John Lacey talks about Hope Jones

Give me Hope, Jones.

Bijal Vachharajani talks to Josh Lacey about his Hope Jones Middle Grade series.

When I was studying climate change in Costa Rica, one of the things that stuck with me amidst all the doom and gloom we knew to expect, was that hope is what keeps the world spinning. Because without hope, how do we go on in a world that’s seeing relentless heat waves, unpredictable weather conditions, and making us all crankier? After all it is that feeling which drives human beings to find solutions, to dream big, and to aspire for change (not the climate kind).

It’s something that as an eternal climate worrier, I underscore my books with. My middle grade novel, A Cloud Called Bhura: Climate Champions to the Rescue, is about a group of teenagers who take on a brown (Bhura is brown in Hindi) cloud of pollution that has taken over their city and they do it with so much panache and grit. My non-fiction book, So You Want to Know About the Environment offers tangible actions for young readers, and to my utter surprise, many have actually filled pages and pages of the book. These books are based on my work with children, and I always come back with the feeling that they care, and in a very intense way that demands attention from us groan-ups.

Which is why I was thrilled when Josh Lacey’s Hope Jones Clears the Air came my way, right after reading Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat. Illustrated by Beatrice Castro, the middle grade book is part of a series where the eponymous ten-year-old announces that she is going to save the world (That is also the name of the first book in the series, Hope Jones Saves the World). And she does in her own kickass way. Hope Jones is pretty much the sum of all the young people and children out there who are advocating for a cleaner future, who are refusing to settle for a status quo, and who are taking small and big steps to combat the climate crisis. I caught up with the author over email, and found out more about this cool Hope Jones who gives us all reason to believe in a better future.

So how did the Hope Jones series start? And of course, the story behind the name. 

I had been trying to write a book about climate change for some time, but my efforts weren’t succeeding. Eventually I realised the problem: I was writing about my own feelings, which are mostly pessimistic, and so my drafts were too depressing, especially for children, my intended audience. And then, somehow, a girl strode into the story, and grabbed it, and demanded to tell it herself. I started writing again, this time in the first person. The girl announced her name was Hope, and her character followed from her name: she was forward-looking, passionate, determined, and full of optimism.  

That explains the character’s first name. I think her second name comes from two very strong fictional characters, Indiana Jones and Halo Jones, no relation to one another, let alone Hope Jones. (If you haven’t come across Halo Jones, she’s the protagonist of a brilliant comic strip originally published in 2000AD. Highly recommended.) 

‘You couldn’t possibly stop pollution,’ Mum said. ‘It’s everywhere!’ ‘I can try,’ I said. – to me this was such a great example of some of the underlying stories in your books – that no one is too small to make a difference, that no one is just ordinary when it comes to the environment, and that doing something is better than nothing. Tell us more! 

I think you’ve summed it up perfectly! I don’t know what else to say, really. I suppose my books always put the child at the centre of the story, whether that’s defeating a tyrannical ruler (A Dog Called Grk) or dealing with a mischievous pet (The Dragonsitter). When writing about climate change, I wanted to describe how children can make a difference in very ordinary and everyday ways: using a bike rather than a car, for instance, or boycotting plastic. 

What made you decide to use the blog-illustration-list-letters format for this book?

Having written the Dragonsitter books in emails, I knew that I wanted to use something similar: a first-person format, which allowed me to use a child’s voice to tell the story. A blog had the additional benefit of suiting the subject matter perfectly, because Hope has a message which she wants to tell us.

What I love about your books is the threading of facts with fiction. What is the kind of research you do when writing this series, is it hard blending facts with fiction? 

Thank you! When I wrote these books, I spent a lot of time on research, mostly reading books and articles, and chatting to people. I did find it very difficult to merge factual information with the demands of a narrative. It was also hard to put facts and figures into the blog in Hope’s voice, rather than my own. The format certainly helped a lot, because I could use tables, pie charts, spreadsheets, etc., which was fun. 

How did you zone into the topics for your books – plastic, meat and now pollution? 

They’re issues that I care about myself, and areas of our lives that we can all change, however young (or old) we might be. We can all decide to have a jacket potato rather than a beef burger, or choose not to use an extra plastic bag. Children may not have the power to make many of the decisions in their own lives, but they can have a strong and important impact on their parents’ decisions through discussion and argument. 

Could you share some reader reactions with us? Both children and adults. 

I haven’t had much chance to meet the readers of these books, because they’ve been published during lockdown. However, I have had some nice emails from readers. I’ve also been really delighted that lots of teachers have been in touch to say that they’ll be using the Hope Jones books as class readers, because they fit very well with topics that children are covering in schools at the moment. 

From fantasy worlds to really real world problems, tell us about this journey in your writing. 

Actually, I’ve always written stories which are set in the everyday world, although some of them have had some more fantastical or unusual elements. My first children’s book, A Dog Called Grk, was about a very ordinary boy who finds a dog in the street, and the adventures that follow. That story had political themes: the antagonist is a dictator who punishes dissent and locks up his enemies, including the dog’s owners. Other books in the Grk series touched on climate change and environmental activism. 

Has your writing brought about green changes in your life as well? Are you active like Hope Jones in climate activism? 

I have certainly changed my own behaviour because of my research and writing, yes, although I’m ashamed to admit that I am much less active than Hope. I have been on marches and written letters to my MP, but I haven’t transformed my life with anything like her passion and determination. 

What do you hope to see more of in climate fiction in children’s literature?

At the moment, there’s an amazing number of good children’s books with environmental themes, both fiction and non-fiction. It’s the adults who really need some schooling now.  

Is hopejonessavestheworld@gmail.com active, do you get mails on it?

I liked the idea of using a real email address, so yes, I have set this up, and I do check it often. I thought I might get one or two people writing to me, but I’ve actually been surprised by the number of messages. When I reply, I always make it clear that I’m writing as myself rather than Hope, because I would feel awkward impersonating her. 

Tell us about working with Beatriz Castro. 

Unfortunately, I haven’t actually met her (she lives in Spain and I live in the UK) and all our interactions have gone through the designer and editor at Andersen. But I’ve really enjoyed seeing her interpretations of my characters, and she’s brought her own vision and ideas to the story, which has been wonderful. I’m especially delighted by her illustrations for the third book, when Hope makes a trip to Amsterdam, and Beatriz has done some lovely drawings of that beautiful city with its bicycles, canals, and Van Goghs.   

Hope Jones isn’t going to stop here. What do we hope she will tackle next?

Ah, that’s a very good question, and I wish I knew the answer. 

You can find out more about the Hope Jones series here.

Josh Lacey is the author of many children’s books, including A Dog Called Grk and The Dragonsitter.

When Bijal Vachharajani is not reading a children’s book, she is writing or editing one. She has written A Cloud Called Bhura: Climate Champions to the Rescue, which won the Auther Children’s Book Award 2020, and So You Want to Know About the Environment, and has co-authored 10 Indian Champions Who Are Fighting to Save the Planet and The Great Indian Nature Trail with Uncle Bikky. Her picture books include P.S. What’s up with the climate?, What’s Neema Eating Today? and The Seed Savers. The former editor of Time Out Bengaluru, Bijal has worked with 350.org, Fairtrade and Sanctuary Asia. Senior Editor at Pratham Books, Bijal has a Masters in Environment Security and Peace, with a specialisation in climate change from the University for Peace.

The Arctic on Fire: A Nordic Perspective on Climate Fiction by Emmi Itäranta

As I am writing this in the early days of July 2021, Kevo weather station at the northernmost tip of Finland has just registered the second-hottest ever temperature measured in Finnish Lapland since records began, and the hottest in over a century. Sweden and Norway have (once again) seen some record-brushing temperatures for June; news coverage of devastating heat waves in the Pacific Northwest in the US and across Canada has been streaming onto our screens for weeks.

Meanwhile, the Finnish Meteorological Institute is forecasting a severe draught, unusual for the time of year.

Back in 2008 when I began working on my first novel Memory of Water, set in a dystopian future in Finnish Lapland, I played such imaginary scenarios in my head, wondering how far I could go with the world-building. Would readers find it too hard to believe in Arctic winters without snow or ice? Would it seem too far-fetched to portray water shortages in Finland, known for its lakes and freshwater resources? Would a sea level rise of 50 to 60 metres sound too extreme a scenario?

Turns out I need not have worried – not about the world-building, anyway, but rather about life imitating art.

Thirteen years on, it is now long established that the Arctic region is warming two to three times faster on average than the rest of the world. The impacts of this are far-reaching. According to current estimates, Arctic Ocean may be entirely free of ice during summer by 2050, a scenario which as recently as fifteen years ago would have seemed an exaggeration. Forest fires have become more prevalent; wildlife is suffering on the level of entire vast ecosystems; the traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples, such as the Sámi people in the Nordic countries, are under further threat after having already been compromised for centuries due to colonial practices.

It is not surprising, then, that climate change has found its way into Nordic literature. Like in the Anglo-American cultural sphere, speculative genres have been exploring environmental themes for decades, but climate fiction has only made something of a breakthrough into the mainstream in the past ten years.

As early as the 1970s, Norwegian author Knut Faldbakken depicted post-apocalyptic ecological scenarios in his duology Twilight Country and Sweetwater. These can be seen as predecessors to the novels of the perhaps most widely known and read Nordic climate fiction author today: Maja Lunde.

Lunde, also Norwegian, has reached worldwide success with her Climate Quartet – starting with The History of Bees. The upcoming fourth book explores environmental themes connected with human-made climate change. Her breakthrough novel, The History of Bees, focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder affecting bee populations and its impact on all other life on the planet.

Fewer readers may be aware that a Finnish writer, Johanna Sinisalo, beat Lunde to writing about Colony Collapse Disorder by a few years. Her novel The Blood of Angels, which came out in 2011, also has other parallels with Lunde’s book: both portray tensions and colliding world views between parents and children. Sinisalo chooses to use climate change as a backdrop and centre other ways in which humans manipulate and violate the environment, but the core thesis remains the same: insistence on seeing ourselves as separate from nature, rather than as part of it, is an act of self-destruction.

Sinisalo’s work can be seen as part of a continuum of a growing wave of Finnish climate fiction. To my knowledge, the earliest Finnish novel to directly use climate change as a major plot point was The Sands of Sarasvati by Risto Isomäki, first published in 2005. It depicts a group of scientists studying signs of a past flood of Biblical proportions around the world, and slowly builds up as an eco-thriller to reveal a future where the melting of the polar ice caps will inevitably cause a similar destruction.

By the 2010s, climate change had become a fairly frequent undercurrent in Finnish fiction, seen across different genres. The Healer by Antti Tuomainen is a crime story that would be at home on any Nordic noir shelf – save for the fact that instead of the present, it is set in a dystopian near future where climate change has turned Helsinki into a rainy, half-abandoned urban wilderness.

Published a few years later, Elina Hirvonen’s novel When Time Runs Out paints an insightful portrait of a troubled family in the late 2020s Finland. In it, the son of activist parents grows up to be a mass shooter whose motivations, anxieties and clinical depression are deeply linked with his climate grief.

Frequently, a future setting would be enough to label a novel as speculative; however, I hosted a virtual book club on When Time Runs Out a few years ago and asked the readers if anyone considered it a work of speculative fiction. Not a single person did. Climate crisis is no longer a far-future science fiction scenario. It is now our lived reality.

I am aware that my brief glance at Nordic climate fiction is somewhat biased towards Finnish books. This is simply because as a Finn, I am most familiar with what my own country has produced. Also, I have wished to keep the focus on novels that are available in English; the fact of the matter is that much climate (and, of course, other) fiction written in the Nordic languages remains untranslated.

This is the case for many Swedish climate-themed novels, such as Nattavaara by Thomas Engström and Margit Richtert, or Malmö Manhattan 1994-2024 by Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson. And while a number of Finnish climate novels have been published in English, there are many more I crave to see in translation, such as the European Union Prize for Literature winner Taivas (Heaven) by Piia Leino or Lupaus (Promise) by Emma Puikkonen, which explores parenthood in the face of climate crisis.

Furthermore, if Iceland and Denmark have produced a body of climate fiction to date, I have not been able to locate it (possibly because of translation issues, since I do not read either language). Philip K. Dick Award special citation winner, Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason has written about climate change, but mainly in nonfiction context in his Dreamland: A Self-help Manual for a Frightened Nation and On Time and Water.

It is clear nevertheless that climate fiction has carved a place for itself in the Nordics. Just as humans are not separate from nature, fiction is not separate from reality. It provides us with a very real space to explore what matters: our grief and fear and sense of loss, as well as our hope and dreams of what we can still save. Climate fiction from various parts of the world can support us in working together to cope with a change that may manifest differently at different locations, but will highlight the fact that all borders are, at the end of the day, artificial.

When our world is on fire, so must our writing be.

You can find out more about Memory of Water here.

Emmi Itäranta is a Finnish author of three award-winning novels. She has recently relocated to her native Finland after living 14 years in the UK. She writes fiction in Finnish and English, and often explores environmental themes and the relationship between humans and other species in her stories. Her debut novel Memory of Water has been translated into more than twenty languages, and a film adaptation shot during the pandemic is due to be released in 2021.

Climate Change in the News

The Mainstream Climate Change Movement Needs To Get More Creative [Teen Vogue]

Writing Climate Fiction with Lauren James, Bijal Vachharajani, Clara Hume, James Bradley – Youtube panel [Cymera Festival]

Climate Screenwriting Grant

Can fiction fight climate change? [Race to Zero]

Landmark £15 million woodland creation grant opens for applications [UK Government]

Petition to rewild national parks [UK]

High greenhouse gas emitters should pay for carbon they produce, says IMF [Guardian]

Jamie Mollart discusses Kings of a Dead World

League members Kate Kelly and Jamie Mollart discuss his new book, Kings of a Dead World, out now with Sandstone Books.

The Earth’s resources are dwindling. The solution is The Sleep: periods of hibernation imposed on those who remain with only a Janitor to watch over the sleepers. In the sleeping city, elderly Ben struggles with his limited waking time and the disease which is stealing his wife from him. Outside, lonely Janitor Peruzzi craves the family he never knew. Around them both, dissatisfaction is growing. The city is about to wake.

Kate: Kings of a Dead World gives a very powerful depiction of a world falling apart, both environmentally and sociologically. I was wondering what inspiration and resources you drew on when creating this world, for it was frighteningly vivid, and in light of current events worryingly convincing.

Jamie: All my stories brew over a period of time from things that are bubbling under in my head. I think this one originally stemmed from the concept of personal culpability. I work in advertising and it is something that I struggle with from a moral standpoint in relation to my concerns about the environment. As an industry we are in many ways directly responsible for consumerism; one of the biggest causes of damage to the world we share. 

We live in a throwaway culture and the thought that we have a ticking clock in which to undo the damage we’ve caused is a key theme in the book. I really wanted to explore this idea of the individual impact on a larger whole. This is one of the reasons I started playing with the idea of enforced restrictions and having a set of characters in the novel who seemingly have no-one to be responsible to. 

I was also interested in what human beings are capable of if there’s no checks and measures – something which it could be argued technological advances have enabled us to do as a society as a whole.

I did a lot of research into environmental issues, climate change, politics and revolutionaries such as the Baader Meinhof group and then pulled my visual prompts together into this Pinterest board.

All of this combined in my head and built up into the world I’ve portrayed. Rereading it during the editing process made me realise how horribly pertinent it is. The empty streets, the way we spend time, separation from our families, being faced with the impact we’ve had on the world. While I was writing the book it was ostensibly a work of dystopian fantasy, but now it seems eerily prophetic.

Kate: That’s fascinating. I did wonder if your revolutionaries were based on such groups as Baader Meinhof. Of course, when faced with crises such as those you describe, as well as those we are facing in the real world today, its is expected that those in power will come up with a solution. You describe the sea defences which have been built to defend cities like London from the rising seas, and I can see something similar having to be built in the not too distant future. But it is the solution the authorities in Kings of a Dead World come up with that is at once both fascinating and unsettling. The mere though of sleeping away most of the rest of your life makes me shudder. What was your inspiration for this?   

Jamie: The idea of The Sleep came from me trying to think of the most extreme and horribly pragmatic ways of solving the Climate Crisis we face. I began exploring how you could approach a solution to it if you were to ignore empathy and a concern for the human cost. And this was the furthest I could get and make it (hopefully) believable. 

The Sleep addresses the main problems that cause the continued Climate Crisis – consumerism, nationalism, the idea that the individual can’t have an impact, reliance on dwindling resources, population growth etc. So, if the only aim is to halt it, then The Sleep would work. It also came from the ability we have as a species to ignore something until it’s almost too late and then be forced to act in a way that is more urgent and knee jerk than it otherwise would have been.

The counter argument to all of this is that clearly, we can’t allow our species to be the collateral damage in solving the problem, which is where Andreas and his group come in. I wanted to present the two extremes of the argument, as this is central to the themes of the book – what happens to human beings when they’re pushed to their limits. The idea of what we’re capable of is interesting to me, and The Sleep and the NSF represent the furthest ends of the spectrum I could imagine around the core idea of providing a solution. 

The Sleep also gave me an opportunity to really explore time and how we choose to spend it, again at the extremes of this. How do we react if our time is extremely limited and how do we react if we have the opposite of that and nothing to constructively fill it?

Once I settled on the idea, I found it a really exciting concept to play with as it opened up so many possibilities for me as a writer to delve into and let’s face it, people with their backs to the wall are always interesting for us as novelists.

Kate: Well these characters certainly do have their backs against the wall. And yet, despite what they are going through at the heart of everything is an incredibly powerful and poignant love story. 

Jamie: That was always my intention so I’m glad it came across to you that way. There is so much horror in the story that I wanted a real human core. And with one of the main themes being use of time it was really important that the character who experiences the lack of time has a truly compelling reason to make the most of it. 

The relationship between Ben and Rose, one of love and support, needed to be a direct contrast to the loneliness that Peruzzi experiences. It needed to represent everything he is lacking and the cause of his turmoil.

I also wanted to discuss love and companionship as the centre of the human experience and how even in the most terrible of circumstances it remains as a key motivation for us as a species, and possibly even more so. 

Love, whether platonic or romantic (and I tried to get both in), is absolutely integral to the way we experience the world. Looking at everything through the prism of love adds poignancy to every story and enables us as writers to make a human connection with readers that wouldn’t be possible if we concentrate solely on events and not reactions to them.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but in the context of what is discussed in terms of human culpability, I wanted to highlight the idea that human beings are capable of both love and terrible things. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s this duality which is key to our species and what makes characters interesting and hopefully believable.

Kate: Oh I agree. It is that duality which makes your characters so interesting. Nobody is pure good or pure evil and it is Ben’s great love and loyalty to Rose that gives his character so much depth, despite all the terrible things he has done. But what I found most moving about their relationship was Rose’s illness. Dementia is something that touches all of us at some point in our lives, either through family or friends and I felt you handled a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity.

Jamie: It was something that I felt really needed to be handled with dignity and sensitivity. Her illness is the main reason Ben needs to value every second they have,  and which makes the fact that their time is limited by The Sleep more poignant. It’s a disease that has affected me personally, as my Gran and my wife’s Gran both suffered with it, so I understand how cruel it is and the way in which it can feel as if it is stealing a person from you. 

It’s a disease that is sadly becoming more prevalent and the manner in which it acts is so quick and relentless. I wanted Rose to face it with a sense of dignity, but also to be realistic about the way it manifests. I did a lot of reading around the subject and was particularly influenced by Wendy Mitchell’s incredible memoir ‘Somebody I used to know’. The way in which she describes her fight against the desire is both disturbing and inspirational. 

Thematically it worked for me as well. Rose is drifting away from Ben and there’s nothing either of them can do about it. This sense of helplessness and the impact of something they have no control over mirrors The Sleep and I wanted to bring this tragedy to the front in the way I talked about their situation. 

Kate: You mention human culpability and we do indeed have to accept our responsibility to our planet. After all, the current climate crisis is very much down to our own actions and the throwaway society we have become. What message do you hope your readers will take away from Kings of a Dead World?

Jamie: Culpability is absolutely at the heart of the story. For Ben and Rose it is about confronting the past as well as dealing with the present they live in, and without giving too much away, also in the way in which Ben tries to resolve things. It’s central to Peruzzi’s relationship with the city, The Sleepers, his relationship with Slattery and the way in which their actions escalate. The novel explores the effect of the individual on society and the balancing of our personal behaviour and beliefs with the needs the world as a whole.

I don’t want to get preachy here because it’s not a polemic, but it does come from my own personal preoccupations around environmental issues and consumerism. In my research I read very heavily around Climate Change and this has led to some quite extensive changes to the way we live as a family. Jonathan Safron Foer’s ‘Eating Animals‘ was instrumental in us moving to a plant-based lifestyle and we generate heat for our house using an air source heat pump rather than using gas. If you read Greta Thunberg’s ‘No-one is too small to make a difference‘ she makes the case for personal culpability far more simply and elegantly than I ever could.

Literature, especially speculative fiction, to me, should always prompt thought and discussion. And if anyone reading Kings of a Dead World spends any time thinking about the individual effect they can have on their society and environment then I will have done what I set out to achieve. Of course, I want them to have a good time along the way; I wanted to write a pacey, scary, exciting novel with some big ideas tucked away in the words. Whether I managed to do that isn’t for me to say!

Jamie Mollart runs his own advertising company, and has won awards for marketing. Over the years he has been widely published in magazines, been a guest on some well-respected podcasts and blogs, and Patrick Neate called him ‘quite a writer’ on the Book Slam podcast. He is married and lives in Leicestershire with his family. His debut novel, The Zoo, was on the Amazon Rising Stars 2015 list. His second novel, Kings of a Dead World is out now.

Teaching Resource for The Last Wild

Marina Ekkel has prepared 6 worksheets for The Last Wild by Piers Torday, downloadable in PDF.

A disease called the ‘red eye’ has caused all animals to begin to fade into extinction. A single corporation runs the world, and is bent on confining the human population to cities. And twelve year old Kester Jaynes cannot speak (at least to humans).

Forced away from his family, Kester is locked away in a facility for troubled youth. There he discovers that he can speak, but only to animals. With the help of a flock of pigeons and a cockroach, Kester escapes the facility.

The animals bring him to their group in the wild and implore Kester to help them find a cure for the red eye. Kester agrees to help and begins a journey to find his missing father (a famous veterinarian) and a cure for the red eye.

The Last Wild is a fast paced adventure novel that deals with themes such as friendship, promise keeping, corporate power, and animal endangerment. The book is recommended for year 5 and year 6, but could be read by advanced readers in year 4. All worksheets and exercises are based on the U.K year 5 and year 6 curriculum. There are 6 worksheets in total each reflecting a different part (or chapter) of the book. Please adjust as you see fit for your own classroom.

Happy Teaching!

Worksheet 1 – Reading Comprehension exercise [PDF download]

Worksheet 2 – The Wolves [PDF download]

Worksheet 3 – The Red Eye [PDF download]

Worksheet 4 – Friendship and Promise Keeping [PDF download]

Worksheet 5 – Foraging [PDF download]

Worksheet 6 – The Stag [PDF download]

You can find other teaching resources created for our authors’ books here, including a water use quiz based around The Memory of Water and a discussion guide on science and politics in The Stone Weta.

Using bat illustrations to write about big issues for young children by Emma Reynolds

Picture books are powerful – they are often human’s first experiences of stories, and as such they have the power to literally shape who we are, and we carry these stories and messages into adulthood.

They are also a chance for bonding between a child and their adult, often read at bedtime snuggled up together wrapped in each other’s arms – no safer feeling in the world.

I vividly remember my favourite books that have stayed with me from early childhood.

A story about ‘Ruby’ by Maggie Glen, a bear that comes out of the factory with mis-matched fur and ears and is accidentally still stocked in the shop – but a little girl chooses her anyway. ‘Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’ by Dave McKee who one day just wants to fit in but finds value in being his true unique self. I haven’t re-read these books in over 25 years but the illustrations and their messages about acceptance of our differences and choosing kindness have stayed with me always. Picture books can inspire generations.

And so, growing up – Stories about being different and often the underdog while still being kind have especially stayed with me. And this is partly why I chose to write a book about bats. Almost everyone knows that Bats are one of the most persecuted and misunderstood animals on the planet, but it’s not common knowledge that bats are vital species that are crucial to life on earth. Despite their importance, books about bats are rare, especially children’s books.  So, thinking about bats that I’ve loved since I was a kid – I knew I had a chance here to share the truth about bats, build empathy through a sweet and relatable story, and hopefully make a difference.

Amara and the Bats’ is a picture book all about a little girl called Amara who LOVES bats. Her favourite past time is collecting and bat facts in her note book, and watching the bats with her family in the park. But when they move house to a new town, she is sad to find there are no bats living there anymore due to habitat loss. So, inspired by real life youth activists such as Tokata Iron Eyes, Dara McAnulty and Greta Thunberg, she rallies her new friends and her community to save the bats! It’s a story all about bat conservation, community action and hope.

The habitat loss and creeping urbanisation in Amara’s new town is inspired by Manchester where I live, where luxury flats are being built on every last patch of green in the city centre. The story examines these feelings as Amara feels the pressure and dread of climate anxiety – All children and adults know that feeling of helplessness against something so big, and I wanted to show the emotional toll this takes on Amara, before she becomes inspired by real life youth climate activists to try and make a difference in her community.

I wanted to tell an engaging narrative driven story and share bat facts at the same time, which encourages the reader to see how amazing (and cute!) bats really are, and exactly why they’re vital to all life on earth through highlighting their roles in ecosystems. I show through accessible illustrations bat’s roles as keystone species seed dispersers, plant pollinators, and as earth’s natural bug repellents – eating crop destroying insects and mosquitos. Did you know that bats pollinate 70% of the tropical fruit that humans eat and that we wouldn’t have fruit like bananas without them? Or tequila? Bats save farmers billions of dollars a year in pesticides, because bats eat the insects that would otherwise destroy their crops. When humans let bats do their thing and encourage them, we all thrive.

When thinking about empathy for bats which are often feared, it was important to approach this from two angles. One, was to bust the untrue and harmful myths about bats that stoke this misplaced human fear. The other, was to visually show bats in an engaging and appealing way through my illustrations, and making sure to show bats up close – something many people are unfamiliar with.

Most people outside of tropical climates haven’t seen their local bat up close, (Looking at you Australians and your ability to see your big fruit bats!). There are over 1,400 species of bats living all over the world except for the arctic regions. Of this number, around 1,200 are microbats like Amara encounters, and only 200 species are megabats AKA fruit bats which only live in tropical regions. But, most people are more likely to have encountered a fruit bat at a zoo (I recommend the bat tunnel at Chester Zoo for this – a conservation focused Zoo with the aim of preventing extinction of species) than their local, smaller microbat.

So, knowing most bats in the world are microbats, I wanted to give readers a chance to see an example of the type of bat that they are most likely to encounter in the world flying above them looks like. It was a chance to show people how cute bats are both up close and in flight in the illustrations. A chance to share awareness and celebrate that that they have these cute fuzzballs living right on their doorstep, and that they can see them flying above them if they know where and when to look! In the UK, we have 17 species of microbats that breed here – and in the US there are nearly 50 species – fascinating! All these species look different (but they share similarities – small, brown, white or grey fur, with varying faces wings and ears), and so the bat I chose to depict that Amara sees up close is loosely based on a Noctule/Brown Bat – species commonly found in the UK and US.

(And worry not! Fruit bats make an appearance in the book too.)

Joining your local bat group is one of the best ways to experience bats – as you’ll be walking in great bat watching spots with experts listening on a bat detector for their calls, and you’ll learn to identify the different species. The first bat I saw ‘in the hand’ was a Noctule on a licensed bat box check with my bat group, and I fell in love!

Bat workers often recount how they got hooked on bat work after they saw a bat up close – to see such elusive mammals up close which are usually flitting by quickly at night really is incredible, and this experience is something I wanted to reflect in the book. Amara first feels an acute connection to bats after a bat becomes trapped in her attic when she is little, and the wildlife rescue hold the bat very gently in a towel.

It was important to me that ‘Amara and the Bats’ has a human driven narrative around bat conservation, and (as far as I’m aware) it is the only book that does so. The reader can directly place themselves in Amara and her friend’s shoes as they navigate the challenges, and also be inspired to take similar positive human action for bat conservation. Bat facts are weaved in throughout the story, and there are practical guides including a guide to bat houses/boxes, a guide to making your garden/local space bat friendly, facts on multiple bat species included, and useful links to bat charities and organisations.

I hope my author-illustrator debut ‘Amara and the Bats’ inspires kids, builds empathy and understanding, and that it fills them with excitement to go bat watching! All ages can use the tools in this book to help bat conservation and save the bats! Helping the world’s only flying mammal thrive.

Amara and the Bats is out July 20th (US) and July 22nd in paperback (UK) and available to pre-order here.

Bat Conservation Trust – UK Bat Charity

Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation – The David Attenborough of bats.

Bat Conservation International – US Bat Charity

Austin Bridge Bats – US Tourist Site

Maid of Bats – One of my favourite microbat carer accounts.

Emma Reynolds is an illustrator and author based in Manchester, UK.
Her debut author-illustrator picture book ‘Amara and the Bats’ is out July 20th 2021 with Atheneum – Simon & Schuster. Emma started the #KidLit4Climate illustrated campaign, bringing together over 3,000 children’s illustrators and authors from over 50 countries in solidarity with the youth climate strikes. She is inspired by nature, animals, adventure, and seeing the magic in the everyday.

Picture books are powerful – they are often human’s first experiences of stories, and as such they have the power to literally shape who we are, and we carry these stories and messages into adulthood.

They are also a chance for bonding between a child and their adult, often read at bedtime snuggled up together wrapped in each other’s arms – no safer feeling in the world.

I vividly remember my favourite books that have stayed with me from early childhood.

A story about ‘Ruby’ by Maggie Glen, a bear that comes out of the factory with mis-matched fur and ears and is accidentally still stocked in the shop – but a little girl chooses her anyway. ‘Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’ by Dave McKee who one day just wants to fit in but finds value in being his true unique self. I haven’t re-read these books in over 25 years but the illustrations and their messages about acceptance of our differences and choosing kindness have stayed with me always. Picture books can inspire generations.

And so, growing up – Stories about being different and often the underdog while still being kind have especially stayed with me. And this is partly why I chose to write a book about bats. Almost everyone knows that Bats are one of the most persecuted and misunderstood animals on the planet, but it’s not common knowledge that bats are vital species that are crucial to life on earth. Despite their importance, books about bats are rare, especially children’s books.  So, thinking about bats that I’ve loved since I was a kid – I knew I had a chance here to share the truth about bats, build empathy through a sweet and relatable story, and hopefully make a difference.

Amara and the Bats’ is a picture book all about a little girl called Amara who LOVES bats. Her favourite past time is collecting and bat facts in her note book, and watching the bats with her family in the park. But when they move house to a new town, she is sad to find there are no bats living there anymore due to habitat loss. So, inspired by real life youth activists such as Tokata Iron Eyes, Dara McAnulty and Greta Thunberg, she rallies her new friends and her community to save the bats! It’s a story all about bat conservation, community action and hope.

The habitat loss and creeping urbanisation in Amara’s new town is inspired by Manchester where I live, where luxury flats are being built on every last patch of green in the city centre. The story examines these feelings as Amara feels the pressure and dread of climate anxiety – All children and adults know that feeling of helplessness against something so big, and I wanted to show the emotional toll this takes on Amara, before she becomes inspired by real life youth climate activists to try and make a difference in her community.

I wanted to tell an engaging narrative driven story and share bat facts at the same time, which encourages the reader to see how amazing (and cute!) bats really are, and exactly why they’re vital to all life on earth through highlighting their roles in ecosystems. I show through accessible illustrations bat’s roles as keystone species seed dispersers, plant pollinators, and as earth’s natural bug repellents – eating crop destroying insects and mosquitos. Did you know that bats pollinate 70% of the tropical fruit that humans eat and that we wouldn’t have fruit like bananas without them? Or tequila? Bats save farmers billions of dollars a year in pesticides, because bats eat the insects that would otherwise destroy their crops. When humans let bats do their thing and encourage them, we all thrive.

When thinking about empathy for bats which are often feared, it was important to approach this from two angles. One, was to bust the untrue and harmful myths about bats that stoke this misplaced human fear. The other, was to visually show bats in an engaging and appealing way through my illustrations, and making sure to show bats up close – something many people are unfamiliar with.

Most people outside of tropical climates haven’t seen their local bat up close, (Looking at you Australians and your ability to see your big fruit bats!). There are over 1,400 species of bats living all over the world except for the arctic regions. Of this number, around 1,200 are microbats like Amara encounters, and only 200 species are megabats AKA fruit bats which only live in tropical regions. But, most people are more likely to have encountered a fruit bat at a zoo (I recommend the bat tunnel at Chester Zoo for this – a conservation focused Zoo with the aim of preventing extinction of species) than their local, smaller microbat.

So, knowing most bats in the world are microbats, I wanted to give readers a chance to see an example of the type of bat that they are most likely to encounter in the world flying above them looks like. It was a chance to show people how cute bats are both up close and in flight in the illustrations. A chance to share awareness and celebrate that that they have these cute fuzzballs living right on their doorstep, and that they can see them flying above them if they know where and when to look! In the UK, we have 17 species of microbats that breed here – and in the US there are nearly 50 species – fascinating! All these species look different (but they share similarities – small, brown, white or grey fur, with varying faces wings and ears), and so the bat I chose to depict that Amara sees up close is loosely based on a Noctule/Brown Bat – species commonly found in the UK and US.

(And worry not! Fruit bats make an appearance in the book too.)

Joining your local bat group is one of the best ways to experience bats – as you’ll be walking in great bat watching spots with experts listening on a bat detector for their calls, and you’ll learn to identify the different species. The first bat I saw ‘in the hand’ was a Noctule on a licensed bat box check with my bat group, and I fell in love!

Bat workers often recount how they got hooked on bat work after they saw a bat up close – to see such elusive mammals up close which are usually flitting by quickly at night really is incredible, and this experience is something I wanted to reflect in the book. Amara first feels an acute connection to bats after a bat becomes trapped in her attic when she is little, and the wildlife rescue hold the bat very gently in a towel.

It was important to me that ‘Amara and the Bats’ has a human driven narrative around bat conservation, and (as far as I’m aware) it is the only book that does so. The reader can directly place themselves in Amara and her friend’s shoes as they navigate the challenges, and also be inspired to take similar positive human action for bat conservation. Bat facts are weaved in throughout the story, and there are practical guides including a guide to bat houses/boxes, a guide to making your garden/local space bat friendly, facts on multiple bat species included, and useful links to bat charities and organisations.

I hope my author-illustrator debut ‘Amara and the Bats’ inspires kids, builds empathy and understanding, and that it fills them with excitement to go bat watching! All ages can use the tools in this book to help bat conservation and save the bats! Helping the world’s only flying mammal thrive.

Amara and the Bats is out July 20th (US) and July 22nd in paperback (UK) and available to pre-order here.

Bat Conservation Trust – UK Bat Charity

Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation – The David Attenborough of bats.

Bat Conservation International – US Bat Charity

Austin Bridge Bats – US Tourist Site

Maid of Bats – One of my favourite microbat carer accounts.

Emma Reynolds is an illustrator and author based in Manchester, UK.
Her debut author-illustrator picture book ‘Amara and the Bats’ is out July 20th 2021 with Atheneum – Simon & Schuster. Emma started the #KidLit4Climate illustrated campaign, bringing together over 3,000 children’s illustrators and authors from over 50 countries in solidarity with the youth climate strikes. She is inspired by nature, animals, adventure, and seeing the magic in the everyday.


Marissa Slaven and Michael Muntisov discuss their new thrillers

Two of our members, Marissa Slaven and Michael Muntisov, have both written about a near-future world suffering the effects of climate change. Even though Marissa lives in Canada and Mike in Australia, they were able to catch up over Zoom to talk about their books. Here’s an extract from their conversation.

MARISSA: You know, as I read your book, I had to smile whenever I came across some of the same details in your climate-changed world as mine.

MIKE: Me too! It felt like we had written companion pieces set at the same time but in different parts of America for slightly different audiences.

MARISSA: We should back up a bit. Why don’t you go first and give us a summary of your novel’s story.

MIKE: Okay. Court of the Grandchildren is set in 2050’s America. The climate is ruined and now the young want the old to pay.

The underlying story follows the journeys of the two main characters, 29-year-old Lily and 96-year-old David.

David has been called to appear before the Climate Court to judge whether his decisions of today bear any responsibility for the climate situation of this 2050’s world. That’s the climate part of the story. Artificial intelligence features as a major theme as well.

What about your story?

MARISSA: Code Blue is also set in the not-too-distant future where rising temperatures and sea levels have dramatically reshaped the planet. I wanted to write a book where the hero was a young woman who used her intelligence to save the world. I created 16-year-old Atlantic “Tic”.

She’s empathetic, hardworking and impulsive. She attends a boarding school whose focus is climate science. While there she discovers that her father’s death at sea doing research may be more complicated than it seemed. Not only that but her own research project suggests that life on Earth might be more precarious than anyone suspects.

But the main thing for me was having a young woman as the hero and taking the fight to climate change. That was the core of my idea. What about yours for Court of the Grandchildren?

MIKE: My motivation came from my failure to make any headway on the climate agenda through the use of science and information. So instead, I decided to tell a story which draws on emotions; one where interesting twists and turns are possible thanks to the potential of technology, especially artificial intelligence.

MARISSA: Yeah, there were quite a few twists I wasn’t expecting.

MIKE: Oh good! I’m glad you were surprised. And I have to say the clever way you started each of Code Blue’s chapters took me by surprise. Was there anything that surprised you about Code Blue?

MARISSA: I was very surprised to learn from my publisher that I had used the “F” word 13 times in Code Blue as I never ever swear in real life. I was also shocked when I did a podcast interview and the interviewer told me that Code Blue reminded him of the Harry Potter books. I quite literally didn’t know what to say!

MIKE: That’s quite a compliment!

MARISSA:   In Court of the Grandchildren, the reader is on edge as the judgment of your David character approaches. Have you given any thought as to how your children/grandchildren might judge you?

MIKE: My goal is to do the best that I can on climate action. That means leveraging my strengths to influence as many people and policies as possible. I think (fingers crossed) that my children and grandchildren will recognize that.

MARISSA: I hope my kids think the same of me.

MIKE: Which raises the question: “What does success look like for your book?”

Both of us independently answered that question in preparing for this conversation. I was bemused by our answers.

MARISSA: You said Court of the Grandchildren would be a success if it got in front of one thousand people and changed ten. That’s a low bar isn’t it?

MIKE: Wait on! You said 423 sales for Code Blue!

MARISSA: I suppose neither of us is very ambitious.

MIKE: Okay, well let’s multiply those numbers by ten! In any case, I think we recognise that influencing even a small number of people can make a difference.

MARISSA: I agree!

So, who do you most want to read Court of the Grandchildren?

MIKE: The people who won’t!

How about yours?

MARISSA: Hmmm….Oprah? Reese Witherspoon? I would be so happy for anyone to read and enjoy Code Blue. I think it does lend itself well to readers of all ages and especially people who might not know a lot about the climate crisis already.

MIKE: Reese Witherspoon…could she feature in a movie version of Code Blue?

MARISSA: Actually, I’ve thought quite a bit about that. I would love to see Lana Condor as Tic, Drew Barrymore as her mother, Harrison Ford as Uncle Al and Jude Law as Chris.

What about Court of the Grandchildren – the movie?

MIKE: Oh…I would probably cast Soairse Ronan as the 29-year-old Lily battling through an impossible dilemma. And for the aging former bureaucrat, David – there are quite a few candidates – Anthony Hopkins, Donald Sutherland, Alan Arkin, just to name a few.

MARISSA: Tell me what’s next for you after Court of the Grandchildren.

MIKE: Court of the Grandchildren doesn’t stop with the novel. I wrote a stage adaptation and, okay it’s not a movie, but The Magnetic Theatre in North Carolina performed a public virtual reading of the play this past April. They will perform it on stage in their 2022 season. I also maintain a website dedicated to the novel’s themes.

What are your plans?

MARISSA:  Code Red, the sequel to Code Blue will be released in July.

MIKE: Wow! Two books coming out within months of each other. That’s impressive!

MARISSA: Thanks Mike, and best of luck with your play too. Or should I say “Break a Leg!”

Marissa Slaven was inspired by her daughter to write Code Blue, an eco-fiction thriller, where a teenage girl and her friends battle climate change. Marissa took courses at Humber college where she honed her writing skills. In the process of writing the novel, Marissa taught herself about the climate crisis. She became a passionate climate activist and continues to both write and try to do her part to make the world a more sustainable place for all living things. Marissa loves interacting with her readers and speaking with young people about the environment. She recently completed Code Red, the sequel to Code Blue, and is working on a screenplay account of her great-uncle’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War.

More about Marissa at her website: https://marissaslaven.com/

Mike’s professional expertise was in making drinking water safe. He was the editor of a non-fiction book on water treatment, sales proceeds of which were donated to Water Aid. After a global consulting career spanning 35 years, Mike finally got around to writing his first work of fiction, Court of the Grandchildren. Among Mike’s other interests are college basketball, film, and working with start-up entrepreneurs.

More about Mike at his website: https://courtofthegrandchildren.com/

Young activists – to be encouraged! by Anthea Simmons

I am really proud to have written a book about young activists. The young are all too often dismissed as naïve and ill-informed, when they are often quite the reverse. Clear-sighted and unburdened by the baggage of political bias or tribalism or the potential drag of adult experience, they see the world with an energy and freshness which is pretty much humanity’s greatest hope. Of course, fostering this spirit has to be tempered with measures to keep them safe and to manage their expectations of what can be achieved in their ideal and possibly overly-impatient timescales, but engagement is what this planet needs and it needs it right now. So here’s a guide you can share with your young pupils and friends.

Activism basically means getting off your backside and doing something to try to make a difference. Many campaigns fail, though, because there is no clear goal, no ask. It’s really vital to work out what the objective is. If the goal is too big or too vague or too complicated, it will be hard to achieve and, therefore, dispiriting. An example of a noble but vague goal would be “I want to save the planet”. It’s lovely, but it’s a little bit ambitious! It’s worth taking a leaf out of Greta’s book.

She wanted to raise awareness of the climate crisis and she did that very simply at first with her solo protest and hand-painted sign. Her protest developed into an effort to get the Swedish government to prioritise action on the climate crisis. She then came to symbolise the voice of young people across the globe, expressing the anger and frustration her generation feels at the slow progress being made to tackle the issue. As a result, she got access to the most powerful politicians in the world.

A more modest goal might be to try to change the mind of someone who thinks climate change is not that important Converting people to the cause is a good goal to have. The next step might be to get some positive action in the community…a commitment to cut food waste or plant trees or leave verges unsprayed and un-mowed, for example

Persuading people to change their minds or to move from indifference to engagement is how we achieve a change in social permission. Social permission theory basically says that when enough people think that doing something is no longer socially acceptable – like drinking and driving or racism – then pressure builds in society to sanction that behaviour so that it is no longer acceptable.

As a nation, we are fairly passive when it comes to protest and this government is trying to quell what comparatively little dissent there is via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which has the potential to prevent peaceful protest. Contrast us with the French or the Germans, where large scale protest at social injustice and climate emergency is relatively commonplace. My own view is that we need to change the social permission around protest and embrace it as an important part of our struggle to get the climate change agenda the priority status it absolutely deserves.

The climate cause also encourages engagement with the political system in other ways. Maybe the local council or MP don’t seem to be doing anything about the crisis. It is possible to find out how an MP votes on climate issues here. Just because young people are not old enough to vote does not mean they cannot write to their MP.

If an MP does not seem to be acting in the environment’s best interests, a school or a class could get a petition together and get as many friends, family and neighbours as possible to sign it, asking the MP or the local councillors to vote in favour of laws/regulations that help rather than damage the planet. Keep on and on at them and ask them to come and talk to the school to explain themselves! Some constituencies are lucky to be represented by a pro-planet MP. Ask them to come and speak, too!

Actual letters are better than emails. It is best if an adult also signs to say that they are a constituent of the MP (MPs need to care about their voters if they want to keep their power)

Other things young people can do:

  • Form a group or join an existing group. There may well be a club at school already. Come up with a catchy name. Twin with a climate group in another country.
  • Make climate news a regular feature in assembly. Individuals can volunteer to be the school researcher and reporter!
  • Make artworks or musical instruments out of rubbish. Hold a concert and an exhibition to raise awareness. Run recycling/upcycling clubs, sharing outgrown clothes, toys, dvds etc and have a fashion show from upcycled clothing.
  • Talk to the school about holding a climate emergency awareness event. Maybe the school would support a Fridays for Future demonstration.
  • Make some placards. There’s no need for anything fancy. A piece of cardboard cut from a box is enough, but make sure that writing can be read at a distance. Use a thick marker or a dark paint.
  • Make the message clear, simple and from the heart. IT’S OUR FUTURE! NO PLANET B Be the solution, not the pollution Clean up your mess! Rhymes work well, because people remember them. Usually, the rule of three is the best one to follow: three words: We need Change Climate Justice NOW Evidence over Ignorance. There’s just something about three words that humans really like!

If activists hold an event it’s important to maximise the impact by contacting the local press, the regional and national TV and radio stations. Take pictures and make a video, but be careful to check that all children and young people filmed or photographed have given permission for their images to be used. Also be sure to demonstrate somewhere where lots of people will see what’s going on but which is also safe. Don’t demonstrate on a narrow pavement near a busy road, for example. If setting up a demo or stall outside a shop, make sure the owners don’t mind and be sure not to block their entrance. In fact, always be careful not to block entrances or roads. Get parents’ permission and tell the police. Chances are they’ll join you! Borrow a loud hailer (from school or the local sports club?) so that any speeches can be heard clearly. Borrow a hop-up from a friendly builder.

It’s crucial to be ready with some words to say in the event of an interview. I always think “What do I want this person to remember?” This makes me really focus on the message and not go babbling on! The other good rule is to : tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them!

I make a habit of wearing a badge or a piece of clothing that shows I care about the climate. It can start a conversation and help to find people who feel the same way. Students could make their own badges or make a design on a plain canvas bag or T-shirt.

If we get the chance to go on a march again, here are some top tips. Backpack! Water, comfortable shoes, sun cream, energy bars. Take some information about your group or campaign to share with other people. Make a big banner with a sheet from a charity shop and get friends to help carry it. When people wear something funny or eye-catching, the press will be more likely to film them. Again, be ready to say something if asked!

Praise friends and community if they do a good job! Create an online newsletter/blog to keep everyone updated and keep posting on social media.

Write to the local newspaper and MP to tell them about achievements and milestones. We all need good news stories.

Good luck!

Find out more about Anthea Simmons’ book Burning Sunlight here.

Anthea Simmons lives in Devon with her polydactyl cat, Caramac. After a successful career in the City and a spell of teaching, she finally knuckled down to write at the insistence of her son, Henry. She is the author of Share, The Best Best Baby, I’m Big Now, Lightning Mary and Burning Sunlight. She is editor in chief for online citizen journalism paper, West Country Bylines, and campaigns on a range of issues including electoral reform and rejoining the EU.

Climate News

The Last Bear downloadable student teaching resource [Bloomsbury]

Mark Rylance: arts should tell ‘love stories’ about nature to tackle climate crisis [Guardian]

A bad month for fossil funds: What happened when the courts and shareholders lost patience with Big Oil [DivestWMPF]

The Environmental Implications of the Return to the Office

Biden Suspends Drilling Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [NY Times]

School climate strikers urge boycott of Science Museum show over Shell deal [Guardian] – Sign the petition here

League Member Octavia Cade talks about the environment in fiction [Spotify]

Rachel Griffin talks about YA The Nature of Witches

Rachel Griffin talks about her debut novel, out now with Sourcefire Books.

Tell us about your new book.

The Nature of Witches is a young adult contemporary fantasy set in a world where witches have long maintained the climate but are starting to lose control. It follows Clara Densmore, an Everwitch whose rare magic is tied to every season, and she is the only witch powerful enough to stabilize the collapsing atmosphere. But her magic is able to seek out and target the people she cares for most, and when she falls in love with a spring witch, she must choose between her magic that the world desperately needs and the boy that she’s come to love.

How does climate change play into the plot?

The world is suffering from more and more extreme weather events, which is the backdrop of this story. When I began to imagine if there really were witches who could control the climate, I realized that there would be people who used them and their magic as a resource, pushing the Earth further than it was ever intended to go. And at some point, the Earth was going to start pushing back. That set the stage for Clara’s story.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

Most of my research revolved around learning more about weather and the atmosphere. I read books and did a ton of research online, but the best thing I did was become a certified weather spotter for the National Weather Service! I took a class they were offering at my local airport, and it was all about recognizing weather patterns and signs that extreme weather may be on the way. It was such a great way to learn about something that has fascinated me my entire life, and I wove a lot of what I learned into the magic system in The Nature of Witches.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)

I read a lot of work that focuses on the wonder and awe of the natural world because I believe that by immersing ourselves in its magic, we become desperate to protect it. So from that end, I love the poems and essays of Mary Oliver, as well as Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

I’m currently making my way through All We Can Save, which is a fantastic collection of essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement.

And finally, I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m very excited for Joan He’s recent release, a young adult sci-fi novel called The Ones We’re Meant to Find about two sisters desperately trying to find each other in a climate-ravaged future.

Can you remember when your journey with climate activism started?

I have loved weather and nature since I was a little girl, and that fascination and awe followed me well into adulthood. I didn’t learn about the climate crisis until I was an adult, but I feel like my journey started years before then, as a little girl finding sanctuary in the trees and wonder in the storms.

Why is it so important for you personally to see climate change discussed in fiction?

Simply put, this is the only home that we have, and the Earth gives us so much. By including my love for the natural world in my book, I’m hoping that it inspires readers to want to give back to the Earth and protect it.

Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?

“I’ve had moments of despair and deep resentment. But then I stand outside and touch the earth, feel the magic in my fingertips, and understand that this is how it’s meant to be. The sun and stars conspired for me, and I am filled with gratitude.”

What message do you hope readers will take away from your work? What steps would you like them to take to be more involved in climate activism?

More than anything, I hope The Nature of Witches evokes a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude for the natural world, because when we’re inspired by something, when we love something, we protect it.

I think the steps to take differ from person to person, because what works for one person may not work for another, but there are so many ways to help. I hope that readers seek out ways that work for them, because we can all help. Read. Research. Vote. Use your voice—all of it matters.

Rachel Griffin writes young adult novels inspired by the magic of the world around her. She is the author of the upcoming The Nature of Witches, releasing from Sourcebooks Fire on June 1, 2021, with a second standalone novel to follow in 2022. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Rachel has a deep love of nature, from the mountains to the ocean and all the towering evergreens in between. She adores moody skies and thunderstorms, and hopes more vampires settle down in her beloved state of Washington. On her path to writing novels, Rachel graduated from Seattle University with a Bachelor of Science in diagnostic ultrasound. She worked in healthcare for five years and taught ultrasound at her alma mater before making the switch to a small startup. She has been mentoring in Pitch Wars since 2017 and now writes full-time from her home in the Seattle area. When she isn’t writing, you can find her wandering the PNW, reading by the fire, or drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea. She lives with her husband, small dog, and growing collection of houseplants.

Weather as Antagonist in Climate Fiction by Sim Kern

It’s been raining all week here in Houston, which is to say, I haven’t been sleeping. For most of my life, I loved the sound of a thunderstorm lulling me to sleep. But after surviving more floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes than I can count on both hands, the sound of thunder now triggers anxiety. I wake in the middle of the night to check the back door, feeling the tiles in the dark with my bare feet to make sure that water isn’t slipping inside. If the rain is hammering the roof, I’ll crack the front door and peek out at the bayou, two blocks away, to make sure it hasn’t escaped its banks.

Houston is one of many Gulf Coast cities already traumatized by climate-changed weather. For me, climate change feels viscerally real, as each summer stretches longer, breaking record after record for killing heat. Hurricanes spin up faster and stronger, so we barely get a break between tracking the storms that might just destroy our lives. For many Gulf Coast residents, climate change isn’t some future abstraction, it’s the dark water that’s already crossed our doorsteps, spilled into our homes, damaging the literal foundations of our lives.

I imagine folks out West go through similar traumas with each wildfire season.

Despite all the devastation Houstonians have already faced, our city and state leaders still largely choose to bury their heads in the sand on climate preparedness. We’re coming up on the anniversary of Hurricane Ike this summer—a narrow miss, that storm. If Ike had come ashore just a few dozen miles to the West, a 20-foot storm surge would have come up the Houston Ship Channel, crashing into the largest concentration of petrochemical industry in the country. The resulting human and environmental toll is staggering to consider. And yet thirteen years later, we have yet to build the “Ike Dike” or barrier islands that would protect Houston from a direct hit from a major hurricane. It’s also nearly four years since Hurricane Harvey, when two dams west of the city nearly failed, which would have submerged most of the city in a flooding event even more fatal than Hurricane Katrina. Repairs to those dams are yet to be completed. As the most populous Gulf Coast city, at sea level, and with no significant hurricane preparation underway, Houston exists on borrowed time, protected only by magical thinking.

For those of us who are climate realists—and stuck here, due to family, jobs, or economic circumstances—the inaction of our leaders is unbearably frustrating.

That frustration fueled my debut novella, Depart, Depart! I wanted climate-deniers near and far to share the fears that keep me wide-awake on rainy nights. I destroyed Houston in fiction, hoping that my little book might spur someone to join the fight against climate change, and maybe help save our city in the real world.

In Depart, Depart!, Hurricane Martha serves not just as a plot device, but as an antagonist. Tropical storms have names, bodies, and moods. We track their movements, obsess over their behavior, curse them, fear them, and joke at their expense, and they are very much characters in our lives.

For most of Noah’s friends, Martha is an excuse to throw a hurricane party. That’s a pretty common response among 20-somethings along the Gulf Coast. But for Noah Mishner, the approaching storm sparks an intergenerational terror, manifesting in cryptic warnings from his ancestor’s ghost. During a disaster, trauma tends to get tangled up like that.

As a trans, Jewish man, trying to survive in a basketball arena-turned-climate-shelter, Noah’s fears of the storm are quickly overtaken by his fear of his fellow Texans. As the storm dissipates, Hurricane Martha’s role as antagonist fades, and the real threat emerges—Noah’s neighbors, with all their bigotries, hatreds, and guns. Add an intensifying climate crisis, with wildfires, drought, and food shortages, and violence seems sure to follow.  In a corner of the shelter, near the only gender neutral restroom, Noah and a found family of other trans folks try to forge a community that will weather this brewing crisis.

I wish that I could say that the fears that took shape in Depart, Depart! seem unrealistic now, four years after Harvey. But as this Texas legislative session comes to a close, they seem more relevant than ever. Permitless carry passed, so that guns will be more omnipresent and unregulated than ever.  Thanks to the incredible efforts of trans activists (many of them children), none of the thirteen bills attacking trans people passed this session. However, criminalizing trans kids remains a top priority of the GOP, as the governor is considering a special session to continue the onslaught. Efforts to reign in petrochemical pollutants failed to get a vote, while the “right” to burn natural gas will be enshrined in law. In the name of “life,” the legislature banned abortion past six weeks, the time after which when 90% of abortions in the state occur. And yet no action was taken on climate change, which threatens the very continuation of life on earth.

This agenda doesn’t reflect the priorities of most Texans, only of a powerful, vocal minority. For example, only 26% of Texans think permitless gun carry is a good idea, and yet this law will now endanger all our lives. Outrageously gerrymandered districts and racist voting laws disenfranchise millions of Texas voters, particularly in Black and Latine communities. And a new, sweeping election bill is set to make it even harder to vote for the millions of Texans who support things like LGBTQ+ rights, climate action, and sensible gun laws.

So don’t get me wrong, I love Houstonians. Like the climate refugees in Depart, Depart!, we’re all just trying to survive, keep our families happy, and stay above floodwaters. We’re a resilient bunch, as you have to be, living on the Gulf Coast in the 2020’s. Hurricanes can be terrifying antagonists. But by a longshot, it’s my neighbors—the ones who worship bigotry, guns, and petrochemicals—who scare me the most. 

You can learn more about Depart, Depart! here

Sim Kern is a speculative fiction writer, exploring intersections of climate change, queerness, and social justice. Their quiet horror novella Depart, Depart! was released in September 2020 from Stelliform Press. Sim also has recently published short stories in Metaphorosis, The Colored Lens, and Wizards in Space Magazine. They are represented by Mariah Nichols of the D4EO Literary Agency for their YA novel, Sand and Swarm. Sim attended Oberlin College for a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Afterwards, they moved to Houston, where they spent ten years teaching English to middle and high schoolers. Following the birth of their kid, they began pursuing a career in writing. They live near the bayou with their husband, toddler, and two very good dogs.

Climate News

Chance of temporarily reaching 1.5C in warming is rising, WMO says [FT]

Goldsmiths Press Accepting Submissions for New SF Imprint

Great Science Share for Schools – resources for educators [University of Manchester]

Meet 13 Asian and Asian Diasporic Nature and Environment Writers [Sierra Club]

ExxonMobil and Chevron suffer shareholder rebellions over climate [The Guardian]

A ‘choose your own adventure’ based on Annemarie Allan’s novel ‘Breaker’

Cover reveal for Green Rising by Lauren James (league founder)

Fiona Barker talks about her new picture book

Mary Woodbury interviews Fiona Barker about her new picture book Setsuko and the Song of the Sea, out now.

I run Dragonfly.eco, an exploration of world eco-fiction, which includes a database of hundreds of novels about humanity’s impact on our natural world, including the omnipresent climate disruption. Being a mother and aunt, I have often wondered how climate change will affect the next generations. It’s an interest that informs my writing and reading, and life’s work. My love for the great outdoors began with childhood, when my parents were forever showing us the world beyond walls, whether it was climbing the Appalachian hills in Eastern Kentucky, whenever we visited my mammaw and pappaw, or horseback riding in the desert when we visited relatives in Arizona. Dad used to take us four kids white-water rafting on the Wolf River when we got a little older, and when we moved to the Chicago area, that meant hiking the nearby woods and skiing every winter. I’m glad for this upbringing and still recall how I would constantly off lights and unused electricity to save energy when I was a teenager, when my activist self burgeoned as I knew we had to protect the planet around us.

When I was in college I wrote a story about a grade-school aged girl whose family moved from Chicago to northern Wisconsin. The girl had a hard time at first, because it was challenging to become accepted in her new community. She began noting the beautiful forest and creeks around her and imagined how they would have been in the old days. Using resources found around the property surrounding her new house, she built a wigwam and learned about the natural wilds of her area. I eventually gave the story to the kids in our family, and most recently a great-niece read it and loved it.

Later, after I began Dragonfly.eco, I was struck by something I read in Edan Lepucki’s short story “There’s No Place Like Home.” I talked with Edan back then, and we discussed how youth were in a stuck generation. By then, so many real-life and literary heroes of the “youngest generations” had rocked the world, including Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Bana Alabed, and Emma Gonzales. I thought it only fitting to add a new spotlight feature at Dragonfly, called Turning the Tide: The Youngest Generation, where each month I spotlight an article, review, or book geared toward children, teens, or young adult audiences.

Earlier this year I also published the novella Bird Song (pen: Clara Hume) a story about a young woman named Thelsie, from Chicago, who wakes up on a mysterious island and tries to figure out her surroundings. She meets two Greek sirens and a shipwrecked sailor as well as her mother, who had died in the previous year. Part eco-horror, part new myth, part romance, this novella is also a parable for climate change, and similar to my real-life experience, looks at ecological destruction resulting in climate change as something that started long ago.

My interests in how younger people are dealing with ecological destruction that they had no part in is one of the reasons I wanted to interview Fiona Barker about her beautifully illustrated Setsuko and the Song of the Sea. Being a big fan of Moana, I was thrilled to discover Setsuko–only Moana was about a young woman fighting against a curse from a demigod, while Setsuko is about a young girl who, like Moana, is drawn to the sea but learns about advocacy against ocean destruction. She meets a whale whose stories and songs inspire her to think about the beauty of the ocean and the threats that marine life faces. While the whale’s song appeals to her emotionally, she also discovers the amount of plastic waste found in the ocean, which inspires action.

I got the wonderful opportunity to chat with Fiona about her new children’s story.

Mary: Can you explain the inspiration behind Setsuko and the Song of the Sea?

Fiona: I think I’ve always been reasonably green. As a child 40 years ago I used to tour our village with my dad and a wheelbarrow collecting newspapers to recycle. But what really changed things was doing the Marine Conservation Society #PlasticFreeJuly where the challenge was to cut out a source of single use plastic everyday for a month. I learned a huge amount and have completely changed our whole family’s shopping habits and blog about my efforts to reduce our waste for Less Plastic UK. It got me thinking about consumption and waste in general.

Then I met Howard Gray, who illustrated my picture book Danny and the Dream Dog (Tiny Tree Children’s Books). I discovered he was a marine biologist, and I knew I had to write a story about the sea for him to illustrate because he’s a genius at drawing the sea. I was inspired to feature Setsuko because I had seen a documentary about the amazing Ama, female free divers. They’re incredible women who dive for shellfish without diving equipment, but their way of life is under threat. I knew I had to include an Ama in my story, and Setsuko was born. I’m absolutely thrilled that a percentage of the profit from sales of the book will go towards supporting the work of the Marine Conservation Society.

Mary: What kinds of climate change themes does your newest book have?

Fiona: My story is about respecting the world we live in. Specifically it’s about ocean plastic but also bigger themes of consumption and waste.

Mary: You have written other ecologically aware picture books for children. What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?

Fiona: I was thrilled at the end of 2020 to win the illustrated book for children category of the Green Stories Writing competition with my story “The Doo-Da Hoo-Ha,” which addresses reducing waste at source by consuming less. I also self-published a picture book in 2016 called “Amelie and the Great Outdoors,” which encourages readers to get outside and engage with the natural world.

Mary: You’re a mother, too. What worries you about our future when it comes to our children?

Everything. In the west especially, we are living outside our means, consuming far more than our planet can sustainably provide. On a global level, climate change and global warming are the biggest threats of course. Just today on the radio I heard that European climate scientists have announced that 2020 equalled 2016 as the warmest year on record. The acceleration of thawing in permafrost in the Arctic Circle is a huge time bomb. Locally, I am obsessed with litter and run 3-4 times a week with a litter picker and bag, collecting it. Our children deserve to walk streets that are clean without having to step over cans, plastic bottles and, at the moment, discarded facemasks and gloves. 

Mary: How do you think fiction, and, in your case, illustrated fiction, can help?

Fiona: Obviously, it’s about informing and educating children and parents about the issues but also, importantly, about solutions that they have direct control over.

Fiona Barker is the author of picture books Setsuko and the Song of the Sea and Danny and the Dream Dog, illustrated by artist and marine biologist Howard Gray. When not writing picture books, she can be found out plogging and occasionally blogging about litter and living a life less plastic.

Mary Woodbury (pen name Clara Hume) graduated with BAs in English and anthropology at Purdue University. She grew up in the United States, where her parents introduced her at an early age to hiking, climbing mountains, horseback riding, canoeing, white-water rafting, and camping—filling her with a deep respect for the wilderness. She now lives in Nova Scotia with her partner and two cats. As a curator at Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores world eco-fiction, she has interviewed several award-winning authors and built a database of over 800 novels. She also founded Moon Willow Press in 2009 and its newest imprint Dragonfly Publishing.


Climate Change in the News

UK students sue government over human rights impact of climate crisis [Guardian]

League member Hannah Gold in conversation with Lyndsey Croal [YouTube]

Children’s Fiction and the Climate Crisis – Sarah Odedina interviews Ele Fountain, Hannah Gold and Piers Torday with Tales on Moon Lane

Area of forests the size of France has regrown worldwide since 2000 [Sky News]

‘Love our bogs’: UK should harness all its landscapes in fight for climate [Guardian]

Farmers too busy surviving to act on climate change