‘Black Beach’ Inspires Budding Eco-Activists

New Picture Book Encourages Kids to Take Action to Protect the Planet

‘Black Beach’ Inspires Budding Eco-Activists

New Picture Book Encourages Kids

to Take Action

By Tyler Hayden | April 20, 2023

John and Shaunna Stith | Credit: Courtesy

Read the rest of our Earth Day stories here!

It’s a tall order to ask kids to read — or care — about an environmental disaster. But first-time authors John and Shaunna Stith pull it off with Black Beach, a beautifully illustrated and heartfelt picture book about the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and the birth of Earth Day.

The Stiths — John is a writer and consultant for nonprofits, and Shaunna is an environmental attorney — use protagonist and budding eco-activist Sam to teach the lesson that it feels a whole lot better to stand up and act than to sit back and watch. 

Credit: Courtesy

The couple recently held a launch party at Chaucer’s Books, attended the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and here share some insight about their new work.

Tell us a bit about yourselves.  Shaunna grew up in a small town in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and John grew up in rural Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Because we were both close to such natural beauty, appreciating and caring for the Earth was baked into our lives from an early age. We now live in Ventura, next to the dazzling Santa Barbara Channel.

Why write about an oil spill for kids?  Some quick research revealed that no one had written about this powerful piece of history in a way that was accessible for kids. We remember looking at each other and wondering: How can nearly every elementary school student participate in Earth Day activities, but hardly any of them know what started the movement? Like many people today, we often struggle to understand all that is going on with the environment and what we can do to help. But we both write for our day jobs, so telling a story that could inform — and ideally even inspire — seemed like a good place to start. 

Why tell the story from Sam’s perspective?  Even though Black Beach is the true story of the first Earth Day, we wanted to give ourselves an editorial license to create a window through which kids could see and connect with the events of the story — despite the fact they took place more than 50 years ago. For us, that meant creating a protagonist based on our research and the stories people have shared about the oil spill and its aftermath. We hope readers will be able to relate to Sam as she goes through a rollercoaster of emotions in the wake of this unprecedented ecological disaster. She experiences so much, so fast, but in doing so finds her voice and channels her feelings into something incredibly productive.

What do you hope children take away from the book?  The power to act is within us all. No matter your age, no matter your size, you can make a difference by standing up for the Earth. And even when faced with a bad situation, something new and positive can come from it. 

Ultimately, kids are the ones who will be most affected by climate change and how people choose to treat the Earth, so our hope is that Black Beach helps them see they have the power to make a real difference. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they have to be passive players in the decisions that are being made about the planet’s future.

See johnandshaunnawrite.com.


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