Let’s say you have a strong opinion about something you see happening in the world. You know it is wrong, and you want to speak out. The most direct way to make your point would be through a nonfiction article or essay. But you could also convey your message, perhaps even more powerfully, through fiction.
In the May/June 2015 issue of Stone Soup, 12-year-old author Evelyn Chen did just that. Her story, The Voice of the Seal, deals with a serious worldwide problem. Every year hundreds of thousands of ocean animals get tangled up in abandoned fishing nets. Many of them suffer and die. In Evelyn’s story, two cousins, Cordelia and Georgia, are staying at the family beach house when they both have the same nightmare. They are in the ocean, trapped in a net, struggling for air, drowning. The girls wake up in the middle of the night. They hear a voice coming from the beach, calling their names. They don’t know what is happening, but they decide to follow the voice. What they find breaks their hearts.
In the blackness of night, they make out a dark shape, thrashing in the water. They splash through the waves and discover . . . a seal, caught in a fishing net, desperately trying to get free. The girls look at each other. The seal looks at the girls. They know what they have to do. For several hours they steadily work at the net, pulling it apart little by little. They are cold and wet, but they don’t care. They don’t stop until the seal is free. The girls head home, exhausted but happy.
Were you drawn into this story like I was? Cordelia and Georgia are described so well that we feel like we know them. We can picture the cozy bedroom in the beach house. Artist Teah Laupapa’s illustrations help bring the girls and their summer home to life. When they hear the voice, we hear it too. When they see the dark form struggling in the water, we see it too. We feel the injustice of the innocent seal’s battle with the abandoned net. Why did this terrible thing happen? How can we help?
I found myself Googling “fishing nets kill seals” after I read the story. I wanted to know more. Try it! You’ll see that many organizations are working on this problem. Maybe your family would like to donate to one of them.
Evelyn’s story is not a true story, but it is a powerful story, based on the truth. Through fiction, she shines a light on a worldwide problem. By focusing in on three characters, Cordelia, Georgia, and the seal, she personalizes the problem and helps us understand it. This is what great writing can do.