Tag Archive for Climate Change in children’s books

BETTER OFF UNDEAD: Now in Paperback (Cheap)!

Oh, hey, I guess this is a thing now. The paperback edition of BETTER OFF UNDEAD, only $7.99 (cheap)!

Feiwel & Friends always does an excellent job with their paperback line, Square Fish, and I’m grateful to be so handsomely published.

“Hilarious!” — Booklist, starred review.

“This uproarious middle grade call to action has considerable kid appeal and a timely message.” — School Library Journal.

WAIT, HOLD ON, DON’T GO!

Here’s an excerpt from pages 59-63, when Adrian and Zander encounter a dead bat . . .

Zander narrowed his eyes, stopped in front of a house, and pointed toward a bush. “Wow, check that out.”

We walked onto the lawn and stood near the base of an oak tree. It was a dead bat. Zander found a stick and gently poked it. He took a long look.

I said, “I’ve never seen a dead bat before.”

It was entirely brown, except for the area around its nose, which was white. The body looked like a mouse’s, but with the head of tiny pig. Its ears were comically large, I guess for the radar thingy that helps bats fly at night. Echolocation, that the word. Up close, its glossy wings looked like thin plastic, stretched from forelimbs to hind legs. All in all, an exotic creature that was perfectly adapted to a strange life.

Zander looked up at me, blinking. “This is so sad.”

“It’s a dead bat,” I said. “What’s sad about it?”

“It’s like the honeybees,” Zander said. “Remember Ms. Fjord talking about bats?”

I told Zander that perhaps I might not have been paying any attention whatsoever on the day of the bat story. Ms. Fjord, after all, told a lot of stories — it was hard to keep track. “Is this on the test?” we’d ask. And if it wasn’t, we’d tune her out.

She didn’t seem to care about tests as much as other teachers did, which many of her students found confusing. Tests were how we were measured, after all. As one kid asked, “If there’s no test, what’s the point?”

Zander was kneeling beside the dead bat. “This isn’t just about one dead bat, Adrian. There’s a plague all across the eastern states,” my friends, the walking, talking, weird-fact encyclopedia, told me. “More than seven million dead bats in the last five years.”

“Okay, that’s pretty bad.”

“It’s way worse than pretty bad,” Zander countered. He reached into his back pocket and ripped off another Twizzler. He offered me one. Since there was something fundamentally gross about staring at a bat while chewing on a Twizzler, I declined. Zander explained, “Bats eat insects. And insects spread disease . . . to people. Bats in New York and some other states have been almost completely wiped out by white-nose syndrome.”

He pointed with the stick at the bat’s nose. It was strangely white.

“How do you know this stuff?” I asked. “What do you do all day?”

“You know I don’t care about sports,” Zander said. “That frees up a lot of time for reading.”

“Yeah, but –“

“Think about all the basketball statistics you know,” Zander challenged me. “All that useless information cluttering your brain.”

“So instead of knowing that Kobe Bryant won five championship rings . . .”

Zander nodded. “I know that brown bats are headed for the endangered list.”

“Do you think any of this stuff . . . explains me?”

Zander laughed. “Adrian, nothing explains you! All I know is nature is off balance. Climate change. Polar bears losing their habitat, dying out. Honeybees and bats disappearing. Zombies appearing.”

I wondered, once again, if maybe I wasn’t alone. “Do you think there’s more than just me?”

Zander stood, puffing from the effort. “What? You figure you’re the only one?”

I waved away a fly, shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. But wouldn’t we have heard if there were more?”

Zander sucked thoughtfully on his lower lip. “If I was a zombie? I’d keep it under my hat, you know. Who needs the abuse?”

Maybe he was onto something. Were other zombies out there? Not just one or two, but lots of us? Kids in other towns, closeted away out of sight? Zombies in basements, playing video games, afraid to come out? We’d hear about it, right? I wondered how many people knew about me. Not just rumors and gossip, but really knew the truth. If people heard the story that some random kid had turned into a zombie, would anyone even believe it?

Doubtful.

Maybe that’s why Dr. Halpert worked so hard to keep things quiet. He said I’d been through enough, that I didn’t need the distraction. No television interviews, no reporters. Which was find with me because: Obviously!

Zander interrupted my reverie. “Come on, let’s go get a slice. I’m getting one of those giant-size sodas — and I’m not sharing, so deal with it.”

 

 

Climate Change, Alfred Hitchcock, and BETTER OFF UNDEAD

A freaky, zombie-esque storyboard from Hitchcock's "The Birds."

A freaky, zombie-esque storyboard from Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

 

The springboard concept for my novel, Better Off Undead, was that Adrian Lazerus would become a zombie who, post-accident, returns transformed to middle school. The ultimate misfit, outsider. And as far as the rest of the world knew, the only zombie on the planet. (If you want more zombies, you’re going to have to demand a sequel.)

Yes, the zombie, that’s a preposterous idea. And, I thought, an interesting metaphor. So I went with it. Along the way, I asked myself why Adrian had reanimated. What was going on? Looking around, I realized this was a “world gone wrong” story.

An inspiration for this notion surely came from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “The Birds,” which is a classic “world gone wrong” story. I think in retrospect I’ve long been impressed by the film’s central idea. When the natural world goes out of whack, everything goes off-balance. The center cannot hold. That poem by Yeats, another inspiration.

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It did not require a great imaginative leap. Look around: the world is going wrong in many ways. Climate change is a leading cause of much of it. Droughts and wildfires, extreme weather, superflus, Zika viruses, melting ice caps, and on and on. So I ended up taking a lot of different elements that are in the news today, blowing them up a little bit, and employing those issues as context for Adrian’s story, which is set in the not-so-distant future. Adrian himself is a result of a world gone wrong, but he’s also existing within it. Like the rest of us.

Here’s an excerpt of a recent article by Lauren Weber in The Huffington Post, titled “Mosquito- and Tick-Borne Diseases Have Tripled, But the CDC Won’t Say It’s Climate Change“:

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The number of Americans who have gotten sick from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled between 2004 to 2016, according to new figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also said that local and state public health departments are unequipped to properly combat the surge of disease from insects.

Since 2004, nine new diseases have been introduced in the United States, including the chikungunya and Zika viruses. Diseases already endemic to the country, such as Lyme disease, shot up, contributing to these high case counts. Experts warn Lyme disease diagnosis numbers can be up to 10 times higher than currently reported.

“The numbers are really staggering,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “The increase that we’re seeing over a very short time period is unprecedented.”

I could site dozens of articles that served as seeds for the ideas, {FE179E59-DB84-4875-A683-EAA5722C0587}Img400sometimes presented off-handedly, matter-of-factly, in the book. Adrian’s father, for example, is away in Africa working for Corporate, a for-hire soldier fighting in the “Water Wars.” Just read about water security issues if you think that’s far-fetched. Or consider white nose syndrome and the importance of bats. In the novel, Zander and Adrian come across a dead bat while on their way to the local pizza joint. Zander has a keen interest in nature — bees and beekeeping play a pivotal role in this book — so they pause and take note of it. Look at this. A dead bat. White nose syndrome. And they move on.

Here’s an excerpt from a February article in The New Yorker by J.R. Sullivan, “A Fatal Disease Is Ravaging America’s Bats, and Scientists are Struggling to Stop It“:

As of September, 2017, the disease had spread to thirty-one states, some of which have suffered ninety-per-cent declines in their bat populations; the crisis, which began in New York, now extends as far west as Washington. “I think most states would say it’s not a matter of if white nose is going to show up but when,” Kelly Poole, the endangered-species coördinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told me. The disease disrupts the bats’ hibernation, causing them to wake up in winter, exert energy looking for food, and, in time, starve. It is almost always fatal, leaving caves full of bones in its wake. Scientists have yet to find a cure or treatment. “I get a sense that we may actually be witnessing the extinction of a couple of species, at least regionally,” Gumbert said. “We may not lose a species completely, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did.”

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In a state such as Iowa, where the economy is based largely on agriculture, white nose is particularly worrisome. According to a study published in 2011 in the journal Science, bats consume enough insects to save U.S. farmers an estimated $22.9 billion a year in pest control and crop damage, a conclusion echoed by a follow-up study in 2015. The findings suggest that a nationwide decline in bats could result in higher food prices, owing to an uptick in pesticide use and a reduction in crop yields. “That cost gets passed down to the consumer, and you start seeing it at the grocery stores,” Piper Roby, Copperhead’s research director, told me. She also noted that increased pesticide use means more harmful chemicals in the ecosystem. “It’s just this cascade effect if you remove a top-down predator, and you start to see the effects of it years later,” she said.

In one key scene, a queen bee speaks an important line. (Yes, it surprised me, too; my first talking bee!) She delivers only three words to Gia: “It all connects.”

And she’s absolutely right, especially when it comes to climate change.

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COVER REVEAL: “Better Off Undead”

After becoming undead, 

Adrian Lazarus 

has to survive middle school.

 

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ADRIAN LAZARUS has met with a curious fate. He’s returned from the dead (after a bad bike accident, no helmet), yet not a lot has changed. He still has to attend middle school. Adrian has always been something of a misfit. But it’s not just being a zombie that makes Adrian feel like an outcast. He notices the world has changed, too: bees are vanishing, forest fires are burning, seas are rising, super-flus are spreading. Even so, the holographic advertisements in the night sky assure people that all is well. But Adrian and his friends –- a beekeeping boy, a mysterious new girl who just might see into the future, and Talal, a seventh-grade sleuth –- aren’t convinced. When they discover a birdlike drone has been spying on Adrian, the clues lead to two shadowy corporate billionaires. What could they possibly want with Adrian?

 

PUB DETAILS: Macmillan, October, 2017, Ages 10-up.

Cover illustration by Andrew Arnold.

In Which I Answer the Question: “What Are You Working on now?”

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I recently completed a series of interview questions at Deborah Kalb’s “Book Q&As” blog (not posted yet, or I’d share), and thought I’d pass along a brief sample. One of the unexpected challenges to writing a book comes after the book is finished — when you’ve got to figure out how to talk about it.

How do you explain it? How do you make it sound good in two sentences? How do you summarize 42,000 words to someone who is barely listening?

Obviously, I’m still trying to figure that out.  Read below and you can flounder along with me!

 

What are you working on now?

I am finishing up the revisions for a middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead, that I began seven years ago. That’s not a normal time-frame for me. It started as a misfit story, in this case a boy who survives his own death only to be told that, well, he might as well go back to middle school. I figured that “zombie” made him the ultimate outsider. But I didn’t feel satisfied writing just a zombie book, so the work stalled. As time passed, I became increasingly invested in a host of environmental issues, “climate change” in particular, even attending a huge march down in NYC. I kept looking at young people, including my own children, and felt the caretakers of the planet had failed them. We had failed them. At the same time, I felt that many of today’s young people had not fully grasped the severity of the situation. The book (Macmillan, 2017) casts a wide net, sprawls and morphs into a mystery/thriller hybrid, and touches upon dying bees, bats, droughts, wildfires, makeover shows, corporate greed, consumerism, politics, bullying, and, yes, the struggles of one lone zombie. If there’s a theme, it’s this: Everything connects. It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever written. I’m glad that I can still surprise myself — and consider it a good sign.

Here’s some more images from the spectacular “People’s Climate March” in NYC referenced above, attended by more than 400,000 citizens of the globe.

I traveled down alone -- but not alone -- by bus. So this is me on that great day, seeking attention to a cause that matters. In many ways, this march affected and inspired the book I wrote.

I traveled down alone — but not alone — from Delmar, NY, by bus. So this photo is me, taken by a stranger on that great day, seeking attention for a cause that matters. In many ways, this experience affected and inspired the book I wrote.

People's Climate March, 092114Some of hundreds of thousands take part in the People's Climate March through Midtown, New Yorkscreenshot-2014-09-10-131902_550x322climate-march-9_3000019b10_medium140921_climate_change_rally_nyc_ice_cream_earth_msm_605_60520140921-dsc_0050imagesA protester carries a sign during the "People's Climate March" in the Manhattan borough of New Yorkslide_389314_4706504_freeslide_370038_4261286_free140921_pol_peoplesclimate_11-jpg-crop-original-originalimagemarch-for-climate-changeimrspeoples-march-newam-crew-537x366