Author Uses Eco-Mystery Novels To Connect Young Readers with Nature
(Guest post by Bonnie J. Doerr, author of tween novels Island Sting, Stakeout, and Tangled Lines)
Recently, I was invited to speak at the Young Adult Library Services Association Symposium about empowering teens through literature.
Our panel concentrated on real characters and real issues, topics found in my three novels: Island Sting, Stakeout, and Tangled Lines. These books are realistic contemporary mysteries that pit young teens against environmental and human threats to animal species. In the midst of risky and exciting criminal investigations, the teens commit to projects that improve their natural environment.
Although fiction, such novels offer practical examples of how teens can make positive impacts in their community. I hope that these eco-mysteries, while entertaining young readers, can help inspire future conservationists.
Each novel was inspired by extensive interaction with wildlife in their native habitats, and each not only features an endangered species, but also a wildlife organization based on programs that work to protect that species in real life. The novels are unique ways to introduce the loss of habitat, diversity, and species along with many effects of pollution.
Here’s an example of how I turned fact into fiction in Stakeout, the second of my eco-mystery novels:
To start, I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, to take a series of photographs.
Founded by a retired auto dealer, Richie Moretti, the Turtle Hospital has treated and released more than 1,000 sea turtles—from its first two green turtles to hawksbills, loggerheads, and, the most endangered of all, Kemp’s ridley, since it opened in the 1980s.
I also learned there about a conservation organization called Save-A-Turtle, Inc. Based in the Florida Keys, this is a volunteer, nonprofit group that preserves and protects rare and endangered sea turtles as well as their habitats in the Keys and throughout the world. Save-A-Turtle volunteers meet at the Turtle Hospital, where they perform a number of important services.
That visit to the Turtle Hospital inspired the scene that follows, as a doctor examines a turtle and talks about the dangerous trash too often found in the stomachs of sea turtles and other ocean wildlife.
Excerpt from Stakeout, Chapter 17
The surgery room sparkled with stainless steel equipment and fascinating machines. Large lights hung above an operating table. Mounted on the wall was a light box with an unbelievable image clipped to it.
“Does that x-ray show the inside of a turtle’s stomach?” Kenzie asked.
“It does. A very sad case. Over time it had swallowed an enormous quantity of trash.” Dr. Lily opened a drawer. “Here’s what we extracted from its stomach.”
She took out a large clear box crammed with a tangle of green nylon rope, shredded bits of plastic bag, and other unidentifiable junk. She emptied it onto the counter.
“Oh, no.” Kenzie envisioned Old Turtle’s sad eyes. “One turtle swallowed that whole pile?”
Ana’s hands cupped her cheeks. “¡Dios mío! Que— What is all that?”
“The obvious bit is green mooring line.” Dr. Lily took a pen from her lab coat pocket and picked at the snarled rope, freeing the leather sole of a shoe, a rice bag label, ballpoint pens, and a plastic wine cork. “I could keep going, but you get the idea.”
“Pobrecito.” Ana grasped Traveler’s arm rests, her knuckles shining smooth and white with tension. “Turtle Beach suffered much trash, also. After our cleanup, the beach is like new.”
Ana backed away from the counter. “Cleanup I think is not so easy for a turtle.”
[End of excerpt from Stakeout.]
Because of my background in teaching both reading and science, I’m a fan of integrating science education, especially environmental science, with language arts. Using a work of fiction based on accurate information can be motivational and engaging – especially when the characters are solving mysteries and protecting wildlife. Tweens and teens don’t have to have super powers to be heroes! Novels like Stakeout can be jumping off points for all sorts of classroom and individual study projects.
The first three paragraphs in Stakeout set up the mystery, include a cryptic promise, and drop us immediately in a threatening situation.
Most people called it theft. Kenzie called it murder.
Theft. Like some lame crook made off with a computer or TV. But raiding sea turtle nests was mass murder, and Kenzie vowed to end the slaughter.
She’d keep her promise to Old Turtle, if she could ever get this dead-in-the-water boat moving again.
Kenzie is one motivated kid! And her passion to save the local sea turtle population motivates her friends, Angelo and Ana, too.
Tragically, according to the World Wildlife Fund. the rapid loss of species we’re seeing today in the real world is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, says we are at a make-or-break moment in conservation history, pointing to the importance of involving today’s youth in caring for nature.
To use his words, “There’s a new generation of potential conservationists out there . . . in cities . . . using iPhones and Androids . . . They’ve never spent a night outdoors . . . Their skin [comes in many shades]. They are the voters and leaders of tomorrow. If we lose them, there will be no tomorrow for conservation.”
I hope entertaining eco-fiction like my mysteries will help ignite this new generation to become inspired with empathy for wildlife and to develop the motivation to connect with nature so they become future conservation leaders!
You can learn more about my work and books at www.BonnieDoerrBooks.com. Be sure to check out the Tangled Lines Discussion and Project Guide (Common Core State Standards-Aligned), which includes a project, inspired by Kenzie and her friends: “Be an Agent of Change.”
Visit the website of the Turtle Hospital featured in Stakeout.
You can purchase Stakeout at Amazon.com.
You can also connect with me at my Facebook page:
I look forward to connecting with you, to inspire young readers with exciting adventure-based novels that encourage kids to learn more about wildlife and to discover how they can get involved in real-life conservation activities.
– Bonnie J. Doerr