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Sharon Finds the Environment Down Under

By Eddy Ball
October 2009

Hawkins, shown with the print version of his book
Hawkins, shown with the print version of his book, won an NIH Plain Language Award for his creation in 2001. Today, the former NIEHS public information officer is a policy analyst in the Institute's Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation.
(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As it turns eight years old this year, the popular NIEHS read-along story, Sharon Finds the Environment (NIH Publication #01-4922), continues to edify young readers worldwide. Sharon's latest incarnation combines author Tom Hawkins' original 2001 text and the story's Web-version clipart graphics with minor revisions by teacher and writer Fiona Brown of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia - most notably replacing Herman, the talking squirrel in the original, with a talking frog named Francis for readers in Australia where squirrels are not indigenous.

Sharon relates the adventures of the title character as she discovers the many aspects of her environment - from the dust under her bed and the factory in town to the sky above her and the air she breathes - as part of her quest to understand how to keep the environment clean. With the help of her insightful companions Herman and his Australian counterpart Francis, Sharon gains new awareness of the world around her:

"'Wow!' Sharon said, standing up and slowly turning around and around. 'The environment is everywhere! It is the sun, sky and air. It's the ground, water, plants and trees. It's my house and even under my bed!'"

As a government publication, Sharon is not copyright protected and has always been in the public domain with no restrictions on use by others. Although a Google search using the title turns up page after page of hits for Sharon, Hawkins and others at NIEHS have no way of knowing exactly how many times the story has been republished for new audiences.

Now and then publishers, like Brown in Australia and Tripti Sachdev with India's Allied Publishing, will contact NIEHS before bringing out a new version of Sharon. Hawkins said he is also aware of its reproduction in a text for environmental education in the United Kingdom and adaptation as a puppet show script in Canada.

Wherever it appears in print or on the Web, Sharon's message at the conclusion of the story remains just as relevant today as it was in 2001:

"Sharon said, 'Gosh, that's an awfully big job to clean the whole environment.'"

"'That's why it takes nearly everyone, everywhere, all the time,' Herman said."

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