You Want a Cover Reveal? Howzabout an ALAN GRATZ Cover Reveal AND Excerpt?
All right, all right. Let’s have some fun. I’m feeling antsy. Today, I don’t just want to do a cover reveal. I don’t just want to do an author interview. No, my dears, I want it all. I want the trifecta. The ultra-rare cover reveal/author interview/novel excerpt. That’s right, baby! It’s a threefer day, and we’re shooting for the moon!
My guest today, if you failed to read the headline, is none other than bestselling author Alan Gratz. You may be aware that he’s topped the charts in the past with books like Refugee and Ground Zero. Well now he appears to have a new book on the horizon. Its name is Two Degrees, it’s on shelves everywhere September 6th, and THIS is its plot description:
Fire. Flood. Ice. Three natural disasters. Three kids who must fight to survive—and change things for the better.
In California, Akira Kristiansen is driving through the mountains with her mom when a wildfire sparks — and grows scarily fast. In just moments, Akira and her family have to evacuate… but which way is safe with fire all around them?
In Churchill, Manitoba, Owen Mackenzie is running a tour for travelers who’ve come to see the polar bears. Lately the bears show up more and more as the ice thins. When Owen and his friend see a bear much too close for comfort, they end up in a fight for their lives.
In Miami, a hurricane bears down on Natalie Torres. That’s not so uncommon… but everyone’s saying this could be it. The Big One. Natalie and her mom don’t have anywhere to run to, so they hunker down to ride out the storm.
Akira, Owen, and Natalie are all swept up in the global effects of climate change, each struggling to survive their individual disasters. But, as they will discover, the three kids are more deeply connected than they could ever imagine–in ways that will change them, and hopefully, can change the world.
Just as Refugee brought awareness of the refugee crisis to young readers, this latest tour-de-force from bestselling author Alan Gratz will shed light on the increasingly urgent threat of climate change — while taking readers on a nonstop adventure that will keep them turning the pages, and making their own plans to better the world.
A plot description is all well and good, but let’s talk to the man himself. Folks, I give you, Alan Gratz . . .
Betsy Bird: Alan! Thanks so much for joining me today! So let’s talk a bit about TWO DEGREES. I don’t think I’m talking out of turn when I say that with your most recent middle grades, folks associate you with single issue topics. REFUGEE and GROUND ZERO are sort of self-explanatory in that way. But with this book you have three different kids with three different narratives. Seemingly they seem disconnected, but their problems all stem from the same source. Can you tell me a bit about where this book came from?
Alan Gratz: Hi, Betsy! Yes, each of my recent books has focused on a particular event or crisis, and TWO DEGREES is no different. On the surface, TWO DEGREES is three concurrent stories of survival set in three different parts of North America. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, a girl named Akira struggles to survive a massive wildfire. In Churchill, Manitoba, two boys named Owen and George flee starving polar bears stranded on land by melting sea ice. And in Miami, Florida, a girl named Natalie fights to keep her head above water as her city drowns in a hurricane. The three situations are very different, but they all have the same underlying cause: climate change. That’s what this book is really about.
Climate change is a topic I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time. It’s big and scary and important, like the refugee crisis, or 9/11, and kids want to understand it better. But my question was always, “How do I tell an exciting story about something that’s been creeping up on us in slow motion for more than two hundred years?” That’s like the slowest thriller of all time!
Climate change is a complicated, unwieldy topic, and if I approached it like a textbook and centered the story on the history and the politics and the science behind the crisis, I was sure to write a clunker of a novel. Instead, like REFUGEE, I focus on people–kids and their families–dealing with the immediate effects of the crisis, right here, right now. The history and the politics and the science are all still there, but they’re in the background. What’s more important to me is getting young readers to understand and care about how climate change impacts real people.
And like REFUGEE and GROUND ZERO, the young people at the center of all three of these stories share another connection besides the cause of all their problems. But that’s a spoiler.
BB: In the course of your writing, was this ever a single narrative or did you always envision it as three different kids in three very different places from the start?
AG: Ha! I think my original pitch for this book was something like twelve different short stories, each featuring a different kid a in different part of the world dealing with one of a wide variety of climate change disasters currently affecting the planet. The only connection back then was the root cause—climate change—and the cumulative effect of all the stories would be to show how this crisis affects everyone, everywhere. People don’t call it “global warming” for nothing. But I realized that while that might show the breadth of the issue, it wouldn’t show the depth of it. We might see lots of different ways climate change is affecting the world, but we wouldn’t spend enough time with each of the characters to really get to know them or care about them.
So from there I narrowed it down to four stories I wanted to tell, choosing a different continent for each. Next I dove into the research, but there I realized my story was still too far flung, and I reined it in again, this time focusing on communities much closer to home. Then, after I’d spent more than a year researching everything and outlining my story, I discovered that even four stories was too many, and I cut one of them. (It killed me to throw out a quarter of my work, but at least I figured that out before I wrote the first draft!) From that point on, it was always this group of kids and these three stories.
After writing novels about a number of real-life events, I see this as my process now. I start by learning everything I can about a time, a place, an event, and then slowly, over the course of many permutations and drafts and revisions, the story gets distilled so that the characters and their lives become the primary focus, with the event I started out writing about eventually turning into their crucible in the background.
BB: Talk to me a little bit about what your research process looks like. Did you conduct interviews or look at any particular books? With three very different settings it feels like you tripled your workload.
AG: Did I mention that climate change is complicated and unwieldy? Oof. There is So. Much. Science. Which is one of the reasons of course that students and teachers want something that addresses the issue in an accessible way. It was very easy for me to go down the research rabbit hole on this one, and I fell right in, Alice-style. I read books and articles, watched documentaries, and talked to climate change scientists. I learned so much about where we are, how we got here, and what the world will look like if we let things go any farther. Among many others, THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH by David Wallace-Wells and THE GREAT DERANGEMENT by Amitav Ghosh, both written for adults, were super useful and inspiring. For kids, I love and recommend HOW TO CHANGE EVERYTHING by Naomi Klein and Rebecca Stetoff.
Reading about climate change was fascinating and enlightening, but most of that research was history and politics and science. It wasn’t the story. Eventually I had to claw my way out of studying climate change in general, and get specific about the people and places I wanted to write about. That’s where first-hand accounts about people surviving wildfires, floods, and yes, real-life polar bear encounters, were essential. Once I shifted my focus from the bigger picture to climate change’s effects on individual people, the real story of TWO DEGREES began to take shape. But this will definitely go down as one of my most complicated research projects!
BB: Middle grade fiction that confronts climate change without being post-apocalyptic feels difficult. It would almost be easier if you were to write something that takes place 30 years in the future when we’re all living in Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. Why was it important to you to set this in the here and now?
AG: Yes! So many stories about climate change take place in the future. But this is part of the problem, and shows how we have to change our way of thinking about the crisis. For too long, climate change has been the stuff of science fiction. Something that might happen in some far-flung future. A looming problem for our kids, or our kids’ kids, but not for us. But that’s not true. Just in the last year, we saw devastating floods in southeast Asia. Deadly heat waves in Europe. Intense droughts and flood insecurity across Africa and Central America. Unprecedented wildfires in California and Australia. In one three month span of 2021 alone, one in three Americans was dealing with a FEMA-recognized weather disaster. Climate change isn’t coming. It’s here. Now. That’s why it was so important to me to set TWO DEGREES in the present, and not the future.
There’s also sometimes the feeling in stories set in apocalyptic futures that a climate change catastrophe is somehow inevitable. It’s not. If the bad news is that human activity has thrown our climate out of whack, the good news, at least, is that it’s within our power to fix it. That’s a great message–and one that’s easier to get across in a story where the world is broken but still fixable, rather than one where it’s too far gone to repair.
BB: Here’s a question that may seem obvious to some, but utterly stumped me: What does the title TWO DEGREES refer to?
AG: I’m glad you asked! The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement saw 196 countries agree to do what they can to keep the Earth’s average temperature from rising to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Two degrees doesn’t sound like a lot, but many scientists fear that the two degree threshold is a point of no return for human beings. Hitting two degrees will be damaging enough, but once we get there, they argue, feedback loops may create runaway, irreversible climate change that will endanger billions of people. Distressingly, we’re already at 1.5 degrees average temperature rise globally, and we’re trending up. Some localized areas like the Arctic are already averaging a two degree temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels. Two degrees is a threshold everyone in the world needs to be focused on avoiding. Then our next challenge will be to actually reverse the rise. “Two degrees” has other meanings in my story as well, but that climate change benchmark is by far the most important, and one I hope young readers will understand by the time they finish my novel.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
AG: I have another book coming out in 2022 that I’m very excited about as well: a graphic novel from Scholastic and Marvel called Captain America: The Ghost Army! That was a ton of fun to write. And it’s early days yet, but another topic young readers often ask me for is a story of the Attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. I think that might be the book I write for 2023. My preliminary research on Pearl Harbor has already been fun. I’m just hoping it isn’t as complicated as the research for TWO DEGREES!
That was pretty good, but let’s crank it up a notch. Are you ready for an excerpt of the book? Hope so, because I have them! Remember that you can click on these images to make them larger and easier to read:
Good old peril. A lovely way to end any excerpt.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the one and only book jacket itself . . .
Alan Gratz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of several highly acclaimed books for young readers, including Ground Zero, Allies, Grenade, Refugee, Projekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, and Code of Honor. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and daughter. His debut graphic novel, Captain America: The Ghost Army, will be published by Graphix on August 2, 2022. Look for him online at alangratz.com.
Big time thanks to Alan and to Alex Kelleher-Nagorski and the folks at Scholastic for this reveal. Two Degrees will be on shelves everywhere September 6th.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network