By Kristina Houck
Maddie James loved the ocean. One of her favorite places to visit was the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor.
Although the 5-year-old lost her battle to an inoperable brain tumor in 2011, her love of the ocean lives on through a new learning center at the institute and a recently published book.
Written by Del Mar resident Dr. Udo Wahn and Pete Hodgson, “For the Sake of Hugh Manatee” follows Maddie and Hugh the manatee on a stand-up paddleboard adventure. During the story, the pair discovers some of the problems affecting the watershed that are adversely impacting the ocean and its life forms.
“Every morning when she woke up she would say, ‘What adventure are we going on today?” said Maddie’s mother, Kajsa James. “Every day was an adventure. In my world, I think this is my way of continuing to go on adventures with her.”
A portion of the book’s proceeds will support the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, which opened in May at the Ocean Institute.
Maddie’s parents co-founded the Maddie James Foundation to raise $1 million for the construction and ongoing operation of the $4 million center. The new center introduces students and other visitors to current and emerging issues in oceanography, environmental science and maritime history. More than 115,000 K-12 students and 8,000 teachers annually participate in the institute’s immersion-style programs.
“With her love of the ocean, this little girl has had a seaside learning center named after her and a book written about her,” said Wahn, who has lived in Del Mar for 30 years. “Children now have an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with sea life at the center. With the book, I hope children will learn it’s important to be aware of what’s happening in places that are distant from the ocean. What’s happening can have a major impact on the ocean and on its sea life.”
“For the Sake of Hugh Manatee” is Wahn’s fifth children’s book. A physician and avid surfer, the 59-year-old started writing when his then 2-year-old son Paolo Cabo began taking swimming lessons at the Noonan Family Swim School in Del Mar.
“I wanted to inspire him to learn about surfing, ocean safety and the aloha spirit,” Wahn said. “The aloha spirit really just encompasses sharing, being kind and living in harmony with the environment. That something’s that’s been really important to me and I wanted him to learn some of those lessons.”
A story and a series of sketches for his son led to Wahn’s first book, “Cabo & Coral Go Surfing” in 2007. Since then, he has released three more books about Cabo — who was inspired by his namesake, Wahn’s 9-year-old son — and Coral.
A New York native and environmental activist, Wahn has surfed for more than 30 years along the shorelines of Australia, Costa Rica, southwestern France, Mexico and Hawaii. He has also served as a core volunteer for Surfrider Foundation since 1986.
“I enjoy having children happy with my product, having parents happy, having teachers happy, and, hopefully, making a difference in the world and our environment,” Wahn said.
Through social media, Wahn learned that GoPro photographer and videographer Hodgson had an idea for a children’s book and needed a children’s book author. After selecting Wahn, the pair collaborated on “For the Sake of Hugh Manatee,” along with Kajsa James and illustrator Ron Croci.
“I think any children’s book that you pick up and take the time to read to your children is good time spent,” James said. “This one in particular, with its message, is very important.
“Use that time and cherish that time with your children.”
For more information and to purchase “For the Sake of Hugh Manatee,” visit www.forhughmanatee.com.
For more information about the Cabo and Coral series, visit caboandcoral.com.