Excerpt from Demi and the Dolphins: A Lesson in Ecology

On a fishing boat, everyone is expected to perform many jobs. When the crew is trapping tuna in nets, everyone on the boat helps get the fish on board. When they’re not catching fish, each crew member has specific jobs to do.

Mikey was hired to be the cook for the crew. He was the newest crew member and the youngest, being only twenty-four years old, a combination that earned him “low man on the totem pole” status. Mikey got this job four weeks ago when he answered an ad Captain Demi had run in the newspaper looking for a chef for Sea Savey. Mikey was short, only five foot five, but he was tanned and strong. He was as graceful as a deer and as nimble as a monkey. Best of all, he was a terrific cook!

Captain Demi knew Mikey was a marine biologist with a special interest in studying dolphins, but she had no idea that he was really working for the police to catch tuna fisherman like her, who were illegally using nets that kill dolphins.

Demi, captain of the Sea Savey, was at the wheel, navigating the waters, looking for dolphins, and listening to the casual chatter of her crew. She had been a captain for two years, after taking over her dad’s job when he retired. She came from a long line of tuna fisherman, four generations to be exact. Not only was she the first female captain in her family, but at age twenty-five, she was the youngest as well!


How It’s Written: From a list of facts to a fiction story

When I was ten years old my mom gave me a homeschool project to research facts about dolphins and incorporate them into a fiction story.  Here is the list of facts I found in movies, books, and the internet. 

  • They can swim under water as deep as 1600 feet
  • They can hold their breath for 6-7 minutes
  • Polluted waters kill dolphins
  • They can do tricks like jumping and spinning out of the water
  • Female dolphins swim far away form the pod to have her baby
  • Most dolphins are killed by tuna fishermen who use nets to catch their tuna
  • Dolphins have a playful spirit and are called  “the children of the sea”
  • Dolphins are not fish, they are mammals
  • They are warm blooded
  • There are more then 40 different kinds of dolphins in every ocean and some rivers
  • They sleep in snatches underwater because they have to breath often
  • Their brain is bigger then ours
  • They have echolocation ( like sonar)
  • They can tell a nickel from a dime at a distance of 20 feet
  • Babies nurse and drink milk like human babies
  • Their language is through clicks and whistles.  

Writing and sequencing were very challenging for me. It took me nine months, many melt downs, and a lot of support and encouragement from my mom to complete this assignment. 

See how many facts you can find throughout the story when you read it!


Demi and the Dolphins, a Deeper Meaning

Guest Post by Dr Marlene Siegel,  Alyssa’s Mom


Teaching moral lessons was something I incorporated in daily life.  Every opportunity I had to point out a life lesson, I did.  When I assigned my daughters a writing project (to research facts about dolphins and incorporate the facts into a fiction story), it naturally took on moral lessons.  Being conscious of right and wrong decisions, our responsibility to animals and our environment, views on bullying, forgiveness, learning from your mistakes and changing to be a better person were all natural lessons that I taught my kids.  It was not surprising that these concepts were reflected in Alyssa’s story Demi and the Dolphins:  a lesson in ecology.

This story is far deeper than a cute story about dolphins.  Parents and teachers can use the multitude of messages to teach life lessons.  For example, take the message about “choices” and explore the who, what, why, when, where, and how.  Who made good and bad choices, what could they have done differently, why did they choose to do what they did (family upbringing, society), when did this happen (time periods in history had different value systems), where were they (social and cultural influence), and how could the characters have behaved differently, are a few examples of how to explore the life lessons in the book.

Find other books, movies, or real life characters that reflect these principles.  Compare and contrast characters and talk about the actual outcome- is it the same, better, or worse than what you would do if given the ability to make a difference.

Have fun teaching and learning together. The memories you create are priceless, and the bonds last forever.

Dr Marlene Siegel

Proud to be Alyssa’s mom



Creating a Historical Fiction

Demi and the Dolphins a lesson in ecology began as a homeschool project for my sister Demi and I.  It was fun (well not really at the time) and challenging (that’s an understatement) to create the story around dolphin facts.  Here are some examples:

  1. Echo Location. Dolphins can differentiate a nickel from a dime from 20 feet away.  In the story, a group of dolphins are going to rescue their friends from a tuna fishing net.  They use echo location to find the latch and open it.
  2. Dolphins are very intelligent, they “learn and remember” so we depicted them as having “learned about fishing nets and latches” from playing with nets lost at sea.
  3. Dolphins can dive to a depth of 1600 feet, so in the story, Captain Demi has to escape a shark and finds a cave 1600 feet down.
  4. Dolphins were once land mammals.  You’ll have to read the book to find out how I learned to creatively incorporate these facts and many others into my story.

In addition to learning many facts about dolphins, the story offers a plethora of moral messages.

My mom and I hope you are as inspired by the story as we are.





Is Homeschooling Right For You: A Parent’s Perspective

Guest post by Dr. Marlene Siegel, Alyssa’s mom

“I can’t,” “this is too hard,” “you’re not helping me.” I heard these statements uttered in frustration by my daughter while she was doing homework from the time she was 6 years old, in kindergarten, all the way through high school. This is going to get easier, I kept teling myself. I’m going to have more patience and eventually she’ll like learning and catch on.  But it didn’t get easier, she didn’t grow to like learning, and she was falling through the cracks, not catching on.

I asked her teachers over and over, “is her homework supposed to be this hard?” It would take her 3-4 hours (and several melt downs) to complete homework assignments that her teachers assured me were 30 minute assignments. I worked with her every night, covering the material with her until she got the right answers. The problem seemed that every question was like starting over again new. Once she got a math concept, I would give her another problem exactly the same, just changing the name of the characters in the problem, and it was as if she never had seen the problem before. Her teachers didn’t seem concerned and placated my fears. Then – in the middle of second grade – she was tested for reading level, and the teachers finally “got it.” She tested a year behind in reading level.

Duh!  I had been telling them there was a problem for 2 1/2 years! I was not a stranger to the system. Alyssa’s vocabulary at 3 years old was small. I was concerned, but her doctor wasn’t. I finally refused to accept the doctor’s answers that “some children burst out in language and speak sentences; she’ll be fine,” and had her hearing and speech tested. At 3 years old she began speech therapy (that’s another story) that continued through her years in public school.

So now the system recognized she had a problem, and they scurried into action. Alyssa was assigned a reading specialist along with her speech pathologist. She was also given extra reading tutoring.

It helped some, but as third grade progressed, she became more and more a shadow in the class.  The teacher rattled off assignments but she didn’t understand them.  Instead of speaking up, she got quieter. I volunteered a lot in her class and observed that when she was in a group activity, she let the other kids do the assignment and simply followed along. The teacher totally missed the fact that she didn’t contribute. Not that Alyssa wouldn’t have wanted to contribute, but she was lost in understanding the task.

Third grade was ending, I saw her self esteem dwindling, and we learned that Alyssa’s entire support team was being changed. She was going to start 4th grade with a group of strangers who didn’t know her. Change was not her friend, and I saw her losing half of the year just adapting to new teachers. It spelled disaster to me. She couldn’t afford to lose any more ground or suffer more self esteem damage.

My younger daughter was beginning to have an equally difficult journey through school but for opposite reasons. She was not being challenged enough and was starting to have behavior problems.

I looked at private schools, but they were no better. As my options dwindled, homeschooling kept coming up. I worked full time, running my own veterinary hospital, and was on emergency call every night for the community. Could I make the time to teach the girls? After adding up the hours I volunteered in their classrooms, the hours I spent having lunch with them, the hours I spent helping with homework, and the hours I spent in teacher conferences fighting for their needs, homeschooling was going to save me a significant amount of time and energy!

So now you know “why” I did it, visit my blog and I’ll share with you “how” I did it.


CieAura Intrinsic Energy Convention

This past weekend, Oct 20-22 2011 I attended the CieAura national convention in Las Vegas with my family and Carol Mecum.  Carol is the illustrator of my book and our business partner in Cieaura, a company that specializes in intrinsic energy products. My mom, a veterinarian, uses these products on animals as well as people.

CieAura released the most amazing weight management program that compliments their existing line of intrinsic energy products.  No drugs or chemicals, safe and effective for all ages.  They now have solutions for sleep disorders, discomfort, electro magnetic interference, lack of energy, and sinus allergy relief.

In addition to learning a lot, I sold out of all the books I took.  I even sold books to strangers in the casino’s!  For more information on CieAura, visit cieaura.com/avi.  Purchaser were thrilled to get autographed copies from the author, co-author, and illustrator- how cool was that!


How It’s Made: Demi and the Dolphins, a children’s book

Writing this story was quite an experience.  It started as a home-school writing assignment for which I had to research facts about dolphins and then incorporate the facts into a fiction story. I was 10 years old, and it took 9 months to complete.  Every night my mom and I would sit down to work on the story. Throughout the writing process I would have meltdowns, complain I wasn’t getting any help, and whine that it was too hard to write. It seemed overwhelming to me.


I could not have written this book without my mom.   She would work with me every night, encouraging me to come up with new adjectives, verbs, and scenes to enhance the story. This story has taught me that no matter how challenging something may seem, if you focus and give it your all, anything is possible.

Being homeschooled enabled me to have many opportunities.  While competing with our Arabian horses, my family lived and traveled in a motorhome throughout most of the United States, exploring natural wonders and historic sites.  I never would have been able to have this lifestyle while going to a traditional school.


I struggled all through my years in traditional school.  I often felt lost, and it was easy to slip into the crowd unnoticed.  My mom realized I needed one-on-one attention and decided after I completed third grade that it was time to home-school my sister and me.  It has been the best experience!  When I have kids I definitely want them to be home-schooled.  I want their learning to be hands-on, not just out of a text book.  There is nothing cooler than to learn about an historic event and then go there to see it yourself.  I hope to give my kids the life I have had, plus more.


Our plans for “Demi and the Dolphins” are huge!  We have rewritten it into a children’s play and are talking with a local acting guild about performing it.  We hope to get it on Broadway someday!  We are also shooting to have it turned into an animated movie. The biggest news, however, is that I am working with my mom on a sequel, and this time it was my idea.  The story will feature some of the same characters, but it takes the twist of natural health in today’s society.  The natural health idea was inspired by my family’s passion for natural health and alternative medicine.  Having just completed my own certification in natural health, I will incorporate many messages into the story.


Demi and the Dolphins by Alyssa K. Harrell

Captain Demi is young, smart, and beautiful, but she is also stubborn and selfish. She comes from four generations of tuna fishermen. She is the youngest captain and the only female to have taken over the family business.

New laws governing tuna fishing with nets is making business difficult for her. Her family has been net fishing for generations, why should things have to change now? Demi doesn’t care if net fishing drowns dolphins; they are not how she makes her living.

Demi and her crew are anxious to finish their run and head home. They need a big catch and the quickest way to do that is with the illegal nets. Convinced it is okay to do as long as no one is around to catch her, Demi prepares to drop the nets on a school of tuna. She knows some dolphin will get caught as well and drown, but all she cares about is making money.

Demi is unaware that one of her crew is also a spy for the police, and he is watching her every move in order to catch her in the act of using illegal nets. An accident occurs that puts Demi’s life in peril. What happens next is magical, and becomes life changing for her.