Ocean explorer: Trumbull artist Sandy Agate launches children’s book series

It’s not easy being a mother, an artist, and a self-published author.

Just ask Trumbull resident Sandy Agate, who will be juggling a fourth responsibility this weekend when she begins to promote her debut children’s book, Teddy’s Deep-Sea Adventure: The Tale of the Pearl, at the fourth annual Handmade Happening Craft Fair at Long Hill Methodist Church.

The mother of three said she’s always loved being near the water and modeled the story’s protagonist, Teddy, around her late father, whose passion for exploring oceans has trickled down to create what she calls “a whole family of ocean people.”

“I felt like I had these stories to tell that were in my head for a while, and so I decided to give it a shot,” said Agate, who has been drawing and painting since the age of 5 and plans to publish a series of maritime adventure books.

Growing up in upstate New York on a lake and attending high school in Lake Placid, the young artist focused on painting where water was a theme.

“I’ve always been drawn to the serenity of it — the mystery, the fantasy of going into this whole other world,” she said.

“I think the best stories come from personal experience,” she added. “And this is certainly an expansion of some childhood adventures I had alone wandering on the beach and imagining everything that was going on underneath the ocean’s surface.”

Of course, any ocean adventure tale wouldn’t be complete without a treasure hunt, which is the driving plot device of Agate’s first book.

“Teddy’s going to be the main character throughout this series,” she explained. “In the first book, he’s able to find the treasure — this great pearl — because the water is clean and that touches on one of the key messages, which is the importance of keeping our oceans clean.”

A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to Oceana, a worldwide research and conservation group dedicated to keeping oceans, lakes and waterways clean and safe.

“In each book, I have a soft message about being good stewards of our world,” the Trumbull mom said.

Finding a rhythm

Agate, who has three boys, said the book is appropriate to be read to children between the ages of 3 and 6 and that third to fourth graders should be able to read the book alone either at home or in a school library.

“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” she said about the publishing process. “The story is all in rhyme and there’s a bit of a formula to it: Teddy finds part of the treasure washed ashore on the beach and uses these maps from his mother to go find it.

“He’s transported into a whole other world, and that leaves readers to decide for themselves whether or not he is dreaming or if this is indeed his reality,” she added. “In the end, he comes back to his world with the treasure and, in the process, highlights the importance of keeping the ocean clean.”

The next chapter

The first-time author, who’s also made jewelry from sea glass in addition to her painting, said in the second installment of her book series Teddy will once again come face to face with the problems that stem from having polluted bodies of water.

“In the first book, the message is a lot subtler, but in the second story, which I have written, Teddy is actually very active cleaning up all these bags that are in the ocean and dealing with all this trash in the water,” she explained.

Agate believes the second story, titled Teddy’s Deep-Sea Adventure: The Peril of the Penguin, will benefit from the “learning curve” she’s received from self-publishing the first story.

“I learned as I went,” said Agate, who’s been working on The Tale of the Pearl for about a year. “I found out all about type sizing and where certain words should be on the page and how important the flow was to a story like this that’s meant for children to flip through and read.

“I learned a lot about publishing that I didn’t know before when I worked as a package designer,” she added.

Quite an adventure

In addition to being a package designer, a painter and a jewelry maker, Agate worked as a landscape portrait artist and studied at Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan.

Her studies having taken her all over the world — from Trinidad and Tobago to Florence and Rome in Italy to Vienna in Austria.

It’s a far cry from what she originally set out to do when she was in high school.

“The first thing I set out to do was nursing, but I realized early on that it was not my calling,” she said. “I knew I wanted to help others, and I found that I could do that with my true calling, which was art.”

While her father influenced her love for the sea, Agate’s mother, an artist, pushed her to follow her creative heart.

She graduated from Heartwood College in Maine and has been an artist ever since.

Pen and paper

The journey to becoming a writer wasn’t as direct, but Agate traces that back to an early age as well.

“I’ve been journaling and writing in my sketchbooks for more than 25 years,” she said. “This book is a culmination of all that coming together.

“Wherever I went, I was writing,” she added.

While drawing has always been her natural form of expression, Agate feels a deep satisfaction from writing and publishing her own story.

“It’s been great for my self-esteem to be working on something like this and to keep my hands constantly involved in it,” she said. “I’ve changed the story a number of times, but I’ve learned that’s good — it’s part of the process.”

Putting the pen on the paper is all about finding time, she added.

“Balance is key to writing, and you need to block out time — after doing the laundry and making sure all the dishes are clean — to write and be by yourself,” she said.

“It’s hard to find time — it’s not easy, but I found the time and I’ve loved every minute of crafting this story,” she added. “I couldn’t have done it without my incredibly supportive husband and all my wonderful friends.”

She said she always wanted to write these types of stories but “life happened.”

“We all strive to have that balance in our life, and it’s not perfect, but you have to try and master it and find it,” she said.

Promotion tour

In addition to doing a book signing at the craft fair on Main Street in Trumbull, Agate will be at Linda’s Story Time in Monroe from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, March 11.

And with the first installment of the series completed and the second chapter on its way, she is already thinking of launching another series in memory of her late cousin Wendy that will take readers out of the ocean and into the woods.

The series will be titled Wendy’s Magical Walks in the Woods, with proceeds going to the Five Rivers Foundation in upstate New York.

As much as writing has become a way to give back to foundations that have a connection to her family’s passions, Agate believes the most important goal of these stories is getting an environmentally themed message into the minds of young readers.

“We have to get that message ingrained in their minds early and get them conscious about our oceans and our forests so they know what they need to do to protect them when they grow up,” she explained. “We never thought about taking care of our environment when I was growing up — we were oblivious, but that cannot be acceptable anymore.

“We have to continue to bring awareness to them at a young age so they continue to stay involved,” she said. “And in that sense, this is more than just a book, this is a necessary message to get across to everyone — you can make a difference in making this world a better place.”