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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Enviromental Climate Change Fiction teens

Interview: Climate Change Fiction for Teens

Interview: Climate Change Fiction for Teens

Claire Datnow with Students

I’m delighted to present Claire Datnow as this month’ Indie Corner author. Claire was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, which ignited her love for the natural world and diverse cultures. Claire taught creative writing to gifted and talented students in the Birmingham, Alabama, public schools. She earned an MA in Education for Gifted and Talented and a second MA in Public History. Her books for middle schoolers include The Adventures of the Sizzling Six, an eco-mystery series, and Edwin Hubble, Discoverer of Galaxies. Claire’s most recent novel, Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure, weaves in the theme of global climate change. Claire’s books for adults include a memoir, Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid, and The Nine Inheritors. Claire has received numerous scholarships and awards, including the Alabama Conservancy Blanche Dean Award for Outstanding Nature Educator, a Beeson Samford Writing Project Fellowship, a Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Scholarship, and Birmingham Public School Teacher of the Year. Claire’s Monarch Mysteries was long listed for the Green Book Award 2020. Together with her students she founded a nature trail, now named in her honor, the Alabama Audubon-Datnow Forest Preserve. She enjoys visiting schools to inspire students to write their own eco-mystery stories, to become wise stewards of the Earth, and to take action in their own communities.

Mary: Tell us about yourself—your life so far and how you got started in writing.
Claire: When I was kid growing up in that faraway land of Johannesburg, South Africa, I loved playing outside. In the garden, I pretended the variety of flowers were my students and I was the teacher. Back then, an exciting adventure was a drive into the country for a family picnic, followed by a hike in the veld or along a stream. I guess I was a nature lover and explorer from an early age, and today those early experiences are reflected in, The Adventures of the Sizzling Six. I also fantasized about the amazing adventures I’d have traveling around the world—and, eventually, that dream came true. The diverse people of South Africa, and, later, of cultures around the world, are also woven into my books, especially in Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure. My memoir, Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid: Growing up White in Segregated South Africa, provides a glimpse in the influences that have shaped the stories I write. Oh, I then there are the children—my own sons and daughter, my grandchildren, and my students, who have touched my heart and shaped my life, and the stories I weave.
Mary: Tell us something about your newest novel, Red Flag Warning. Who is the intended audience, and what’s going on in the story?
Claire: It’s not only my past that inspires me but what is happening right now and is likely to happen in the future. Red Flag Warning tells the dramatic story of three special young people from across the world, the amazing animals that are part of their lives, and the terrible threats they face—threats that affect the entire world. The three teens, all scarred by fire, struggle with the deeper wounds to their self-image and dreams. They must learn to respect the wildness of the animals they love and find their own voices, along with the power of community, in their mission to heal the Earth. This novel was sparked by the unprecedented wildfires exploding around the world. The courage of real-life young eco heroes, like Greta Thunburg, who are urging the grown ups to save our planet, also inspired me to create the young tweens and teens in my novels.
Mary: What sorts of ecological themes does your novel have, and how were you inspired to write about them?
Claire: Each book in The Adventures of the Sizzling Six series highlights an endangered species—for example the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, the Cahaba Lilly, and fresh water mussels—which plunge the tweens into an exciting mystery that they must solve in order to save that species. Each book in this series is inspired by real-life events and the environmentalists who are saving endangered species.
Mary: After publication, did you do any book fairs or talks? How would you describe the reaction to your book? Is it hard to market during the coronavirus?
Claire: I am honored that the reviews of the advanced readers copies were positive—visit for advanced reviews. I enjoy visits to schools to meet and inspire young people and their teachers, and hope to continue my visits when the threat of the virus has passed. I attend writing and library conferences, on Zoom and at book fairs when possible. I offer digital workshops on The Dynamics of Science and Nature Writing for Fiction and Non Fiction. The next workshop will be sponsored by SCBWI on April 10th. I also blog on and other social media.
Mary: Are you working on anything else right now, and do you want to add other thoughts about your book?
Claire: I’ve just begun research for a book that will continue the theme of climate change. This one will explore the impact of rising water levels on the lives of the young people and their families. Each character will be tied together by an object washed ashore on currents from faraway places. I am planning a trilogy (anthology series), so the third book will themed around air pollution. That’s all I can reveal about the stories hatching in my head. Much of my journey in writing stories feels like hiking through a dense forest and discovering untravelled paths to explore and intriguing characters to get to know.

I am excited about my climate change themed series because young people around the world are determined to take action to reduce the dire effects of climate change. My blog, “Climate Change Fiction: Multicultural, Diverse, Global, and with Animals, Too!” crystalizes the themes of my latest work.
Resources and links:
Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Climate Change Fiction for Teens

Climate Change Fiction: Multicultural, Diverse, Indigenous, Global, and with Animals, Too!

Fiction can be a powerful way for students to understand how climate change has and will affect their future. Fiction (cli-fi) can serve as a springboard for lively discussions. In addition, stories offer ways in which students can envision and adjust to climate change through new technology and social adaptations. The ideas discussed below can be used to encourage class reading, enrich a unit on this topic and, hopefully, inspire students to do research, or create their own stories, poems, drawings of the future altered by climate change.
I began writing Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure (for Middle Grades and up) three years ago, horrified by the wildfires sweeping around the globe. My novel relates the dramatic story of three special young people from across the world, the amazing animals that are part of their lives, and the terrible threats of wildfires—threats that affect the entire world.
Climate change is a serious reality to write about. The good news is that after decades of misinformation, denial, and inadequate attempts to reduce the dire impact of climate change young people around the world are searching for ways to understand and to take action.
Keeping this in mind, I decided not to sugarcoat the truth. Instead, I choose decided to weave a solid base of scientific knowledge into a compelling story, in order to create a hopeful, yet realistic ending rather than gloomy or magical fairytale one. For me, the books I write will always be grounded in science. Telling a moving story does not mean making up facts—we have enough of that already—the basis of the narrative has to be the truth and reality of climate change and the need for social injustice. 

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Early Sketches for Red Flag Warning by Kristina Handler

After I’d completed Red Flag Warning, I saw more clearly how I’d woven diverse, multicultural, indigenous, and global themes into my story. The three protagonists are: Aisyah from Sumatra, Indonesia whose ancestors are the Batak people: Kirri from Australia, whose ancestors are Aboriginal: and Hector from Northern California with roots in the Native American people of Mexico. The three draw strength and pride from the ancient wisdom of their ancestors. And, although they come from very different backgrounds the three become close friends.
As a writer and teacher I understand we need diverse stories to serve as mirrors that reflect ourselves and helps build pride in our identity. We also need multicultural stories that serves as windows through which we can begin to understand people of backgrounds different from our own. By weaving these strands together, I hope that Red Flag Warning delivers a powerful message: young people can work together to take action to heal the Earth.
Compelling narratives interwoven with science can entertain, educate, and inspire readers. As storytellers we hold the keys to touching our readers' hearts, to ignite their imagination to build a bridge to tomorrow that will empower them to take action for the greater good of humanity and the wellbeing of the Earth.
Environmental literacy can be integrated into subjects and activities already in the curriculum. In this way climate/environmental stories can serve as a springboard to lively discussions, projects, or research.
Fortunately there are variety of novels to choose from at all levels. For a comprehensive list visit: https:
Additional resources are listed at the end of Red Flag Warning: An Eco Mystery
For a free Teacher Handout, “How to Become an Eco Detective: An Interdisciplinary Unit for Writing Across the Curriculum visit:

I will end this blog by quoting from a review by Professor Karl Schinasi: In Red Flag Warning Claire Datnow has written an uncommon kind of YA novel. It’s not just that it’s a work of “eco-fiction.” It’s not just that she weaves scientific ideas seamlessly into her narrative. It’s not just that science and magical realism (one of the characters telecommunicates with an orangutan) appear together in the novel. It’s not just that through three protagonists we’re exposed to three different countries, their environments and their cultures. It’s not just that Mrs. Datnow’s characters care as much about animals and the natural world as the care about other homo sapiens. The novel contains all of these elements. The striking achievement of this novel, at least to this reader, is the author’s ability to include and combine these and other separate and sometimes disparate ideas into one short novel, and also in the end, produce a book that easily can be categorized as educational and a “good read.”