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Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings

Elizabeth’s Landing – A Sea Turtle Conservation Novel for Middle Grade Readers

(Guest post by Katy Pye, author of Elizabeth’s Landing.)

I open my eyes. The woman kneeling at my side slips off her sunglasses and scans my face. Wisps of dark chocolate-colored hair stick out from under her sand-colored ball cap. Port Winston Marine Science Center is printed over the brim. Embroidered in dark blue thread above her shirt pocket is MARIA, Staff Biologist. She’s Mom’s age or close.

Lines deepen above her eyebrows. “Are you hurt?” she says.

I look past her at the thin layer of clouds, the dull ache in my shoulder spreading through my neck. I slowly shake my head, my brain and mouth disconnected.

“Let me help you.” Her arm sliding under me moves the pack. The memory of Pete’s jerk on the strap zings through my skin. I squeeze my eyes shut against the image of Buzzcut’s tattoo as my legs stiffen then start to shake.

Maria’s fingers lightly grip my shoulder. “Shhh. You’re safe.” Her voice is calm, but firm.

I hesitate, then sink into her.
“There you go. Deep breath. Slowly.”

I breathe in and out until my head clears.

This is a beginning scene from Elizabeth’s Landing, my novel for middle-grade readers about a 14-year-old girl who gets involved with sea-turtle conservation efforts in Texas along the Gulf Coast.

Elizabeths Landing cover

The background history involves a decades-long effort along the Gulf Coast, centered on the Padre Island National Seashore, to help incubate Kemp’s ridley eggs. The program was originally begun with eggs brought from Mexico, where the species was facing near-extinction, to conservation areas in Texas. According to Elizabeth’s Landing: “The Kemp’s ridley’s main nesting beach [had been] Rancho Nuevo, in Tamaulipas, Mexico. In 1947, 40,000 turtles nested there in one day. In 1990, only 550 showed up the entire season.”

The programs at Padre Island National Seashore and elsewhere along Texas beaches were developed to provide more nesting sites, as a back-up to the Rancho Nuevo location.

This is the setting for Elizabeth’s Landing written for ages 10 and up. Young teenager Elizabeth — ­the main character in the story — is trying to adjust to her own new environment after a recent move to Texas. She finds herself friendless, ignored by busy parents, and branded by her grandpa as next to worthless.

Elizabeth wants to believe he’s dead wrong, but facing her own uncertainties, a small part of her begins to worry he might be right.

When she stumbles across an injured nesting sea turtle on a beach under attack by a band of bullies, she makes a decision that changes everyone’s lives.

Stirring up Texas-sized trouble to save sea turtles tests Elizabeth’s beliefs. She begins to develop a new friendship, and explores her relationship to something bigger than herself. But when she uncovers a long-buried family secret, she must rethink what she’s known about someone she loves and the meaning of home.

As I researched and wrote this story, I learned that sea turtles are part of origin myths in many cultures. They represent Home — the Earth, and qualities of longevity, patience, and wisdom.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesting, NPS photo

A librarian friend, after reading Elizabeth’s Landing, pointed out sea turtles are also powerful symbols of both strength and vulnerability. A tough shell protects their soft bodies from predators and injury.

But the endangered sea turtles are little match for today’s global environmental changes. Challenges to their health and life cycle have reduced the number of sea turtles worldwide. The threats include ocean and land-based chemical and plastics pollution, disease, man-made barriers to and loss of nesting beaches, poaching, and death in commercial fishing nets.

In truth, as a species, we humans face some of the same environmental threats as Elizabeth’s turtles.

As an adult environmental and social activist, I share some of Elizabeth’s frustrations. I wrote Elizabeth’s Landing because I’ve also experienced how important it is to work for a good cause, to get involved in species and habitat conservation programs. I’ve learned how much healing happens, how different our lives can become when our passion and talents are aimed at problems that rise above our own.

Young people recognize this. They understand that they claim and make their future when they join with others in a common goal.

What has the power to fire up your life if you are a displaced, disenchanted teenager, looking for friends and a place to call home? What fires up your sense of injustice and the need to get involved in something important?

Elizabeth’s Landing, which I’m happy to say has won a number of book awards, is written for ages 10 and up. I hope readers will see part of themselves in Elizabeth’s struggles and will be inspired by her determination.

Author Katy Pye is a former Executive Director of the Yolo County, CA Resource Conservation District, She lives and writes on California’s North Coast. Elizabeth’s Landing is her first novel. She volunteers for the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, at the Point Cabrillo Light Station, and with the Threshold Choir. Camera in hand, her walks along the ocean or redwood forest trails provide daily inspiration.

You can download the first four chapters of Elizabeth’s Landing, with a Discussion Guide and student exercises, reviews, and where to buy the book: https://katypye.com/elizabeths-landing/elizabeths-landing-the-book/

For information on sea turtles: how you can help them and links to teaching tools: https://katypye.com/help-sea-turtles/elizabeths-sea-turtles/

Here is a link to the Padre Island National Seashore’s account of the story of the Kemp’s ridley  sea turtle in the Gulf Coast area: https://www.nps.gov/pais/learn/nature/kempsridleystory.htm

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Katy-Pye-Author-173445486101595

You can contact the author through her website: https://katypye.com/contact-me/

Book volume and library discounts are available to schools: Contact author at above for pricing.

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