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Red Flag Warning

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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel


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.”

YA/teen Eco Fiction

Cover Reveal Climate Change Eco Fiction

Interview by Teresa K. Thorne with Kristina Handler, Illustrator, and Claire Datnow, Author

Teresa: Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure 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.

The Story Behind The Cover (Video Interview)

Kristina, could you walk us through the early sketches you made of ideas for the cover.
Kristina: Claire and I discussed the idea of her book's characters circling around a tree, similar to the Christmas card, but the image of Aiysha's eye and her half face was already in my mind before Claire suggested the tree circled with the three characters. I quickly scribbled what was in my head made a rough sketch of Aisyah with flames reflected in her eyes. I was a bit worried it was too rough and after discussing the idea, we decided to try to show all three characters on the front cover with their animal guides. Here's the first sketch, I liked it, but wanted to check with Claire to be sure this was what she wanted. I intended to put the flames in all the eyes and put the 4th character on the back cover. Claire didn't connect with this drawing, so I never completed it. Claire decided that she really liked the first sketch of Aisyah’s face best. I drew several sketches before Claire selected the one that matched the image of Aisyah she had in her head. And here is the beginning of the final drawing for the cover.

Teresa: That was fascinating, Kristina. So what inspired this final image?
Kristina: I have always loved clues in art, literature, and music. Hidden meanings that add depth to a creation delight me. I find when a small hint of information is packed with a huge story, it is more powerful and stimulating to the imagination. I often see worlds in things like a keyhole, a dew drop, the surface of a puddle, or in a window pane. So a reflection of fiery flames, the main point to the story, held in an eye seemed perfect to me. At first, I was thinking of an up close eye. But then I decided that image was too "in your face". After thinking about it, the idea of half the face came to mind. I like that better, because it's half the story and that's better for intrigue. Initially, I cringed to draw the burns and scars until I realized if that side of her face could be on the back cover, then it could be very enticing to a curious reader. I find too much information dilutes interest. My goal was to tantalize one into opening and reading the book.

Teresa: Claire, what ran through your mind and heart the first time you saw Kristina’s cover for Red Flag Warning?
Claire: So much of my journey with this story was like hiking through a dense forest and discovering untravelled paths to explore and intriguing characters to get know. The very first “scribble” for the cover Kristina sent made my heart leap with the thrill of recognition. Her rendering of Aisyah with flames in her eyes captured her calm beauty, but also the terror of a being trapped in a wildfire. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but like the black figures racing through the palm oil plantation, the three protagonists Aisyah, Hector, and Kirri are trapped in a wildfire. The wildfire changes their lives and launches them into a quest to heal themselves, and save the animals they love, and forests that they live in.

Teresa: Claire, finish this sentence: I was
inspired to write Red Flag Warning by . . .
Claire: by the unprecedented wildfires exploding around the world are real and their devastating consequences, which will continue to be felt for decades to come. Aisyah, Kirri, and Hector’s world is thrown into chaos when thy barely escape wildfires. I decided to add a touch of magical realism to the story with the animals because I wanted to bring home the way in which animals and people are connected to one another and to the earth on which all life depends. Also, when I was kid growing up in that magical land of Johannesburg, South Africa, I loved imagining and dreaming about the adventures I’d have traveling around the world— and, eventually, I did—so, my experiences of different people and their cultures on my travels are reflected in this. And I was also inspired by the determination of real life young Eco heroes who are making a difference and urging the grown up to save our planet.

Teresa: Claire, so that’s another reason is you chose three characters living in different countries to tell their stories?

Claire: That’s right, Teresa. Aisyah is Sumatran, Kirri is an Aboriginal of Australia, and Hector is Hispanic and traces his lineage to the Native American Otomi people of Mexico. I love they way they three bond and become good friends as a result of injuries from a wildfire.
Teresa: Claire, please finish the following sentence starter: Pongo and Aisyah, Kirri and Bultarro, and Hector and Swain save one another because ….
Claire: . . . because of their deep love and compassion for one another.
Teresa: That is so beautiful Claire.

Teresa: Kristina, Climate change is a serious reality. How did you handle this difficult theme and yet leave the reader with a sense of hope?
Response Kristina: I was worried that my idea for the book cover was too serious for the level reader, but let me say, this is a very serious reality on our planet! If the truth is sugarcoated or ignored, we are doing a disservice to our children and the planet. This isn't just an exciting and fun book to read. With all that being said, I gave Aiysha two sides to her face, the side on the front cover is her hopeful and bright side, while the half of her face on the back cover reveals her inner struggle. I wanted her face to carry both sides of the story and show she is still a beautiful and whole person. I drew the integration of struggle and hope into her face. Slide 14
Teresa: Claire, how did you handle this difficult theme and yet leave the reader with a sense of hope?
Claire: Science-based solutions are the key to hope for the future. I weaved scientific knowledge into the story to create hopeful but realistic ending to my story rather than gloomy or magical fairytale ones.
Teresa: And I appreciate the scientific information you weaved so neatly into the story, Claire. I highly recommend this fascinating book to all—it’s entertaining and you’ll be the wiser when you close the last page.

For more information please visit:
Teresa Thorne’s website:
Claire Datnow’s website:
Kristina’s Facebook Page: