Washed Ashore: Interview with Author Kelly Crull

Plastic products are everywhere, from bottles to sandwich bags. The new photo picture book Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic combines biology and art to show young readers how so many of these plastic products end up in the ocean after use. Each spread features a sculpture created completely from ocean trash by artist and Washed Ashore founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi.

Both colorful and fun, author and photographer Kelly Crull has written an informative and powerful call to action for young readers to be active participants in saving the ocean. Read on to discover his inspiration, research process, and more. Don’t forget to download the free educator resource!

What was your inspiration for the book?

I visited the Como Park Zoo in Minneapolis with my family in 2018. We came across this enormous, colorful sculpture of a parrotfish. As we walked closer, I realized the sculpture was made out of thousands of pieces of plastic trash of every shape and color. The sculpture was beautiful, but also shocking. I noticed all the plastic items in the sculpture that I used every day in my home. How was all this plastic ending up in the ocean?

I carry my camera with me wherever I go, so as we walked through the zoo, I took pictures of all the sculptures I found. In fact, the photo I took of the parrotfish that day is the one you see in the book! I read a sign that said the sculptures had been made by a group called Washed Ashore, so I jotted down the name. Before I left the zoo I had decided to make the exhibit into a picture book. Not everyone would be able to visit the exhibit in person, but they would be able to look at the book at the library or at home and even share it with a friend.

What is the Washed Ashore Project?

Washed Ashore is a community arts project based in Bandon, Oregon. More than 13,000 volunteers have cleaned up beaches and created more than 80 marine animal sculptures. If you haven’t seen these sculptures, check out the book. You won’t believe it until you see it! Some of the sculptures are over 13 feet tall. That’s as tall as an elephant! Also, you might want to tell your teachers about Washed Ashore’s free arts curriculum available at https://washedashore.org/iamdc/

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while researching or writing the book?

I was surprised to learn that most of the plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources. I guess I thought most of the plastic was getting dumped directly into the ocean by factories. I didn’t realize that a kid who lives a long way from the ocean like I did could drop a piece of litter on the ground, and it could end up in the ocean thousands of miles away. Wind or rain carry trash to streams or storm drains that lead to waterways that lead to the ocean. People who live anywhere can help keep plastic out of the ocean by properly disposing of their waste.

Oh, and one other thing that surprised me. I didn’t know that plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose. Plastic bags and disposable water bottles are designed to be used only once, but they take hundreds of years to break down. Plastic is an amazing material, but I think it should only be used to make things we plan on using for a lifetime.

What was your favorite part about writing the book?

During my research, I discovered an email group for people who are working on solving the problem of plastic pollution. The group includes National Geographic explorers, marine biologists, researchers, teachers, activists, government officials, and artists like myself. These people are dealing with ocean plastic every single day, and even though it can be quite discouraging, they’re convinced that if we work together, we can solve this problem. I was inspired by their hope and optimism in people like you and me to solve such a big problem. Many of them helped me write the book.

What was the most challenging part of making the book?

The most challenging part of making the book was taking photographs of the sculptures. Why? Because the sculptures were divided up into four different traveling exhibits, and they were constantly moving around the country. I had to try to find a time when all the sculptures in the book were near to each other, so I could take pictures of them in one trip. I finally set the date to take the pictures, but by the time the day came to leave on my trip, Oregon was experiencing wildfires, protests, and a pandemic! Up until the moment I was standing in front of the tiger shark sculpture in the Oregon Zoo, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get the pictures I needed for the book. I do love adventure, and in the end, everything turned out great! I even got to share a special moment with the red pandas before the zoo opened to the public.

What do you hope readers will learn or discover from reading your book?

Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the founder of Washed Ashore. Her story began with a walk on the beach. She picked up what she thought was a bone and discovered that it was actually a piece of plastic. She started to notice more plastic on her beach, and she realized she needed to do something about it. Angela is an artist and an educator, so she used what she knew how to do best to solve the problem that was in front of her. She made art out of the plastic—sculptures so big and beautiful that people came from far away to see them. When people read my book, I hope they realize that small acts can create big change. We can use whatever it is that we like to do, even making art out of trash, to solve real problems.

Do you collect ocean plastic and make art out of it?

Angela likes to say that once she started making art out of ocean plastic, she couldn’t stop seeing plastic trash as free art supplies. I have to admit, every time I go to a river or the beach, I take a walk and look for plastic. It’s quite addictive. You never know what you’re going to find, but you always find something interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever pay for a soccer ball again. I find so many of them along the riverbank. My kids and I like to make a pile of the plastic we’ve collected and then make some sort of silly character out of bits and pieces. We take a picture with my phone, recycle what we can, and properly dispose of the rest so the plastic hopefully doesn’t end up back in the water.

Do you know of any kids that make art out of plastic?

Yes, I do! A girl named Ashlyn Nelson from Chesterfield, VA has made portraits from recycled plastic of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, and singer Aretha Franklin. Recently she teamed up with Angela to make a sculpture of a fish called a sturgeon. You can watch the whole story on the Kelly Clarkson show on YouTube (https://youtu.be/aFcCCB4oQr8).

If there was one thing we could do to keep plastic out of the ocean, what would it be?

Unfortunately, plastic is difficult to recycle right now. The best thing we can do is use less plastic. Pay attention to the plastic you use every day. Try to come up with creative ways to use other materials. If you can’t avoid using plastic, reuse it as many times as you can before throwing it away. And never lose hope that if we all work together we can solve the problem of plastic in the ocean.

Teacher Resources

The Washed Ashore Project offers numerous lesson plans and videos to inspire students. Find valuable links and more in this free teaching resource!

Praise for Washed Ashore

“An excellent work on an unusual topic and a must for school and library shelves.”—starred, Booklist

“A visually and factually compelling call to environmental action that will speak to children.”—School Library Journal

Author Kelly Crull’s Video Introduction

For more interviews with Lerner authors and illustrators, click here!

Leave a Reply