The Day The Great Lakes Drained Away

Charles F. Barker, who grew up on the Great Lakes, wrote and illustrated The Day the Great Lakes Drained Away – a fantastic children’s book that seems to combine the art work of Hans Rey’s Curious George illustrations and the pros of Dr. Seuss. Mr. Barker, a geology enthusiast, was enthralled with the topography of the lake floors and was inspired by their beauty to write a book that has a conservationist message for children and parents. “It is my sincere wish that you and your children and your children’s children continue to be filled with that same sense of reverence and respect, and that they be instilled with a sense of pride and commitment to protecting these rare and irreplaceable resources – the greatest of all lakes – the Great Lakes,” writes Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm in the forward. In the following paragraphs Mr. Barker responds to HOW’s questions about his wonderful book.

Where do you live and what do you do for a living?I live in Plymouth, Michigan with my wife, our 2-year old, and our dog.
I work at an environmental consulting firm in Detroit dealing with soil, groundwater, and surface water impacts, and air quality issues. I also teach introductory geology at Wayne State University in Detroit part-time.
What experience first brought you close to the lakes?When I was growing up, my Dad was an avid sailor, and our family sailed around the Great Lakes- out of Detroit and Lake Saint Clair. Twice we sailed up to Mackinac Island, and once or twice down to Cedar Point. The sailing to Mackinac was great, but in the early 1970’s, Lake Erie was horrible – In the middle of the lake, out of sight of land, you could see nothing but soap suds, dead fish, and oil sheens. Quite a contrast to Presque Isle harbor or Mackinac Island where you could see a quarter on the bottom 30 feet down.
Why were you inspired to write this story?
I was inspired to write The Day the Great Lakes Drained Away after learning of the incredible lake floor features at the bottom of the lakes – Many of which I learned about from maps produced by the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder Colorado. These maps, some are 3-D, show the incredible submerged ridges of rock under Lake Huron, a suspected meteor impact crater under Lake Ontario, and on and on. I though it would make a cool and educational children’s book to show these lake floor features, but I had to have the water drained away to show them, hence “the Day the Great Lakes Drained Away”. Some think the book is a statement about dropping lake levels, but that was not my main inspiration. Rather, my publisher said about an early draft “we need a villain”, so I went about developing the story of the pipes draining away the Lakes. I use this element of the book and story to speak to kids about how important it is to protect the lakes and not take them for granted.
What do you hope children and adults will take away from this book?I hope that they will both learn about the incredible lake floor features that are rarely considered, and 2) take a moment to think about what it would be like without the Great Lakes and therefore, to never take them for granted. The book also has a link of some fantastic Great Lakes info on the Great Lakes Commission’s website.
If you were granted the power for one day to change the Great Lakes, what would you do?Interesting question – my knee-jerk reaction is to leave them alone – I think when we start tweaking things, hydraulically speaking, there is the possibility of a lot of unintended consequences. Not a very bold answer, but it’s my view right now. Obviously if there were some magic one-day solution to stop the water quality degradation I would do that.
Do you think we will solve the problems that plague the Great Lakes in your lifetime?
The problem of water quality is one that humans have no-doubt caused, and therefore can no-doubt control and solve. I think the key is education – Look at Lake Erie and the positive changes that have occurred since the 1970s – at least visually. I was still incredibly saddened when we took our 2 year old to a beautiful beach on Lake Erie last summer and were told by signage and lifeguards that it was potentially hazardous to swim that day, or even play in the sand.

If you are interested in ordering the book, click here.

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