Thursday, December 22, 2022

Q&A with Ellen Prager




Ellen Prager is the author of the new middle grade novel Escape Undersea, part of her Wonder List Adventures series. She is a marine scientist, freelance writer, and consultant, and she's the science advisor to Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos Islands. 


Q: Escape Undersea is part of your Wonder List Adventures series--what inspired this new novel?


A: As a marine scientist, I was very fortunate to do two missions living underwater and for two years, be the chief scientist at the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only operating undersea laboratory. When people learn I have lived underwater, kids of all ages (including adults) want to know more.


Using the undersea lab in the story allowed me to share many of my favorite stories about the experience, to showcase the amazing marine life in the area, and to highlight several of the significant environmental issues plaguing the world’s coral reefs. All the while, doing it through the eyes of a teen experiencing SCUBA and the undersea world for the first time.


It also allowed me to combine adventure and humor, two of my favorite things. And I brought back two of my favorite characters from Escape Galapagos, the ex-military not-so-elderly, elderly Phil and Gracie Smith.


Q: How do you think the Skylar family has changed over the course of the series?


A: As a family and individually, the Skylars have grown since their first adventure, Escape Galapagos.


The main character Ezzy, now 14 years old, has battled her wild animal phobia, faced a lack of confidence and awkwardness around boys, and come away more courageous and is a bit more self-assured. Though she now has trust issues, is constantly suspicious of others, and is wary of her own judgement, having been fooled in the past by evildoers.


She and her younger brother Luke had to also deal with their mother’s death. Ezzy used her memories in striving to be more confident and adventurous like her mother.


Luke began as shy and quiet and has opened up, but now is more likely to act rashly without thinking of the consequences. Dr. Skylar has changed as well; he is more open about his feelings with his kids, more loving, and recognizes and supports their courage and abilities more. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from this novel?


A: I hope readers of all ages can escape into the story, learn about the undersea world, relate to the characters and their issues, and laugh. As in the other books, there’s plenty of humor involved, so I hope readers will have fun while they learn.


And I hope kids come away thinking that reading is fun, the ocean is wondrous, and the idea of living underwater is cool. And that it will spark their desire to read more and learn more about the ocean, science, and nature in general.


Q: What do you see looking ahead for underwater research?


A: In the past much of the research was to explore and understand the ocean, sea floor, and marine life. That is still needed and happening as only a small percentage of the ocean has been physically explored. Technology development and innovation will continue in ocean research.


But I also think that much of the research going forward will be to find solutions to problems humans have and are causing. To help battle climate change, pollution, loss of critical habitats (coral reefs, kelp beds, wetlands, etc.), invasive species, and overfishing.


Research is essential to better conserve and protect critical areas of the ocean and restore marine life, habitats, and ecosystems that have been harmed. Also, I see more happening in aquaculture (something I write about in the book), using living shorelines to protect the coast from sea level rise and flooding, and more.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m excited to reveal that I recently signed a new book contract. And this time I have a co-author. My partner in life, Dave Jones, is a meteorologist and together we are writing a nonfiction popular science book that will answer the most frequently asked and wacky questions about the ocean, marine life, weather, climate change, and more.


We are super excited about the book and being co-authors. Luckily, we love working together and have the same sense of humor. The sample chapter I sent the publisher (Columbia University Press) was about jellyfish with the number one question being: Should you pee on a jellyfish sting. NO! Look for it, hopefully Fall 2024.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Parents should enjoy reading the book along with their kids both for the humor and undersea learning. I hope to be able to do some book events in person as I very much enjoy interacting with my readers and I have lots of great images to go along with the story. And I love hearing from readers, so I hope they will write reviews and send tweets or comments to me on Instagram or Facebook.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ellen Prager.

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