Juliette Green reviews James Finds the NAG Patch by Sara Kightley

This is the story of an intrepid teddy bear who, like his namesake Captain James T. Kirk, boldly goes where no teddy bear has gone before – to the North Atlantic Garbage Patch (or NAG Patch for short) – “a mysterious place that holds a dark secret of ours”.

The story begins with James on a holiday to Cornwall with his beloved owner Charlie and her parents, until a terrible mishap befalls him and he ends up floating out to sea on a piece of driftwood (which he names Logsworth). After a series of encounters with various marine animals – including jellyfish, a bait ball of fish being chased by dolphins, and a humpback whale – and surviving a hurricane, James finds himself at the NAG Patch itself:

“He realised that his paws were completely covered in tiny pieces of plastic. In alarm, he sieved his paws through the ocean, over and over again, but the results were the same. […] He was completely surrounded by plastic.”

The way that the author describes the extent of the plastic waste in this part of the North Atlantic is stark and heart-breaking. I think this is because of the way that we read about it from James the teddy bear’s point of view:

“… he shuddered at the thought of his ocean friends living in these awful conditions. Breathing it in, mistaking it for food. […] An overwhelming sadness overtook James, knowing that he couldn’t store all the ocean plastic on Logsworth. That he couldn’t save the ocean from all this plastic. He felt helpless in the face of such a terrible threat.”

There then follows an explanation about how plastic waste can be carried so far into the ocean – via rivers, the wind and the ocean currents/gyres (which I learnt about earlier in the book!) – told as a story by a plastic dinosaur floating on a beer crate. This use of toys and characters to give explanations is a really clever way the author uses to introduce complex concepts to young children.

James is finally rescued by a young marine biologist called Aila, travelling on a research ship studying marine plastic pollution. She upcycles him – a good lesson in how damaged toys can be given a new lease of life – and the crew of the ship embark on a tour of schools.

There are lots of detailed illustrations in the book, all provided by the author. I particularly liked the double-page pictures, such as the practical ideas for what we can all do to cut down plastic waste on pages 228 and 229. I would love to see these in a big book or poster format, to enable whole-class sharing and discussions.

The book is littered with environmental messages – not just related to ocean plastics (e.g. Aunty Jade’s collection of sustainably-sourced holiday souvenirs on pages 30 and 31) – and all perfectly in context within the story. The issues are covered in a way that is thought-provoking without being ‘preachy’.

I would recommend reading this book with children aged 8+, but it could also be read to younger children.

And does James finally get reunited with his beloved Charlie? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out!


James Finds the NAG Patch. Sara Kightley, 2020. Paperback pp256. ISBN 978-1-9163886-0-4. £9.99.
Available from yellow-button.org/product-page/james-finds-the-nag-patch
(a UK based social enterprise).

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