Pond Slider Turtle, Limestone Park, Alabaster
(photo taken Boris Datnow at bioblitz in Alabaster, Alabama)
At the Alabama Writer's Conclave last month, I had the exciting opportunity to attend a workshop on eco-Mysteries and ecological fiction sponsored by the amazing Claire Datnow. I learned about how her love for Alabama's ecology led her to write eco-fiction for middle-schoolers in order to empower, inspire, and educate them about ecological principles. And then I bought all the books in the Adventures of the Sizzling Six for my children.
The first book in this series, The Lone Tree, is only $2 on kindle and $7 for print. Here's the synopsis:
They thought it was going to be a boring summer. It wasn't! When six determined teenagers decide to save a magnificent old white oak their adventures begin. Can they save their tree and the animals living in it? Will they get to build their secret hideout in its great branches? What could go wrong? The Sizzling Six will have to reckon with a ticked off neighbor on the city council, an unusual teacher, a thickheaded bully and his ditzy girlfriend, a mysterious dreamtime eagle, and an awesome night bat.
Given the extent to which young people (especially young females) are bombarded with advertisements and media which celebrate looking "cute" and trying to "make boys like you", Claire's fiction provides a counter-narrative in which the heroines are driven by eco-fascination and the desire to preserve something they love.
Because what Claire writes is not likely to be bestseller Y.A. material, we have to ask ourselves more about this amazing woman that spends her time reaching out to Alabama's youngest citizens. Claire in her own words:
Born in South Africa, I immigrated to the US having lived in California, Minnesota, Alabama and Canada. I am a mother, grandmother and wife, and my family is the core of my life. All that I see, feel, experience feeds and inspires my writing. What I have learned in college and through wide reading informs my writing. I earned MA degrees in education of the gifted and talented, and in public history.
The series of YA Eco mysteries for 4-8 graders, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, reflects my passion and awe for the natural world. With the trusty aid of Boris Datnow, my technological guru, the third book in the series uses QR codes to transport readers from the printed word on the page to video clips that let readers see and hear what the characters in the story are seeing and hearing! My memoir, Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid, drew inspiration from a beautiful country scared by the iniquities of apartheid. The Final Diagnosis: What The Autopsy Reveals About Life and Death is a tribute to my husband, an autopsy pathologist. My historical novel, The Nine Inheritors, pays homage to my grandmother and two aunts and all those killed in the Holocaust.
What's next? On my trip to Australia, I found inspiration for the fourth book in the eco mystery series for middle grades, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Who Kidnapped The Koala? My newest books are published as Enhanced e-books as well as electronic books.
On her website, Claire offers an incredible amount of resources and activities for home educators. In her words:
Each time I write a new eco-mystery for the series, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, I am amazed at what I learn about the species central to my story. I have developed this unit to share the excitement of learning with students. It is my hope these lesson plans will inspire them to take action in their own communities, and, ultimately, become wise stewards of the earth’s precious natural heritage.
Feel free to download and print the curriculum unit How to Become and Eco Detective. Lessons can easily be correlated to the Common Core State Standards Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects. You can also print up the Role Playing Cards and the Driving Questions for use in your classroom.
I would be honored if you would share your students’ work with me at: email@example.com
Free handouts and teacher activities including Eco-mystery Writing Contest. But my favorite by far is the printable Lessons for How to Write Eco-mysteries, a free printable PDF packet. If you take nothing from this, print a copy of this packet and plan a roam school today.
Since Max enjoyed Claire's mysteries so much, he did a little email interview with her. I am so grateful that she took the time to answer his questions.
MAX: Did the oil spill from the Canyon Gulf really happen, or was it based on the Deepwater Horizon spill?
CLAIRE: Indeed, the oil spill in my eco mystery is based on the Deepwater Horizon explosion that occurred on 20 April 2010. NOAA continues to assess the fish, wildlife, and habitat harmed by the spill along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida.
MAX: What Functions do Diamondback terrapins have as a keystone species?
CLAIRE: So why all this effort to save one species? If terrapins no longer live in the marsh the eco system will become less stable. These terrapins can be considered a keystone species—if you take them out, certain invertebrate species, like snails, will keep on increasing, and they will eat more and more of the marsh grasses that many other species need to survive. That will cause a shift in the important balance of living things in the eco system.The terrapins help to maintain a healthy salt marsh that is a nursery for crabs, fish, oysters, and a large variety of aquatic life. (Max, you will find the more answers to this question in the eco adventure.)
MAX: Is Shelley Island a real place?
CLAIRE: Yes, the island is based on the site of Cedar Point along the Alabama Dauphin Island marsh where the female terrapins come to lay their eggs in summer. (For more information Google Cedar Point along the Alabama Dauphin Island marsh.)
MAX: Are all your stories set in Alabama?
CLAIRE: They are all set in Alabama with the exception of The Adventure of The Sizzling Six: Who Kidnapped the Koala, which is set in Australia. The inspiration for that book came while I was visiting my family in Australia.
MAX: Why did you choose southern ecology for the subject of your books?
CLAIRE: To do research for my eco mysteries I need to visit the habit of the species I will be writing about. It’s easier for me to explore Alabama as I live in this state. I also interview and consult with conservationists and wildlife scientists who live in Alabama.
Claire and her spouse, Boris, are currently traveling in Greenland, Iceland, and Labrador. Anyone who knows Claire imagines her explorations are probably sparking new ideas for eco-mysteries to come.
I am deeply grateful to Claire for the time she took to speak with me and with Max-- even more grateful for the beguiling, ecological stories she writes, stories I can share with my children to inspire them to be the change they want to see in the world.
Claire's other eco-mysteries, including one about the Cahaba Lily