about the creatures and a “Wacky Wave” insert that reveals unusual and quirky characteristic about each animal.

“I wanted to give facts, but make it fun,” Peckels said. “I found that when kids have fun, the learning just happens.”

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Also included in each illustration is at least one piece of hidden trash that the child must find.

The book was recently awarded first place in the Comics/Graphics category at the 2009 Green Book Festival, a Los Angeles-based event that honors books that contribute to greater understanding, respect and positive action on the changing worldwide environment.

“Winning this award is so exciting for us,” Peckels said. “We saw a need for this book because so many other [educational] books for kids are too scientific.

“It is so gratifying that others have found value in our project.”

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Peckels, a former elementary school teacher from Knoxville, Tenn., who grew up loving the ocean, said her inspiration for the book came from volunteering in the tide pool docent program at Treasure Island and Heisler parks after she moved to Southern California.

“I joined the program to learn about the coastal environment, to do something useful and to make new friends in California,” she said. “I had so much fun docenting, but I also saw how much damage occurred, mostly because of the lack of knowledge by the general public visiting the tide pools.

“Through these experiences and my teaching background, I saw a saw the need for a comprehensive approach to sensitize the public, starting with children.”

Strickland, a friend of Peckels who co-founded the children’s writer group the Sand Scribes and works for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, said she was thrilled when Peckels asked her to contribute to the book.

“Being an Australian, surrounded by the sea and in love with the ocean, I couldn’t refuse,” she said. “When I saw that the coloring books available to kids were all so dry and serious, I was [excited] to create pictures that were more playful and goofy.

“At first I was nervous to do the illustrations this way — after all, when does a real mussel flex his muscles? But I really think Molly and I have produced a fresh, innovative and fun approach to teaching and that kid-friendly characters make for more of an attachment with their real-life counterparts.”

A junior edition of the book contains simpler illustrations for younger kids. Peckels and Strickland are currently working on a new book, “Crabby Crustaceans.”

“See into the Sea” is sold at Laguna Beach Books, Latitude 33 Bookshop and the Crystal Cove State Park gift shop. The city of Laguna Beach also distributes the first edition in support of its tide pool education program.

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