As well as being a mother, Janina Rossiter is a designer, painter, artivist and multi award-winning children’s author.
Originally inspired by a visit to Aquarium de Paris, her stories about ocean pollution, educate children on how they can help protect creatures that live in the sea.
When did you first start drawing?
“When I was about 16-years old, my family went to Paris for the summer. I strolled around the Place du Tertre, and loved watching the artists there.”
“When we returned home, I tried a few charcoal portraits. My first one was of a Leonardo Di Caprio – maybe it was a sign, since we share our love for the environment.”
So, you’ve been interested in the environment for a long time...
“I grew up in Germany. I always felt our country was doing a lot for the climate, and everything would be alright in the end – we would find solutions to the problems.
Today, I’m not so optimistic.
When I really became aware of the wider impact of plastic pollution two and a half years ago, I couldn’t believe that the great pacific garbage patch had been discovered in 1997 – more than 20 years ago!
I’m a bit disappointed in my younger self for not seeing or understanding the bigger problem, but I don’t remember ever being taught about any of these issues at school.”
“We recycle. We think we are good, but it’s not enough.”
“We believe in the system. We think someone is taking care of all this, and if there’s a problem something will change, but it doesn’t.
As bad as some of our politicians are right now, I think they have woken a lot of people up. They realise they have to act – that we cannot trust the system any more.”
How do you feel as a mother, about what’s happening to our planet?
“It’s partly because of my children that I have become an environmental artivist.
I almost feel it’s too late but if I don’t do anything, I will regret it for the rest of my life, because of my kid’s future.
There are so many sad and devastating events happening in the world. I feel anxious, but I try not to let my kids feel it.
I don’t want them to be afraid, because fear can paralyse you.”
“As a mother, I want to make sure my children are taught about environmental issues and how we, as people, impact the natural living world.”
“I feel frustrated for children – they cannot apply what they learn.
Kids hear about plastic pollution, and understand the problems but then often get mixed messages when they go to school, into supermarkets or even at home.”
Children’s connection to nature is in decline…why do you think this is?
“Children are growing up in a society of consumerism, we need to move away from that.”
“We need to connect children to nature, and spark their curiosity. But it can be hard to do this when you live in the city where there are lots of people, and very few parks.
Technology is also part of the problem. Many kids have too much screen-time and as a consequence, lose their creativity.
Families need to feel inspired to play outdoors more, that way children will get to experience nature for real, and interact with it.”
What inspired you to create children’s books about ocean life?
“I have always loved the ocean – it’s the place I feel most happy.”
“My original idea was to do a counting book, with each number associated with a sea creature.
Eight for octopus was easy, but the other numbers were harder!
I spent some time at the Aquarium de Paris with my family, studying the creatures there.”
“This is the day that changed everything for me.”
“One day, the aquarium put on a show about plastic pollution in the ocean.
The children were asked if they would volunteer to help clean-up the rubbish.
My daughter raised her hand, and I was very touched that she wanted to protect the sea creatures.
When I got home that night, I researched ocean pollution.”
“Two images stuck with me; the image showing sea turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, and the seahorse holding the cotton bud, photographed by Justin Hofman.”
“It shocked me to the core but the minute I saw them, I knew what I had to do.”
“I had to change my counting book into an environmental book.
In the end the idea was exactly like the show at the aquarium…the kids need to help clean-up!”
“So it became ‘123…Who’s Cleaning the Sea?'”
“I knew my book should be positive, so that people feel motivated, and believe there is something they can do.
I’m sure that when you do something good, it makes you feel good.”
I’m really interested in your point-of-view about how imagery can desensitise us; in what way do your illustrations overcome this?
“When I first started to see some of the images around plastic pollution, I had tears streaming down my face.
We can’t allow it to become normal to see dying sea creatures, and beaches drowning in plastic.”
“I had to think, how am I going to get this message across without these kids being devastated?”
“I want to show them something beautiful but with a twist, to make people think, without making them feel bad.”
You describe yourself as an environmental artivist; tell me what you mean by this, and when did you first start using your art in this way?
“I came across an extraordinary woman, Pat Smith aka Action Nan. I asked her if she would endorse my book, and she said, “Yes”!
Pat was my inspiration to be an activist, and not just an author who once wrote a book about plastic pollution.”
“Being an artivist is an especially good way for people who are a bit shy, to express themselves.”
“I discovered the world ‘artivist’ through Instagram hashtags, it’s really a gentle way to create beautiful art with an important message.”
“I’d like to continue my work with schools, where I talk to the children about plastic pollution, and how we can find creative solutions together.”
“It is difficult to visit schools at the moment, due to the pandemic. But it has opened up new opportunities to work with children in different parts of the world.
My next book about the environment, comes out later this month, and is called ‘Diamonds, Hearts & Sea Stars!’; a picture book about shapes found in the sea.”
To find out more about Janina’s award-winning work, including her children’s books, click here