The Toughest “Tough Topic” of All, a guest post by Barbara Dee

Every book you write has its own special challenges.

For Violets Are Bluemy challenge was to a protagonist who create her mom’s addiction without fully processing what she was seeing.

For My Life in the Fish Tankmy challenge was to construct a narrative with a fractured chronology that would be coherent to a middle grade reader.

For Maybe He Just Likes Youmy challenge was to write about sexual harassment in a way that felt authentic but age-appropriate.

Middle school visit in spring 2021.

My latest middle grade novel, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planetpresenting my biggest challenge yet: to write a story about a middle schooler’s anxiety about the climate crisis– the most monumental “tough topic” of our lifetime—and make it both entertaining and accessible to kids.

As I struggled with a first draft of the first few chapters, I realized that this book couldn’t be exclusively about the climate crisis. My approach to writing about “tough topics” is to aerate them, to allow the middle grade reader room to breathe. I typically include several other threads–subplots about friendships, crushes, school and family—and it was especially important to do that here, I thought, not only to keep the topic from becoming overwhelming, but also to keep it relatable, specific, grounded in the everyday. After all, no kid’s life is just about one thing, one topic, all day long. Even a kid laser-focused on saving the planet still has to deal with middle school social drama and homework.