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Relying on Tweens to Save Our Species

Think back to March 2020, a time few of us will ever forget. While the world was locking down and bracing for an unprecedented situation, I was putting the finishing touches on a nonfiction book proposal about potential human extinction. More specifically, a nonfiction book about potential human extinction intended for tweens. Yikes! In my defense, I was not inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea had been brewing for years. It was just good (bad?) timing.

For what it’s worth, I never intended to write nonfiction. Ten years ago, at the beginning of my career in children’s publishing, I would have said, “Nah, it’s not for me.” I naively thought nonfiction was comprised of textbooks and those thick tomes about American presidents and generals my dad enjoys. I never considered nonfiction entertaining, which is always my number one goal when writing a book. And yet, as I worked on my middle-grade novels, I discovered I loved to research. In 2018, I began reading about asteroids, and at dinner, I’d share what I learned with my children. They were riveted (and they are not easily riveted). Asteroids are as old as the solar system! NASA’s Sentry System tracks space rocks and forecasts their trajectory for the next century. But sometimes, all the telescopes in the world can miss an approaching meteoroid (case in point: Chelyabinsk, Russia 2014). Obvious conclusion: nonfiction is entertaining, and I want to write some!

Save the People! Halting Human Extinction is a scary but truth-filled book, broken into three parts. The adventure begins with our planet’s past and mass extinctions—a reoccurring plot point in the story of Earth. Our world has experienced five of these events in the last half-billion years. The dino extinction—which was triggered by an asteroid—might be the most famous and my personal favorite. If these giant reptiles had not gone belly up, we might never have experienced the rise of mammals and us, Homo sapiens. Our technology and science far exceed that of the dinosaurs. They were infamously terrible astronomers. But are we perhaps a bit bold in thinking our access to Google and smartphones can keep us safe from extinction when 99% of every species that has ever graced this planet is now gone?

Part two of the book is about the future and all the improbable (yet possible!) extinction threats. Those fun and slightly terrifying conversations with my kids about asteroids inspired me to research other hazards to our planet—or more specifically, to our species. Along with asteroids, there are chapters about supervolcanoes, disease, nuclear war, overpopulation, and other threats from space (gamma rays, anyone?). Please don’t ask me to pick a favorite. They’re all captivating. Though, I do have a soft spot for anything space-related. When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up and become an astronaut. Instead, I became a mechanical engineer until I became a children’s book author who writes a lot about outer space.

The final part of the book focuses on human-caused climate change. Our planet is approximately 4.54 billion years old, and humans have inhabited the place for only about 300,000 years. With some quick math, we can calculate that our species has only been here for about .007% of Earth’s existence. We’ve had quite an impact over a short time. Honestly, when I began researching Save the People, I’d assumed climate change would get a chapter—the same number of pages as any other threat. But the more I learned about the impending disaster that so many are still keen on ignoring, the more I realized that a deeper dive was necessary. One-third of the book is dedicated to this controllable threat. What I discovered while researching human-caused climate change was vital to include in the book and changed my lifestyle from what I eat to how I shop. (But that’s an essay for another day.)

I’m incredibly proud that Save the People: Halting Human Extinction is hitting shelves in May 2022. As the idea brewed in my brain over the years, I couldn’t help but talk about it with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers on planes. The reactions from adults have become almost predictable: raised eyebrows, forced smiles, slow head nods. I get it! The topics in the book are fascinating and terrifying, and the grown-ups immediately latch onto the terrifying aspect. Yet, last fall, when I started telling kids about this book, they focused on the fascinating side. During school visits, countless students asked when they could read it and if it would be available in the library. They see these threats as interesting events and possible opportunities to save the world. Young Homo sapiens want to use their big brains and opposable thumbs for good: avoiding asteroids, suppressing supervolcanoes, and curing diseases. I would not have been able to write this book if I did not believe in the optimism and ingenuity of tweens. (Seriously, runaway climate change is very depressing.) I hope this book entertains and inspires readers, and that just maybe, some of them will go on to become the future scientists who will save the people.