A Word from the Author or Illustrator

Natasha Bowen Author Post

Skin of the Sea

Dear Educator,

I first read “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen when I was six. I fell in love with the world under the sea and its magic. As I grew older, I still loved mermaids but began to wonder: Where were the mermaids who looked like me?

I read a lot. Growing up, I didn’t experience many stories where I saw myself. One piece of advice I’ve heard for writers over the years is to write the book you want to read. Skin of the Sea is that story for me. I wanted to read about Black mermaids and legendary creatures. I wanted to read about the excellence of the West African kingdoms. I wanted a tale that explored the magic, myths, and spiritual beliefs that have spread across the diaspora.

I was first motivated to write this book after coming across Yemoja, a Yoruba deity of the Ifá spiritual belief system. She was said to have left her home in the rivers and streams to follow the first Africans who were stolen. There are stories of her comforting enslaved people, while others tell of her wrecking the slave ships. Some say that Yemoja blessed the souls of those who died in the sea and returned them back home. This was the belief that inspired me. What if she created seven Mami Wata (mermaids) in her image to help her do this? And what if one of them saved a boy instead? The seeds for Skin of the Sea were sown and the tale grew from there.

My father is Yoruba, and being able to delve into that part of my heritage has made writing this story even more important to me. Skin of the Sea is a tale of magic and courage, but it also highlights a rich culture and a spirituality often overlooked. This story speaks of ingenuity and fellowship. It is a celebration of the ancestors and their strength.

It is incredible to be reading more stories that open up our worlds to other people’s experiences, cultures, and beliefs. I’m proud of Skin of the Sea and how it explores Black mermaids with African origins. Some readers will see themselves in this story in a way they haven’t before, while other readers will be able to expand their experience of magical beings, fantastical creatures, and history. I hope that all readers will be enthralled by Simidele’s world and will get lost in the glories of fifteenth-century West Africa.

All my best,
Natasha Bowen

Natasha Bowen

Natasha Bowen is a New York Times bestselling author, a teacher, and a mother of three children. She is of Nigerian and Welsh descent and lives in Cambridge, England, where she grew up. Natasha studied English and creative writing at Bath Spa University before moving to East London, where she taught for nearly ten years. She is obsessed with Japanese and German stationery and spends stupid amounts on notebooks, which she then features on her secret Instagram. When she's not writing, she's reading, watched over carefully by Milk and Honey, her cat and dog. Follow her on Twitter at @skinofthesea.

Hope Jahren Author Post

The Story of More (Adapted for Young Adults)

Dear Educator,

First of all, thank you for reading books! In a world full of distractions, you are giving your time and energy to written ideas, thoughts and feelings … and teaching others to do the same.  What would the world be without you?  While we’re on the topic, I’d love for you to take a look at my new book for young people, “The Story of More” perhaps there is something inside that would interest you – and the students that you teach!

Like many of the people that I meet each day, I have plenty of questions about Climate Change: mostly along the lines of What should I believe? and Should I be afraid? Because a teacher’s job is to answer questions, I did my research and wrote a book entitled “The Story of More.”  It is the book full of the answers that I found for the questions above.  I’ve now re-written the adult version to a version that will be more accessible — and more interesting — to young people.  It’s full of simple explanations, personal stories, our shared history of Global Change and what we can do to bring forward a brighter future – what it doesn’t contain is preaching and propaganda.  It is the science that I needed to write, and maybe — just maybe — it contains answers and solutions that your students want to consider.  It is a book on Climate Change that is truly for everyone, regardless of their “politics.”

I’ll close this note with my very best to you, from one book lover to another!

Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. She currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo, Norway. hopejahrensurecanwrite.com jahrenlab.com

More Books on Climate

Alice Wong Author Q&A

Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults)

Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults) By Edited by Alice Wong

Disabled young people will be proud to see themselves reflected in this hopeful, compelling, and insightful essay collection, adapted for young adults from the critically acclaimed adult book, Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century. The seventeen eye-opening essays in Disability Visibility, all written by disabled people, offer keen insight into the complex and rich disability experience, examining life’s ableism and inequality, its challenges and losses, and celebrating its wisdom, passion, and joy.

The accounts in this collection ask readers to think about disabled people not as individuals who need to be “fixed,” but as members of a community with its own history, culture, and movements. They offer diverse perspectives that speak to past, present, and future generations. It is essential reading for all.

Enjoy this Q&A with anthology editor Alice Wong!

In addition to writing Disability Visibility, you are the founder of the Disability Visibility Project. What prompted you to start the online community, and how can young readers interact with it to find community of their own?

I originally started the Disability Visibility Project (DVP) in 2014 as an oral history campaign encouraging disabled people across the country to record their stories in the lead-up to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015. I was tired of not seeing disability history taught in school, with the exception of the same small handful of famous disabled people like Helen Keller and FDR. The DVP grew quickly into an online community with a podcast, guest essays, and more. There’s a lot of content people can find on my website or by following me on Instagram and Twitter. The DVP is my attempt to create work by us and for us.

What advice do you have for young people looking to write or start their own entrepreneurial projects?

Knowing what’s out there is a start, and seeing other projects that are good examples of what to do and what not to do is helpful, too. Before you launch a name or hashtag, check if it’s already in use by others. If you’re working on a project, figure out how much time you have, what budget you’ll need, how you can make it sustainable, and what will set you apart. Are you filling a need? Will this give you joy? Is it a good use of your time? If you are interested in writing, start with what you care about. Journal writing can help you develop your voice and a place for your thoughts. It’s private so you don’t have to edit; you can just write without any rules. I also try to learn from my past work and try to challenge myself. I’m still figuring stuff out and cringe at some of my essays from a few years ago. So maybe that’s a sign of growth?

Can you talk about the process of selecting essays to be included in Disability Visibility? How did you find authors of the essays, and how did you decide what to keep in the young adult adaptation?

I bookmark a lot of great articles, essays, and websites for my own use. When I wrote the book proposal for the adult version of Disability Visibility, I had a spreadsheet of over fifty essays I wanted to include. During the manuscript phase, my editor, Catherine Tung, and I narrowed it down to thirty-seven because each was singular and covered an issue or perspective that is important to me. I knew most of the authors already from social media or as acquaintances and friends. It helped that I spent many years developing these relationships so people knew and trusted me. Beverly Horowitz and Rebecca Gudelis of Delacorte Press reached out to me and suggested the seventeen pieces that are in the young reader version because of length and content.

Are there any stories of disability you feel are yet to be told and would have liked to include?

There are always a ton more stories to be told! Universes upon universes! I want to hear from young disabled people, disabled artists, activists, and people from all walks of life. I want to see more work by disabled queer people, disabled gender-nonconforming people, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous disabled people. Publishing has barely scratched the surface when it comes to the richness and diversity of disabled lives.

As you were editing the essays, what were some things that really struck you?

It is a great responsibility to be an editor, and my role was to give the authors another perspective, to ask questions, and to make suggestions. I took a lot of care with their words. The contributions excited me because they were all very different, yet all were personal, political, and powerful. I appreciated the contributors’ participation in this anthology and the efforts they made in the editing process, which can be time-consuming and difficult. (I say this as a writer who understands the pain.) There wouldn’t be an anthology without them. I continue to love the essay form, since the contributors were able to express themselves clearly and concisely. Longform works seem more daunting to me!

Can you share some memories you have of being in school?

I am “an old,” as the kids say. I attended grade school in Indianapolis in the 1980s and loved reading, writing, social studies, art, and going to the library. One of my favorite places was the Nora Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, where I attended summer reading programs. Good times. Later, I became a volunteer and got to listen to kids talk about books at the Carmel Public Library in Carmel, Indiana, when I was in high school. By the way, support your local library and volunteer or donate if you can!

Do you have hopes for how this book will be received and used in schools and libraries now?

With any anthology, I hope there is something for everyone, and the length of the essays make them ideal for short assignments and readings. It would be awesome if teachers used this in English, cultural studies, or history classes. I’d love to see libraries or student groups form book clubs or use it as a springboard to encourage students, especially disabled students, to tell their stories. There’s also a free plain-language summary and discussion guide, both by disabled writers, available as resources for teachers, students, and librarians.

Time for a fun rapid-fire round!

Name a book or books you won’t ever part with.

Let Papa Sleep by Crosby Bonsall

What’s your favorite food or snack?

Coffee and pie (or cookies, or doughnuts)

Who is a person/group doing amazing work that you admire?

I think Sandy Ho, the founder and co-organizer of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit, is pretty awesome! Full disclosure: I am on their steering committee.

Name something that brings you joy.

Group texts with friends, fancy snacks, and Netflix

What’s next for you after finishing Disability Visibility?

Thank you for asking! I am about to turn in the manuscript for my memoir, Year of the Tiger, which will be published by Vintage Books in 2022. I have a few other fun projects lined up next year, and if I’m really organized, I’ll start outlining a proposal for another anthology I want to edit.

Alice Wong

Alice Wong is a disabled activist, media maker, and research consultant based in San Francisco, California. She is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. Alice is also the host and co-producer of the Disability Visibility podcast and co-partner in a number of collaborations such as #CripTheVote and Access Is Love. From 2013 to 2015, Alice served as a member of the National Council on Disability, an appointment by President Barack Obama. You can follow her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf. For more: disabilityvisibilityproject.com.

Kathleen Glasgow Author Essay

You'd Be Home Now

I’m no stranger to difficult things. I’ve written young adult novels about self-harm and depression (Girl in Pieces) and grief (How to Make Friends with the Dark). Bits of these books are drawn from my own life experiences; I give my characters some of my feelings, but their stories belong to them. I write for teens because when I was a young adult, struggling with mental health issues, reading novels with characters who were depressed or addicted or hurting made me feel less lonely. Books can show you how not alone you really are. They can be a safe haven in a world whose language and rules often seem beyond your grasp.

My new novel, You’d Be Home Now, is loosely inspired by Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our Town, long one of my favorite plays. One line in particular has stayed with me over the years. Emily Webb implores her mother, “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me.” Isn’t that what teens want from the adults in their life? To be seen as they are, not as they are supposed to be. Adolescence is messy and complicated and quite often painful, with tinges of joy in between. I feel like we forget that when we become adults and parents and caregivers.

There was a lot to consider when reimagining Wilder’s play, which is set in the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. What would Grover’s Corners look like today? Who would a reimagined Emily Webb be? And what to do with the character of the Stage Manager, who speaks directly to the audience and seems to know everything about everything, including the futures of the characters?

Step one: The Stage Manager becomes a teen Instagram poet named Mis_Educated whose posts reveal the town of Mill Haven’s secrets and in whose comment section teens feel safe talking about the way they really feel about life and all its complications.

Step two: I feel certain that if Wilder wrote this play today, Grover’s Corners would be reeling from the opioid crisis. After all, Wilder didn’t shy away from discussing suicide and alcoholism in Our Town. He was no stranger to difficult things, either.

Step three: Emily becomes Emory Ward, facing the fallout from her brother Joey’s drug addiction and the connected death of a classmate.

Emmy is drowning under the weight of taking care of Joey after his return from rehab. She’s always been “the good one” in her family. Joey has always been “the bad one.” Those roles are destroying them. I’ll bet you know an Emmy: always taking care of everyone and putting their own emotional needs on the back burner. Maybe you were an Emmy in your family. Or maybe you were a Joey: always the disappointment, dragging down the family and sucking all the energy from the room. Maybe there’s a Joey in your family.

I’ve been Emmy and I’ve been Joey. They’re both sinking under the weight of adult expectations. No one really sees them for who they are. Emmy is expected to caretake Joey’s sobriety and get good grades. Joey returns home to a doorless room and an endless list of rules. If he can’t abide, he’ll have to leave the house. It’s an unmanageable situation for them both.

It was important for me to write about Emmy’s love for Joey as well as her frustration and guilt over his situation. I’ve been in recovery for years and I still vividly remember people begging me, “Why can’t you just stop already?” In writing Joey, I wanted readers to understand that it isn’t that simple. I wanted them to understand where’s he’s coming from, what he feels, why he does what he does and why he can’t stop. (Spoiler alert: shaming people does not eliminate addiction.)

Addiction directly affects the mental health of everyone in its orbit. Family member, friend, teacher, community. It is not a faceless disease, and yet we often treat it as such. “They did it to themselves.” “They could get better if they wanted to, but they don’t.” “Not my problem.”

But just like in Mill Haven (the reimagined Grover’s Corners), it is our problem. Those aren’t ghosts under Frost Bridge in You’d Be Home Now. They’re people, struggling to be seen and to survive. Addiction is a public health crisis. It’s in your house, your neighborhood, your community, your schools. And the collateral damage is kids like Emmy, whose mental health is fraying under the strain of trying to keep everything “normal.” There is no normal. There is only survival, and hoping the next day is better than this one. As Emmy notes in her school essay at the end of You’d Be Home Now, “Sometimes your life falls to ash and you sift through, waiting for the pain to pass, looking for the remnants in the debris, something to save, when really all you need is right there, inside you . . . love remains.”

I wrote You’d Be Home Now for the Emmys and the Joeys, kids faltering under the weight of so many heavy things. Because life is messy and complicated and painful, and books should show that. Like Emmy says, “We could all probably be a little more benevolent in life. We all live here, after all. We all share the same mighty good company of the stars at night, and everyone deserves kindness, and survival.”

Kathleen Glasgow

Kathleen Glasgow is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Girl in Pieces, as well as How to Make Friends with the Dark and You'd Be Home Now. She lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona. To learn more about Kathleen and her writing, visit her website, kathleenglasgowbooks.com, or follow @kathglasgow on Twitter and @misskathleenglasgow on Instagram.

Remembering 9-11

Hope and Other Punch Lines

When I wrote Hope and Other Punch Lines, it was my way of grappling with the legacy of 9/11 and my own obsessions with those moments when the world cleaves into a before and after. I wasn’t interested in exploring the political ramifications of that day (there are many people way better equipped to tell that still unfurling story) but instead with the personal legacies of loss. How does trauma shape people and communities? How does it fundamentally change how we see and interact with the world, even (or especially) decades after the fact? What does “never forget” mean in this world of death trackers, of swaths of the country mapped in red, a chilling echo of the terror alert threats that used to grace our nightly news back in 2001?

Most interesting to me, how do we continue to laugh and to find humor in our darkest moments and in the grim wake they leave behind? Would it be possible for me to write a book that allows us to feel the visceral horror of 9/11 but also gives room for us to joke around?

After all, only in loss (as in fiction) do we embrace the full range of our humanity.

They say that reading novels builds empathy, and of course, I believe that’s true. But reading novels in times as dark as these also helps us metabolize community-wide trauma and can lead us through with laughter and light. For better or worse, this next generation already well knows that the personal is political and the political is personal. What they don’t yet understand is the benefit of historical perspective, of catharsis, or all the ways they will grow from pain.

To students today who are off to college or work in face masks, 9/11 seems like ancient history. Even for those of us, like me, whose brains are forever imprinted with images of falling towers, who tell our children the “where I was when” stories, admittedly there has been a receding. The literature of 9/11 aimed at teens is an attempt to help them craft what never forget means to them and how, ironically, sometimes never forget also includes a delicate reckoning with the fact that life goes on.

Even when, like now, the world seems like a dumpster fire, we still laugh, we still love, we still read and muddle our way through. We still embrace the full range of our humanity, together.

Julie Buxbaum

JULIE BUXBAUM is the author of the What to Say Next, as well as the New York Times bestseller Tell Me Three Things, her debut young adult novel. She also wrote the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Love and After You. Her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.

Coming this fall from Julie Buxbaum!

Random House Teachers and Librarians