February 04

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Cover Reveal: HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET by Barbara Dee

When you’re writing middle grade fiction, there’s one unbreakable rule: Always end on a hopeful note.  No matter how serious the topic, you want the reader to close the book feeling inspired, challenged, entertained, enlightened—anything but hopeless or depressed.

Except what do you do if you’re writing about the climate crisis? How do you do justice to the enormity of the topic, and also to your protagonist’s own frustration with adult inaction, and still end with some degree of optimism?

This was my challenge in writing HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET (Aladdin/S&S, September 27, 2022). It’s the story of a seventh grader named Haven who’s obsessed with climate change—so obsessed that she has what’s called “eco-anxiety.” Not only is Haven doom-scrolling compulsively, she’s also inattentive in class, not sleeping, biting her nails to nubs as she worries about catastrophic weather events and the worldwide disappearance of honeybees and frogs. An empathetic social studies teacher suggests that Haven focus on something local and specific where she can make a difference. So when Haven’s science class begins a study of a local river, she channels her eco-anxiety into a mission to save the water from pollution she believes is being caused by the town’s new glass factory—where her own dad works.

Middle graders are savvy readers who can spot fakeness and condescension a mile away, so whenever I write about “tough topics,” I aim to be as authentic as possible. I believe that if you sugarcoat the issues, or tie them up with a pretty bow, it’s a betrayal of the reader’s trust.   

In books like VIOLETS ARE BLUE, MY LIFE IN THE FISH TANK, and MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU, I tried to end the stories hopefully but authentically—neither over-resolving the conflicts nor over-promising an issue-free future for the characters. This is never an easy balance to achieve, and for this reason my concluding chapters often take me the longest to write.

So how did I conclude HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET? I won’t share any spoilers. But knowing how deeply middle grade readers feel about the climate crisis—how it’s the most monumental and urgent topic of their lifetimes—I had to be extra careful not to end with despair. At the same time, I couldn’t overstate the impact of one middle schooler’s activism, or readers would feel hoodwinked.

It won’t surprise you to hear that with all of these considerations, I agonized for days over the ending. Finally I came up with what I think is the most satisfying conclusion I’ve ever written. It makes me smile—but what I really hope is that when kids close the book, they’ll be smiling too.   

P.S. Special thanks to the brilliantly talented cover artist, Erika Pajarillo, who also did the gorgeous cover art for VIOLETS ARE BLUE and MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU.

Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.