EDUCATORS AND READERS TUNE IN TO CLI-FI, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Have you heard of cli-fi? Even though the term has been around for a few years, I hadn’t heard of it until my editor mentioned this genre is growing in popularity among educators. Cli-fi stands for climate fiction – literature that imagines past, present, and future effects of human-made climate change. Similar to sci-fi, but solely focused on climate crisis related issues.

The trend is likely due in part to the efforts of Greta Thunberg, the young environmental activist who has motivated millions of kids to raise their voices on the climate crisis. According to Nielsen Book Research, children’s publishers have been releasing and planning numerous books aimed at empowering young people to save the planet, calling it the “Greta Thunberg effect.” In the past year, booksellers have noted and responded to a high interest on this topic with kid readers especially. At Book People in Austin, for example, the store had devoted an entire endcap to books with climate crisis themes and a sign above it marked #clifi.

I didn’t know I’d be on the forefront of a trend when I started writing my fifth middle grade novel. I’m usually never on the forefront of anything – I remember being behind all the cool fashion and culture fads in middle school, probably because I was absorbed in whatever book I was reading at the time.

But eureka! The main character in my new middle grade novel, HELLO FROM RENN LAKE, (May 26, Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books) becomes a mini Greta in her small Wisconsin lakeside town after a harmful algal bloom threatens the livelihood of the lake, and the town itself. Cli-fi! And, an uplifting, positive story for these challenging times, highlighting the message that if we all work together, we can change things for the better.

In the story, 12-year old Annalise Oliver isn’t satisfied when the town authorities decide to see if the harmful bloom will dissipate on its own. She springs into action and researches solutions with the help of her friends. And then takes a risk to implement a nature-based remedy.

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been increasing in all bodies of water in recent years. You’ve probably seen a bloom – it looks like green scum covering the top of the water. They’re another effect of climate change, and also polluted stormwater runoff that causes algae to grow out of control. HABs steal oxygen and also produce toxins that can kill fish, mammals, birds, and even dogs. Three dogs died last summer after swimming in a lake with a toxic bloom.

HELLO FROM RENN LAKE is not only a story of youth environmental activism. There are also intertwined themes of abandonment and roots – literally and figuratively. Annalise, who was abandoned as an infant, is grappling with her unknown origins but instead of searching for where she came from, she makes a choice to put down roots in the place she was found. Roots are also part of the solution that may help Renn Lake recover. I based this plot element on real-life efforts that have helped polluted waterways become healthy again – the idea that the roots of water-loving plants can soak up toxic algae, similar to how wetlands act as natural purifiers.

A unique aspect of this novel is that Renn Lake, and its cousin Tru, a river, are narrators as well as Annalise. While I was writing, I kept thinking about the phrase “body of water” – that lakes, rivers, and oceans are living beings as much as plants and animals. Having the points of view of these unusual narrators deepens the events in a way that a human narrator couldn’t relay. Readers will really get the sense of the vital importance of water to our lives and how our actions are negatively affecting its viability.

There are some amazing things that happen in this story because of the kids’ determination and refusal to accept complacency. There’s also an informational section in the back of the book for readers who want to learn more about lakes, rivers, and algal blooms, and it’s narrated by one of the characters, Annalise’s friend Zach.

I’m so happy to see several other cli-fi middle grade books that have been published recently. Be sure to check out these terrific titles.

THE LIGHT IN THE LAKE, by Sarah R. Baughman

After twelve-year-old Addie’s twin brother drown in Maple Lake, she finds clues in his notebook about a mysterious creature that lives in the lake’s depths. When she accepts a job studying the lake for the summer, she discovers Maple Lake is in trouble, and the source of the pollution might be close to home.

THE LOST RAINFOREST: MEZ’s MAGIC, by Eliot Schrefer

An animal fantasy adventure novel about a reawakened evil that threatens an endangered rainforest. Mez, a panther, and her animal friends, must unravel an ancient mystery and face danger to save their rainforest home.

THE VANDERBEEKERS AND THE HIDDEN GARDEN, by Karina Yan Glaser

When catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbors, the Vanderbeeker children set out to build a magical healing garden in Harlem – in spite of a locked fence, thistles, and trash, and the conflicting plans of a wealthy real estate developer.

And, these two new nonfiction books for young readers will be sure to inspire and prompt action:

EARTH HEROES: TWENTY INSPIRING STORIES OF PEOPLE SAVING OUR WORLD, by Lily Dyu

Twenty inspirational stories celebrating the pioneering work of a selection of earth heroes from all around the globe, from Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to Yin Yuzhen and Isatou Ceesay. Each tale is a beacon of hope in the fight for the future of our planet, proving that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.

FANTASTICALLY GREAT WOMEN WHO SAVED THE PLANET, by Kate Parkhurst

From deep in the ocean, around the Antarctic, to a Tanzanian forest, women throughout history have made discoveries that have helped and improved our world. Antarctic researcher Edith Farkas identified the hole in the Ozone Layer and Daphne Sheldrick cared for young orphaned elephants. In Gambia, Isatou Ceesay is spreading the message about the damaging consequences of plastic waste and educates women in local communities about recycling. This is a great compilation of women who have changed circumstances for the better.

With all of these books, the message is clear and positive: we are in this together globally, and every single of one of us can help in ways big and small. The health of our planet is more important than ever. During the coronavirus crisis, many people have been reminded just how restorative and soothing nature can be, not to mention vital to our survival. Let’s make a promise to take care of our water, land, air, and plants and animals so they will be here for future generations.

Michele’s website: micheleweberhurwitz.com

Michele on Twitter: @MicheleWHurwitz

Michele on Instagram: @micheleweberhurwitz

Michele Weber Hurwitz’s books include CALLI BE GOLD and THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD IN 65 DAYS (both Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books) and ETHAN MARCUS STANDS UP and ETHAN MARCUS MAKES HIS MARK (both Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). She lives in the Chicago area.

Cover Reveal: HELLO FROM RENN LAKE, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Have you ever heard a lake? Sensed its thoughts?

Might sound a little crazy, but twelve-year old Annalise Oliver, the main character in my upcoming middle grade novel, has.

Maybe it’s because she was abandoned near one when she was a baby. Or maybe it’s because when she’s next to that very same lake, her worries float away as she watches the water ripple and sway, sparkling when it catches the sun.

Whatever the reason, Annalise and Renn Lake share a deep, mystical, almost unexplainable bond. It’s been that way since she was three years old and first heard the lake say hello. And Renn has always been a source of comfort and calm for Annalise, especially when she’s upset or sad.

But this summer, when a small patch of algae quickly becomes a harmful bloom and the lake is closed, Renn goes silent.

Annalise is devastated. Her happiest times are working alongside her adoptive parents, whose family has owned and run cabins along Renn Lake, Wisconsin for generations. While the authorities debate and discuss and disagree about what to do, Annalise gets frustrated, and then angry.

Finally, she decides she can’t wait for them to act. After she and her friends – confident babysitter Maya and science nerd Zach – learn about an innovative treatment for harmful algal blooms, they take a risk to save their beloved lake. But this means that Annalise must confront her deepest fears and most troubling questions. There are secrets about the night she was left, and Renn Lake was the only witness.

This book, my fifth middle grade novel, is very close to my heart. I love lakes, and the entire culture that goes along with them – cabins and canoes and jumping off a rickety old pier into refreshing, cool water. As a lifelong Midwesterner never living near an ocean, I’ve spent many summers enjoying the lakes around me – in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It’s been distressing to see the rise in harmful algal blooms in lakes and other bodies of water, which occur when blue-green algae grow out of control. Blooms can have many negative and sometimes dire effects on people, plants, fish, and animals, not to mention interdependent ecosystems and aquatic habitats. This past summer, some dogs died after swimming in lakes that had algal blooms.

Scientists think the increase in blooms is related to warmer temperatures, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Runoff is a big cause too – rain or melting snow that picks up debris, chemicals and pollutants and flows over sidewalks, driveways, and streets into lakes and rivers. If an algal bloom grows large enough, it can create a dead zone, covering the surface of the water and blocking sunlight. No oxygen gets through and aquatic life disappears.

The impacts of climate change are terrifying. It’s clear to me that we need to address our environmental problems now, before it’s too late and the damage is irreversible. I’ve been impressed and heartened to see kids protesting, speaking out, and urging policymakers to act. Their signs have brought tears to my eyes: “There is no planet B.” “What future?” “Sea levels are rising, and so are we.”

Every single one of us can help in some way. We can do small things, big things, even just one thing. As the kids in my novel come to realize.

Not only is Hello From Renn Lake a story of community, the power of youth activism, and fighting for the things you love, it’s about the strong connection between humans and nature. I firmly believe that nature has a voice, and we need to listen to it. The bond between Annalise and Renn Lake is the emotional core of this story. The girl and the lake heal each other.

I’m thrilled to debut the cover on MG Book Village, one of my absolute favorite sites for all things middle grade. I love Celia Krampien’s illustration, with its nod to a vintage postcard. She beautifully captured the sentiment of the story as well as Annalise (front and center), Zach, Maya, and Annalise’s spunky little sister Jess. You can see more of Celia’s work here: http://www.celiakrampien.com/

Writing a novel is a leap of faith in so many ways – trusting yourself to tell the story that’s in your head, but worrying about getting it down and getting it right. Pushing away those constant doubts, and listening to your heart. I took a big leap in the narration of this book, which alternates between the perspectives of Annalise and Renn Lake. I think (I hope) I got it right.


Hello From Renn Lake dives into the world on May 26, 2020 from Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books. Michele is also the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up and Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books). She lives in the Chicago area, near Lake Michigan.


HELLO FROM RENN LAKE is now available for preorder. Links to do so from your preferred bookseller are below!

Indie Bound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million