Salt Marsh Musings (Guest Post from Kimberly Behre Kenna, author of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade)
It was a fall day like any other as I hiked the trails around a salt marsh not far from my Connecticut home. Leaves on the trees were just beginning to turn, and the air had a bit of a prickle to it. But that’s where ordinary ended, because halfway up the steep hill that would provide me with my favorite view of the salt marsh, something extraordinary happened.
A girl named Artemis whispered her
story in my ear. I’d never met her before, but she felt familiar, and I was
eager to listen. Over time and many revisions later, her story became my debut
middle-grade novel, Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade.
I’d begun writing full time by then,
so I was open and ready for a character like Artemis to arrive on that fall day.
Though her appearance surprised me, it made sense. For many years, I brought my
fifth-grade students to this salt marsh as part of our study of the ecology of
Long Island Sound. On every visit, I witnessed changes in my students. While
observing osprey through a pair of binoculars or watching fiddler crabs burrow
at low tide, the quietest children became animated and chatty, and the most
outgoing became silent with awe. I could relate. As a shy child myself, I found
solace and invigorating delight in my shoreline explorations, and that
experience continues to this day.
My mind was fertile for Artemis’s
story. It had been seeded by my days with my students. To begin our Long Island
Sound studies, we’d read picture book biographies of ecologists. From there, each
child chose one ecologist, analyzed what they knew about them, and applied that
knowledge to try to solve a current problem around Long Island Sound. How might
we use the past to better understand the present? If George
Washington Carver were alive, could his ideas about soil conservation help
sustain salt marsh plants against the rising tides? Could the strategies Chico
Mendes used to help save the Brazilian rainforests also help save our shoreline?
To find out, we resurrected their ghosts, and these proved to be fascinating
(and educational!) encounters.
Children stepped into the shoes of their ecologist and
wrote persuasive monologues about activism from their point of view, took part
in roundtable discussions brainstorming how to use teamwork to address
pollution in Long Island Sound, and wrote and performed plays where deceased
ecologists came to the aid of humans challenged by problems in nature.
So, it was no surprise that as the seeds of Artemis’s
story sprouted, some of them took on an uncanny resemblance to real life. Artemis
is a girl who stutters and finds
sanctuary in the peaceful salt marsh, then becomes heartbroken when she
witnesses its decline. Unable to drum up enough support from humans, she
conjures up the ghosts of deceased ecologists for help. Thanks to their
knowledge and the resilience modeled by the creatures and plants of the salt
marsh, Artemis’s whisper becomes a calling as she embraces her voice and encourages
others to join her brigade to save the salt marsh.
All of my middle grade books were inspired by my life as
a teacher as well as my own experiences as a child. I learned that no matter
how ordinary a day may seem, if you stay open and on the lookout, magic is
bound to happen. And it usually starts as a whisper.
After years as an adolescent and family counselor, and then as a fifth grade teacher of ecology and language arts, Kimberly returned to school for her MA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her middle-grade novel, “Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade” was a finalist and received Honorable Mention in the 2019 Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature Competition. It will be published by Fitzroy Books 2/2/23. Another book in her Brave Girl Collection, “Jett Jamison and the Secret Storm” is forthcoming from Black Rose Publishing 8/3/23. A third in the collection, as yet unpublished, won second place in The Institute of Children’s Literature 2022 MG Mystery First Pages Contest. Her poems and short stories have been published in American Writers Review, Mused, Plumtree Tavern, and Rubbertop Review. Her full-length play, “Ana’s Hummingbird,” was given a staged reading at The Dramatists Guild in NYC. She’s a member of SCBWI and PEN America, and now devotes herself to writing full time. Connect with her at www.kimberlybehrekenna.com