Writing in the Time of Covid, a guest post by Dana Alison Levy
In some ways, Breaking the Mold: Changing the Face of Climate Science, was a perfect book to write during the lockdown of 2020. I signed a contract for this book in March 2020, and then the world folded in on itself and we all hunkered down, fretting over (in no particular order): dying, toilet paper, the economy, yeast, our elders, our children, our jobs, our healthcare workers, hand sanitizer, flour…well. You probably remember.
We were a party of four working or attending school from home: my husband in the front room, my daughter on her bed, my son at the dining room table, and me in the finished attic (head clearance, five feet, five inches: my height, five feet, three inches. I didn’t get a lot of visitors).
Now, I am not precious about the writing process. I have written books in hockey rinks, hotel rooms, my car…it is the nature of being a working parent. But this was different. Not only was the house constantly full of people, it was full of So Much Big Emotion. Everybody’s feelings — anxiety, stress, frustration, fear — were all over the place. To dig into a well of creativity, to come up with characters and stories out of my head, I need some mental space for them to grow. And 2020 didn’t have a lot of space.
But Breaking the Mold was something new for me — my first nonfiction book for a middle grade audience, intended as a series of profiles of diverse scientists who work in climate science. My goal was to pull back the veil and show kids how people build a career in science, especially if they do not fit the mold of the majority of scientists: white, cisgendered, able-bodied, and neurotypical.
Unlike my previous novels, this was a capital-P-Project. It required Project Management. There were spreadsheets…so many spreadsheets. There were folders and different colored tabs. There were workflows and deadlines and Zoom calls and transcription services and fact-checking. For someone who typically sits in a chair and makes things up for a living, this was a whole different way to work. But…and this was the key: it did not require the quiet and intimacy of creating a world in my head. Yes, there might have been moments where kids or cats interrupted a Zoom, but we were all in this together. Everyone understood.
But the real reason that this book was a perfect book to be writing in 2020 and 2021 is that, in the end, it was all about connection. And hope.
I was not alone in my head, trying to tease out the voices there. I was talking to people around the world, listening to their stories and explaining the importance of why we were sharing their experiences with young readers.
I found sixteen scientists to interview, from chemical analysts to ecologists, from botanists to volcanologists. Some are internationally renowned in their fields, some are just starting out. They live in Cape Town, South Africa; Atlanta, Georgia; Hilo, Hawaii; Lubbock, Texas; Vancouver, British Columbia, and beyond. They have very little in common with each other, except that they work in the myriad fields of science related to helping to understand and protect our planet. Their stories are as diverse as they are, but they all have a story to share.
And despite any evidence to the contrary, these scientists also all have hope. Hope that we have not damaged our planet beyond repair. Hope that we can still make a difference. Hope that there is a path into science for everyone. The path was not always easy for these folks. Making your way into science as a person with a disability, or as a Black queer person, or as a gay immigrant, is not always simple, and not everyone felt welcomed. But they made it, and they are doing the work, and they are sharing their stories, and they are inviting others to join them.
Devyani Singh, a queer Indian woman who shifted from business to environmental science because she knew it was the work of her heart, said, “I wish everyone knew that it’s not too late! There are doomsday folks who say that the planet is ruined and there’s no point in taking action, but that’s wrong. There is still hope, and we can still take action, and if we take action today, that’s better than if we wait until tomorrow.”
And Gabriela Serrato Marks, who pushed through her chronic illness to rappel into caves and pursue a PhD before becoming a science communicator, reminds us: “I think it’s really important that people understand that we can and must still have hope.[…] it’s not helpful to be hopeless.”
Valerie Small, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe (Apsáalooke), says: “As the first in my family to go to college and get a PhD, and as a mother who went back to school, I will say it is not easy. But follow your heart, and even there are curveballs, don’t give up on your dreams. […] My deep passion was to help others and lift Indigenous voices. And I learned that if you don’t give up, if you keep at it, people will help you on your way. And those who don’t, those who make you feel like you’re not worth it, or do not respect or honor you, leave them. Value your own self-worth.”
These are messages of hope. Hope for our planet, hope for our kids, hope for our very humanity.
And as I sat at my desk, surrounded by cats and stressed out family members and text chats filled with links on where to buy disinfecting wipes or links to family Zoom calls, I was filled with gratitude. We need scientists, and we need diversity in science, and we need books for kids, and we need citizen science projects, but most of all…we need hope. And I will be forever grateful to this project for helping me find it.
Meet the author
Dana Alison Levy writes novels and nonfiction for kids and teenagers. Her books for elementary age readers, such as the Family Fletcher novels and It Wasn’t Me, received accolades from the American Library Association, Bank Street College of Education, The New York Times, NPR, and others. Her books for teens include Above All Else, which was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and a Bank Street Best Book, and the nonfiction anthology Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again, which she co-edited with Shakirah Bourne.
Dana loves visiting schools and libraries, talking books and writing with audiences from twenty to two thousand. She was last seen romping with her family in New England. If you want more information, or need to report her for excessive romping, go to www.danaalisonlevy.com.
About Breaking the Mold: Changing the Face of Climate Science
Sixteen scientists. Protecting our planet. Making science more equitable.
Scientists who collect microbes from surfers’ skin, who use radar sensors to gather data miles away, who combat inequality by pushing for cleaner air policies. Each with their own story, all working to make life better for future generations.
Celebrated author Dana Alison Levy profiles 16 people, all studying different elements of the earth’s landscape, animals, and climate, who defy stereotypes of who can be a scientist. From analytical chemists to volcanologists, from global experts to recent graduates, these scientists share what they were like as young people, how they got where they are now, and what they—and the rest of us—can do to help the planet.
Based on extensive interviews and featuring infographics and personal photos, Breaking the Mold offers a snapshot of the people and organizations fighting to make science more equitable. Back matter includes advice for readers interested in science careers, DIY projects, paths to community involvement, and more.
Books for a Better Earth are designed to inspire children to become active, knowledgeable participants in caring for the planet they live on.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/21/2023
Series: Books for a Better Earth
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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