Shamong author stresses saving the Earth with her puggle, Bernie

Pinelands native wants kids to see their impact on the environment

Having grown up in Shamong, Jessica Harris was always aware of her impact on the Earth. Now, she’s the author of a new children’s book that she hopes will teach kids about environmental issues. In this photo, Harris poses with her daughter (Jessica Harris/Special to The Sun).

What do you get when you combine a puggle, a trash monster and a mission to save the world?

The answer is “Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island,” a new children’s book from Shamong native Jessica Harris. The book follows puggle Bernie and his human Sammy, who have to rescue ocean creatures and clean up litter in order to foil villain Ong’s plan to pollute the globe.

“You see how much waste is in our country and it’s a little sickening,” said Harris, who owns a Texas based sustainability company.

Having grown up in the Pinelands, Harris has always been aware of the impact humans have on the environment. She worries most about plastic pollution, deforestation and the future of bees.

Beyond her company, where Harris creates renewable energy plans, she  wanted to have more of a positive impact. She grew up treasuring Dr. Seuss’  “The Lorax,” but struggled to find other books that could introduce her young children to environmental issues.

“Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island” resulted from her desire to teach the next generation about its impact on Earth. The book incorporates many aspects of her own life: Bernie is based on her own dog, and the book is set in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives. 

The story involves a seagull, turtle and sea lion who find themselves in danger from ocean waste. The animals were specifically selected by Harris because in real life, they are most impacted by polluted oceans.

“Hopefully the kids read it and they care about it and then the parents realize, oh, we gotta do something,” the author said.

The book comes with a website full of resources families and teachers can use to expand the conversation on sustainability. Harris lays out four steps on the site to help Bernie save the environment: Only purchase things you really need, fix broken things rather than throwing them away, research and utilize recycling programs and get involved in local government and organizations to make a change.

“I think those four are just such a great start,” Harris noted. “And honestly, not that much to change in your regular life.”

Her book itself ends with the sentiment that while pollution is too overwhelming for one kid (or dog) to resolve, every little change can add up to big results. 

“Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island” was released in December, and Harris is  working to make it available at local libraries. Her goal is to sell at least 1,000 copies, whose proceeds will be donated to nonprofits that work to clean up the ocean, re-use plastics and advocate for a more sustainable economy.

Each portion of the book’s release is eco-conscious in nature. Harris’ lesson plan includes a craft challenging families to create sea creatures using plastic waste and two songs about the book she hopes will engage kids to think more about their carbon footprint.

Harris is working on making Bernie the hero of a series of books covering environmental issues. For now, “Bernie’s Escape from Ong Island” is available for purchase at jessicaharrisbooks.com.