Today Laura Wood’s Middle Grade novel Effie the Rebel is published. I talk to Laura about her writing and activism for young readers.
Effie is changing the world, one classroom at a time.
Dark forces are at work at Highworth Grange school: the student council has been taken over by a tyrannical villain with his own agenda. But Effie Kostas isn’t about to stand by and watch democracy crumble! She’s leading the resistance – but politics can be a dirty game and Effie will need to keep her wits about her as she faces down the enemy. With the help of her brilliant band of misfit friends, a bad-tempered parrot, and a former nemesis, can Effie save the school she loves before it’s too late?
Categories: Middle Grade, Environmental activism, Politics
Published by Scholastic
Tell us about your new book.
Effie the Rebel is a middle grade book about a young activist, determined to make a difference at her school and in her community. When the student council is taken over by Effie’s nemesis, a villain driven by self-interest, Effie realises it’s time to stop playing by the rules and take matters into her own hands. It’s funny and angry and full of hope and glitter glue.
How does climate change play into the plot?
Effie and her friends are trying to make their school more green: she organises a river clean up, a recycling programme, and starts a zine to discuss climate change and the difference they can make with her fellow students.
What kind of research did you do when writing it?
I researched young activists, zines, and advice for schools and communities about becoming more green – things like composting and local clean ups. There are so many people doing such amazing work out there and the research was actually really inspiring. When it came to Effie’s zine I found myself doing a lot of research into plastic use and I was shocked by some of the figures I found – for example that the average person eats 100 bits of microplastic in every meal.
What approach did you take to talking about complicated topics, either political or scientific, for younger readers?
I guess this links to the kind of research I was doing – looking at young activists who were in a similar situation to my readers, and trying to find brief, clear facts that would make my points with the biggest impact. Also, I think it was important for me to have a sense of hope underpinning all the conflict – a feeling that while things are bad, there is still the possibility of change.
What are some of your favourite books about climate change?
Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?
I suppose I started learning about the environment at school, and I remember always being very interested in that and feeling a sense of empowerment, I guess, that through actions like recycling I could make a difference – as a child that is a rare thing, to feel that you’re able to enact real change. But shamefully, I think it’s only much more recently that I’ve been really aware of and interested in environmental activism, and that truly is down to incredible young people like Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Autumn Peltier, and Amy and Ella Meek.
Why is it so important for you personally to see the environment discussed in fiction?
Because it is important. Climate change is not something that’s going away, and as a writer for young people in particular I think their fiction should help them to better understand and cope with difficult subjects like this one, particularly when it’s their future at stake.
Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?
There’s a silence that stretches between us for a moment. “Effie,” Iris breaks it finally. “If you’re going to be an activist then I’m afraid you’re going to come up against a lot of Matt Spaders. People who want to belittle you and the cause you’re fighting for. People who are afraid of change, or who have their own reasons for wanting things to stay the way they are.” She reaches out and squeezes my hand, just for a second. “Do you believe what you’re fighting for is right?”
“Yes,” I say quickly. “I think raising money for the river clean up is important. I think it’s exactly the sort of thing the school SHOULD get involved in as part of the community. We shouldn’t only be interested in what’s going on inside the school gates… that’s so narrow minded and selfish. And damage to the environment affects all of us anyway!”
“Well then,” Iris is brisk, “you’ve just got to keep fighting for it then, haven’t you? Where would we be if the suffragists just gave up when an obnoxious boy told them he didn’t like what they were doing?”
“STUPID PEANUT,” Lennon squawks.
“He IS a stupid peanut,” I agree, thinking over what Iris has said. Suddenly I find maybe I can manage a piece of cake after all, and I take a big squishy bite.
What message do you hope your young readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in environmental activism?
I hope they’ll find themselves feeling angry, but I also hope they’ll feel hopeful. I want them to know that they are taken seriously, and that they have autonomy and power of their own, that we adults are listening, and we want to hear what they have to say. I hope they’ll find a way to be more involved in environmental activism that they are passionate and excited about, but also that it will encourage them to realise that even the smallest actions can make a difference.
Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and the author of the ‘Poppy Pym’ and ‘Vote for Effie’ middle-grade series and YA novels, A Sky Painted Gold and Under a Dancing Star.
She loves Georgette Heyer novels, Fred Astaire films, travelling to far flung places, recipe books, Jilly Cooper, poetry, cosy woollen jumpers, Edith Nesbit, crisp autumn leaves, Jack Gilbert, new stationery, sensation fiction, salted caramel, feminism, Rufus Sewell’s cheek-bones, dogs, and drinking lashings of ginger beer.