Alumnae write, illustrate children’s book for shark lovers

Book signing for ‘Koli’s Birthday Adventure’ at Barnes & Noble @ RIT at Park Point on Dec. 23

Rochester Institute of Technology alumna and self-described “shark whisperer” Tamra Werner shares her love for the ocean in her debut children’s book, Koli’s Birthday Adventure: Koli the Great White Shark.

The factually based story unfolds with the birth of Koli, a great white “pup,” and the lessons he must learn to survive. Even great white sharks are vulnerable when young and must discover what is safe to eat and where not to venture while they are small. Koli is intended for children ages 3 to 10, or for any shark lover. A book signing will be held at Barnes & Noble @ RIT, 100 Park Point Drive, from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 23.

“I’m thrilled that Koli is swimming into the hearts of so many readers,” said Werner, director of alumni relations for RIT’s colleges of Science and Health Sciences and Technology. “It gives me inspiration to write his sequel and create other endearing marine life characters for children to love and learn from.”

Werner graduated from RIT in 1991 with a BS in applied arts and sciences. When searching for an illustrator, she decided to tap RIT talent and hired Ann McFee, a 2015 alumna with a BFA in medical illustration. McFee, who works as a medical illustrator and animator in Boston, depicted Koli’s world and a separate section dedicated to shark facts called “All about Koli.”

Werner has been up close and personal with sharks on two separate occasions. She swam beside a juvenile scalloped hammer head shark in a Florida aquarium and was awed by the experience. Later, while vacationing in St. Croix, she trailed behind a lemon shark in the Caribbean Sea. The swim ended abruptly when the shark turned to face her head on.

Koli swam into Werner’s imagination nearly 12 years ago as the hero of her children’s bedtime stories. The baby shark was inspired by a stuffed shark puppet brought home from a family vacation. Through Koli, Werner discovered her talent for storytelling to her select audience of three: her now-adult children, Natalie and Jacob; and her 8-year-old son Kai. (Whose name means “ocean,” Werner points out.) Now she is seeking a wider audience for Koli. Werner has a mission to educate children about the predatory fish that is roundly feared and often demonized.

“My genre is the ocean, and I’m sticking with it,” she said.

Werner hung her story on a framework of science and realistic depictions of sharks, with the exception of Koli’s overly large and friendly eyes. His soft gaze was a concession to her target audience and designed to boost Koli’s kid appeal.

With advice from booksellers at Barnes & Noble @ RIT, Werner self-published Koli’s Birthday Adventure: Koli the Great White Shark with IngramSpark, an independent-publishing platform owned by Ingram Book Group, one of the largest book distributors in the United States. Koli is available online in hardcover and paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and 250 other websites in the United States and internationally. Limited quantities are available on the shelves at Barnes & Noble @ RIT at Park Point Drive.

Barnes and Noble featured Koli’s Birthday Adventure in a Facebook ad. Though numbers fluctuate, Amazon’s sales rankings listed Koli as Nos. 152 and 156 in the children’s science books genres focusing on water and ocean and seas, respectively. Koli is also in the top 200 ocean science non-fiction and top 300 animal and fish fictional books.

For more information about Koli’s Birthday Adventure, go to Werner’s Facebook page at


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