By Guest Blogger Kelsey Sweetland
I grew up watching nature documentaries such as Blue Planet and Planet Earth, where I learned about diverse and unique animals and ecosystems. In 6th grade, I started to become aware of climate change and how it was severely impacting land and ocean ecosystems. I listened to Dr. Silvia Earle’s TEDTalk about the importance of our oceans, and I was stunned to hear that in the last 50 years we have lost 90% of the big fish in the sea and 50% of our coral reefs!
I went to Hillbrook School in Los Gatos from first to eighth grade. One of my favorite parts of Hillbrook was a social change program called Reach Beyond Week. During this week, Hillbrook creates student groups that learn and take action about social issues like climate change, hunger, the homeless population, and much more. This is a time for students to take a risk and reach beyond what they currently know.
When I was in 6th grade, The Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship organized a trip during Reach Beyond Week to the Island School in the Bahamas. I was one of three students from my grade who went. None of my friends signed up, no other girls signed up, but I decided to go anyway. At the Island School, I learned how ocean ecosystems are in critical danger from rising ocean temperatures and pollution and how I could live sustainably to better support the ocean.
Before the trip was even over, I was an enthusiastic ocean activist and I wanted to raise awareness about the issues the ocean was facing. I have always loved to draw and paint, and I love creating stories. So, in 7th grade during the COVID-19 lockdown, I combined these passions and created my first children’s book, Natalie the Narwhal, which raises awareness about the dangers our oceans are facing. I decided to donate a portion of my proceeds to Sylvia Earle’s organization, Mission Blue. I dedicated Natalie the Narwhal to my family and to Mission Blue.
In 8th grade during Reach Beyond Week, I wanted to find another workshop that focused on nature and animals. Sure enough, when I looked at the list, I saw “Learning about Birds and Wetlands with the San Francisco Bay Observatory.” I was very excited to learn more about birds, so I immediately signed up. While sitting at my desk on Zoom (we were still required to be in quarantine), Marshmallow Minds and the SFBBO teamed up to teach my Reach Beyond block about the issues birds were facing. In the workshop, I learned that tall buildings and windmills cause massive bird strikes every year, and I also learned how birds are facing habitat loss along their migration paths. I had so much fun working with Marshmallow Minds and the SFBBO to learn about birds and what I can do to protect them.
That same year, Hillbrook implemented a new 8th-grade class called Social Impact and Leadership (SIL), where students identify social issues in their community and create projects to raise awareness about them. After hearing about the serious risks birds were facing from SFBBO I knew what my Social Impact and Leadership project was going to be: a new children’s book that raised awareness about birds. During my SIL classes, I wrote, illustrated, and self-published my second book, Elliot the Egret. Elliot is a snowy egret who goes on a quest to find a new home because his habitat was polluted. On the way, Elliot meets loyal friends and encounters many unexpected surprises. Elliot the Egret advocates for the importance of birds, the dangers they are facing, and what we can all do to help. Like Natalie the Narwhal, I donate a portion of my proceeds to environmental nonprofits protecting birds and their ecosystems. I am very thankful that Marshmallow Minds and SFBBO came to my school so I could learn about the issues birds face today.
Last year during my freshman year, I published my third book, Ozzy’s Adventure, which raises awareness about the dangers Monarch butterflies face and how they are critical to our ecosystems. I am currently working on my fourth book, Suzie's Seagrass, which talks about the importance of seagrass, mangroves, and how manatees critically need our help. My books are selling on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and it makes me so happy to know that I can raise awareness for environmental issues.
To this day, Wingspan is one of our favorite board games to play during family waffle morning. As we eat our waffles and play our favorite board games, I love to listen to and admire the tiny birds chirping and busily foraging for food in our backyard. After meeting with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and writing my book about birds, I know I will love and protect birds forever.
Kelsey Sweetland is a 15-year-old author who has published three children’s books that advocate for environmental issues. She loves the outdoors and is a passionate protector of nature. She donates a portion of each book purchase to organizations that protect animals and their habitats. You can find her books on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble!
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