Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Q&A with Barbara Dee




Barbara Dee is the author of the new middle grade novel Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet. Her many other middle grade novels include Violets Are Blue


Q: What inspired you to write Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, and how did you create your character Haven?


A: Whenever I ask middle schoolers what’s on their minds these days, they tell me that they’re worried about the climate crisis, and feel powerless to make a difference. This is why I wrote Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet about one seventh grader’s quest to take meaningful action.


One of Haven’s challenges is overcoming her own eco-anxiety—anxiety specifically about the climate crisis. As I was creating her character, I realized I couldn’t portray her as cowering in the corner, biting her nails, for the entire book—so I made her a doer, a problem-solver, frustrated at the realization that she had no clear course of action.


Also, because no middle schooler’s life happens on just one track, much of the story is also about her shifting relationships with friends and family. I think when you write about a “tough topic” like eco-anxiety, it’s important to weave in other threads to give the main character—and the reader too-- a full, rounded experience.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it a “powerful depiction of the impact of climate change on a young activist’s mental health.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe the links between climate change and mental health?


A: I was so pleased with this review from Kirkus! Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet is about eco-anxiety, a mental health challenge that’s only going to become more prevalent as the climate crisis deepens. We need to respond to the climate crisis, and we also need to recognize eco-anxiety as a mental health emergency, especially for kids.


Q: Did you need to do any research for this book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: In addition to reading widely on the subject, I interviewed several middle school science teachers, a high school biology teacher, and a college professor who all conduct stream studies with students.


One thing that surprised me was how eager these educators were to share their knowledge with a middle grade novelist! I think we agree it’s helpful to educate kids about the environment using a variety of approaches, including fiction.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope when kids finish reading they see how it’s possible to have a real impact on the planet by focusing on something specific, local, and relatively small.


Haven’s social studies teacher shares with her a sentiment attributed to Dr. King: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” By using her voice, Haven manages to save her town’s river. She may not be saving the whole planet, but of course she’s just getting started as an environmental activist!     


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m just about to jump into revisions for my 2023 middle grade novel, Unstuck. It’s about a kid who’s dealing with writer’s block as she tries to write a fantasy novel. Fortunately, she has a fantastic ELA teacher who’s committed to getting her “unstuck.” I think kids—and teachers!—are going to enjoy this one.


I’m also working on a middle grade novel called Tear This Down, about a kid who discovers that the hero of her town was actually against women voting. This one will publish in 2024, in time for the election.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have some more exciting book news on the way! Stay tuned!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Barbara Dee.

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