Happy Book Birthday to Hello from Renn Lake by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Over the past few months, as we’ve all navigated the “new normal” (although there’s nothing normal about this), you’ve probably seen countless memes, videos, anecdotes, and words of hope, sorrow, and humor posted online. I admit the amount of virtual chatter has been a little overwhelming, but one post stuck in my mind – meant to be funny but it also rang true – that the earth was telling us to go to our rooms and think about what we’ve done. Haha, but not really.
Way before the pandemic, I was already thinking about what we’ve done – to our land, water, air, and all of the living things that inhabit this planet. How we’ve let them down. How we aren’t taking good care of them, and that they’re suffering as a result.
When I do author visits at schools, I look out at the faces of the kids in front of me and feel an enormous sense of worry. What will the earth be like when they’re adults? Will coastal cities no longer exist, having been swallowed up by rising seas? Will temperatures be too hot for them to spend time outside? We’re leaving young people with such a weighty burden, so many problems to solve.
It was encouraging to hear that scientists noted some positive climate shifts while we’ve all been staying home. With less cars on the roads, fewer planes in the skies, and fewer buildings operating, our air is considerably cleaner. The smog in L.A. lifted. The emissions from China’s factories fell so dramatically that the change could be seen from space. Another bit of news warmed my heart – two giant pandas at a Hong Kong zoo successfully mated after living together for thirteen years. With the zoo closed to visitors, maybe a bit of privacy was all they needed.
I can’t help but wonder, is the earth somehow saying, enough, people. After we get past this devastating virus, will we finally commit to improving the health of our planet? After all, if our earth isn’t healthy, how can we be healthy?
I certainly hope so. I believe that humans are inherent problem solvers, inventors, and achievers, and I have a sliver of faith that future generations will find solutions. Kids have become a literal force of nature, with their strikes, marches, and determined voices. Their signs proclaim “There is no Planet B,” and “No Nature, No Future” – and they’re right.
The worsening climate crisis as well as kids’ passion and insistence that we need to take action now is what inspired my new middle grade novel, Hello from Renn Lake (Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books), which publishes today. I felt so encouraged by what kids are doing that I asked four middle graders to read an advance copy of the book and write blurbs for the back cover.
Twelve-year old Annalise Oliver, abandoned as a baby in a small Wisconsin town, has a unique, almost mystical bond with Renn Lake – she can sense its thoughts and feelings. But when the lake is covered with a harmful algal bloom, not only is the livelihood of the town affected, Annalise’s connection with Renn is gone. After Annalise discovers an innovative solution, she and her friends take a risk to save their beloved lake and the town that depends on it. But in doing so, Annalise must come to terms with her past – there are secrets about the night she was left, and Renn Lake was the only witness.
Hello from Renn Lake is a story of determination, community, and fighting for things that matter. It not only inspires readers to look at the world in a new way but also reminds us of our indelible connection to nature because it’s alternately narrated by Annalise and Renn Lake.
When I started this book, I wasn’t entirely sure I could write from the perspective of a lake, but I kept thinking about the phrase “body of water” – how lakes, rivers, and oceans are living beings as much as plants and animals. I knew, deep down, that the lake’s voice needed to be heard.
The harmful algal bloom (HAB) that covers Renn Lake and threatens its viability is something that’s really happening in bodies of water all over the world. HABs occur when blue-green algae grow out of control. The problem is related to warmer temperatures, extreme weather, and runoff – rain or melting snow that carries pollutants into lakes and rivers. Blooms can have many negative and sometimes dire effects on people, plants, fish, and animals, not to mention interdependent ecosystems and aquatic habitats. Some dogs have died after swimming in lakes that had harmful algal blooms.
In addition to abandonment, roots play a thematic role in the story – literally, with the solution to help Renn Lake recover, and figuratively, with Annalise’s decision on how to move forward.
Once I gave the lake a voice, the story flowed from there, and now I know it couldn’t have been told any other way. The earth isn’t just telling us to go to our rooms and think about what we’ve done, it’s imploring us – warning us – to act before it’s too late. We need to listen.
Michele Weber Hurwitz is an acclaimed middle grade author of four other novels – Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark, Ethan Marcus Stands Up, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. Her stories focus on young people who do small but remarkable things that change their families, schools, neighborhoods, or communities in a big way. Find Michele online at https://micheleweberhurwitz.com and on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.