The research, environmental insights and some literary and visual artistry from Florida Tech faculty member Kelli Hunsucker and Ph.D. students Cierra Braga and Kailey Richard are coming to classrooms in Brevard County.
The trio collaborated on two books with environmental themes that should resonate with the Space Coast community. Copies have already been disbursed to a handful of schools, and more are available.
Hunsucker, an assistant professor of oceanography, wrote, “A Day Offshore Fishing.” The book is appropriate for the kindergarten and first-grade levels and focuses on the animals seen off the coast of Florida as well as the problems associated with marine pollution in the oceans.
Braga, who is earning her Ph.D. in Oceanography, wrote “Earth’s Blanket of Air.” It focuses on climate change and is for the first- and second-grade readers.
Both were illustrated by Kailey Richard, who is also earning her Ph.D. in Oceanography.
The books are the result of a literacy grant in 2021 from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi (PKP), based on Hunsucker’s grant proposal, “Promoting Literacy in Kindergarten Children Through Ocean Themed Books and Virtual Story Times.”
Hunsucker wanted to fulfill two objectives with the project: To provide books for early readers and to explain a problem that the students can do something about. Her story is about seeing ocean trash, like balloons and plastic, far offshore, and demonstrates why pollution is harmful to the sea life. At the end, the readers are shown ways they can help improve our ocean and reduce waste.
“It’s a story with a purpose,” Hunsucker said. “We were also able to add a few extra pages at the end of ‘A Day Offshore’ for additional learning. There are pictures of a boat with the key features named. A picture of a fish so readers can learn the different fin types. And we have several pages of beautiful drawings depicting commonly seen ocean animals.”
Seeing Richard’s illustrations bring concepts to life was part of the fun in creating this book, according to Hunsucker. She would talk with Richard about what she was envisioning, and Richard would draw it, a skill Hunsucker didn’t know Richard possessed until they returned to campus after COVID lockdown restrictions. Richard came in with a water bottle covered in drawings. When Richard told Hunsucker she decorated the bottle, the idea to have her draw for the book was spurred.
Braga’s interest in writing a children’s book also started during COVID, around the time Richard, coincidentally, was painting and drawing. Hunsucker received the PKP grant around that time, as well, and after some discussion, the three got rolling on concepts and sketches to help fill a needed gap in related materials.
“When we were talking about some of the needs that we had for science-based children’s books, one of Kelli’s family members, that actually works with young children, mentioned that there’s not much involved with climate change or concepts involving this subject area,” Braga said. “We wanted to introduce this concept to children to help them understand a current real-world topic. While I had started some children’s books during COVID, I decided to take a whole new direction, and it turned into this climate change book.”
“A Day Offshore Fishing” is the first book Hunsucker has published, which was a learning process. There was more to the book than just writing and illustrating the pages, she found, and frequent edits were made.
“You’d submit the book and you think, ‘Okay, this is it, final product,’” Hunsucker said. “Then you hear back from the book editor and they say, ‘No, this image is too close to the edge, or this image isn’t high enough quality.’ Just things that you hadn’t really thought about when you were first putting it all together.”
A total of 300 books (150 of each title) were published and Richard was able to work with Pineapple Cove Classical Academy, Bright Horizons Academy and Odyssey Charter School to distribute the books. She also did a reading at Anchor Academic Center of Excellence, a nonprofit Christian school for children with disabilities.
“It was just a very cool experience, especially because when I did that book reading, the children were all engaged in the conversation and interested in the book,” Richard said. “It made me want to cry, honestly, because I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, these kids probably each have their own daily struggles through, but they’re sitting here listening to me talk to them about climate change and pollution.’ It was just a very rewarding experience, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
The team is interested in providing more of the two books locally, as well as creating new books. Hunsucker and Braga have ideas for more children’s books and hope through additional funding to publish several more in the upcoming years.
For inquiries on acquiring “A Day Offshore Fishing” or “Earth’s Blanket of Air”, contact Kelli Hunsucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.