I’m extremely excited to tell everyone about my debut picture book, Great Carrier Reef, illustrated by the incredibly talented Gordy Wright. It’s part of Holiday House’s Books for a Better Earth series and will be available next June, right around Word Ocean Day.
Great Carrier Reef shares the journey of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (nicknamed the Mighty O), as it’s stripped down to a steel shell in preparation for a new life below the waves as the world’s largest artificial coral reef.
As a kid, I loved learning about nature and science. I used to sit and watch the show Animal Planet for as long as my mom would let me. I studied biology in college and dreamed of doing field work, but life had different plans.
My husband is a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and has spent months living on aircraft carriers. Right before his most recent deployment my kids were begging for an extension of TV time. I agreed, only if they turned on something science/nature-y. My daughter chose a documentary about the sinking of ships, which happened to feature the Mighty O. My curiosity was piqued. Between my love for science and my identity as a military spouse, I knew I needed to share the Oriskany’s story with kids.
To distract myself from the upcoming deployment I dove into research. I read about the Mighty O’s time in service, what it takes to reef a ship, and the benefits of artificial reefs. All around the world coral reefs are suffering due to pollution and warming water temperatures. Artificial reefs benefit ocean ecosystems by helping to increase biodiversity.
The Oriskany was specifically chosen for reefing because of its massive size, which gave coral polyps a large area to colonize. The structure also provides lots of places for marine animals to take shelter.
Coral reefs can differ depending on where they are located. So I interviewed biologists who monitor marine life on and around the Oriskany to ensure I included the correct species in my book. When people look at Gordy’s amazing cover, they’ll get a glimpse at that marine life.
I love writing STEM for kids because there are so many topics to cover, and so many new facts and discoveries just waiting to be shared. I’m particularly drawn to topics that tie in environmentalism and conservation. I feel that my book is perfect for kids who love science, engineering, the ocean and coral reef ecosystems, as well as boats and military history. You never know which of today’s readers will be the ones to go on to innovate and implement changes to help make Earth a better place for both people and wildlife.
After reading my book, I hope kids will be inspired to innovate and think outside the box about ways we can restore ocean habitats. For those who want a deeper dive, I included back matter with more about the Mighty O’s history and the role artificial reefs play in repairing this fragile underwater ecosystem.
Jessica Stremer is a mom, military spouse, and biologist who loves spending time with her family traveling, hiking, and camping. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan. Her picture book, Great Carrier Reef comes out in the summer of 2023, and her second picture book, Lights Out will hit bookstores in 2024. You can find out more about Jessica and her books at her website, www.jessicastremer.com and you can watch the sinking of the USS Oriskany here.