February 21, 2024

Interview with Olga Shavrina, author of children’s book ‘What’s the Shark’s Job?’

Many people want to do something good for the planet, but don’t know where to start. One way to help our earth is through communication, which is exactly what one of our incredible community members has done.

Meet Olga Shavrina, Planet Wild member and author of ‘What's the Shark's Job?’—a children’s book that helps kids understand the importance of keystone species. Olga wrote the story and created all the illustrations herself, with the goal to create more awareness and curiosity about the natural world among children. 

Olga also created the book's beautiful illustrations

Planet Wild: Hey Olga, thank you for taking the time to talk to us! So, what inspired you to write an environmental book for children?

Olga Shavrina: I guess it wasn't one inspirational moment, but a series of events. As a child, I spent summers in the countryside with my grandparents, surrounded by nature. I would spend hours playing with the pine cones, observing birds, foraging mushrooms, and so on.

Even though I’ve been living in urban settings for the biggest part of my life, I’ve never lost this connection with nature. Whenever I am picking a movie to watch, it’s going to be a nature documentary; if it’s a book, then it’s likely about animals and ecology. The more I got to know about how the natural world works, the more I fell in love with it and wanted to do something to help protect it. 

This adorable otter is a keystone species

One day, I attended a lecture by Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and an incredible communicator. She said that the best thing we can do for climate and nature is to talk about it. Instead of just scaring everyone with doomsday scenarios, which might turn people away, we should talk about things that people personally care about and connect these topics to the climate and nature restoration. With my book, I hope to spark more discussions and curiosity about the natural world.

PW: That makes sense! I wonder, however: Why did you focus on keystone species? It’s quite a complicated topic, and one which most adults don't really know about! How did you pick it?

Olga: Firstly, I find it truly fascinating how a single species can make a huge difference in an ecosystem. Secondly, when you talk about keystone species you can demonstrate how everything is connected in nature—how one change can lead to a chain of events—and how the whole communities of living beings depend on keeping this fragile balance. After people get this concept, it becomes easier to explain that we—humans—are also part of an ecosystem, and we also depend on it for our survival, which makes nature protection and restoration essential.

The important animals that appear in the story

And lastly, the advantage of writing a children's book is that I don’t have to use terms like “keystone species” and provide complex academic explanations. Within a kid’s book, you can focus on storytelling, illustrations, and create an emotional connection with the characters. For instance, one of the goals of the book was to show a shark as a positive character, and illustrations of a charming shark playing with her fish friend helped me to do that. 

PW: Why do you think it's important for children to understand the role of keystone species and nature protectors? 

Olga: Great question. It's kind of obvious, but a little bit hard to put into words, right? I think humans often forget that we are part of nature, and in order to have a future, we need to take greater care of it. To do that, we need to learn how awesome nature is. Many kids and adults are totally disconnected from nature today, locked in concrete jungles with plastic toys. So, giving kids more exposure, awareness, and curiosity about nature is crucial if we want them to form a harmonious relationship with the environment.

The story teaches kids about why we need to protect the planet and its animals

In my book, I draw parallels between nature restoration jobs and the roles animals play in ecosystems. The story follows Lily, whose mom's job involves protecting sharks, a demanding responsibility that keeps her away from her daughter. She sends Lily to her grandpa’s countryside house for the summer, and Lily hates being left behind. She wants her mom to be with her, rather than doing some “silly job”. So, her grandpa engages her in stories about animals that also have important "jobs" in nature. She ends up understanding the vital role the sea otter, tiger and shark play, and how great it is to be a nature protector. Through these stories, he shows her the importance of her mom’s work and its value to the planet. By the end of the book, she too wants to become a nature protector when she grows up. 

PW: What a great plot! Are there any other children's books that you can recommend?

Olga: Yeah, absolutely. There are a few fantastic books that I am sure both children and their parents will love! ‘Ally & Bibi’, ‘Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth’ and ‘Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys’, to name a few.

The story follows Lily as she learns about the natural world

There is also something I would like to add: I know that there are many people out there who would like to do something good for the planet, but don’t know where to start, and even have a sense of helplessness. Maybe they have ideas but think that their actions are too insignificant to produce any change. I want to encourage you to pursue those ideas, no matter how small they may seem. 

The climate and biodiversity crises are so huge and of course, no one can fix everything on their own. But doing something small is better than doing nothing at all. And of course, if anybody wants to get some guidance on how to start with such a book, I’d be more than happy to share my experience. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me

If you’re interested in buying the book, supporting Olga, and teaching your little ones about the importance of the natural world, you can buy ‘What’s the Shark’s Job?’ here.

About Planet Wild

At Planet Wild, we are committed to rewilding the planet through monthly missions that work directly with grassroots organizations dedicated to combating the biodiversity crisis. When you become a Planet Wild member, your contribution will directly fund innovative and exciting projects all over the world, helping you make a difference from home. Learn more about what we do here.

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