I had the great good fortune to spend much of October 2023 in a solo retreat at the beach house of some generous friends. Located on the Oregon coast south of Newport, the house is a five-minute walk up the cliff from this glorious beach.
I wasn’t entirely alone.
Xanthe the Speckled Menace was excellent company. Here she shows her arboreal nature on one of the beach house’s many ledges and windowsills, which she immediately saw as a jumping and perching paradise. She did not care for the beach–perhaps because of the big loud wet thing adjacent to it–but she enjoyed leash walks in the yard around the house, grumbling at the gulls and jays.
The beach house has neither cell coverage nor wifi. The former was available on the beach or a few hundred yards down the street, the latter at the library in Newport, a ten-minute drive away. It was both liberating and frustrating to be out of the instant communication (and diversion) to which many of us are accustomed. I did some writing, some outlining, and some reading. The latter mostly consisted of books that had lingered too long in the “Unread” category on my Kindle, among which were a number of pretty good books, only one real dud, and one darkly Shining Trapezohedron of a gem, Scott R. Jones’s Stonefish.
I’ve always wanted to have a quiet, extended time next to the ocean. For eighteen days and seventeen nights I had the sound of it in my ears. I saw it every time I looked out the front windows, and I walked along it for an hour or so at least once each day. What a gift.
This year fall, my favorite time of year, coincides with the start of what I know will be one of my all-time favorite writing projects.
I’ve loved space ever since I was a kid lying in our front yard at night, gazing up at the Milky Way. My parents patiently listened to me chatter about the solar system and bought my first telescope when I was about eleven. I went on to become a reader and, for a time, a teacher of science fiction. I never dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but I followed the flights of cosmonauts and astronauts with much interest–especially those of the first Russian and American women in space. That’s why I’m beyond thrilled to be adapting Loren Grush’s fine new book The Six, about the first half-dozen American woman astronauts, into a shorter version for middle-grade readers.
The Six covers the women’s early lives, how they became interested in and eventually joined the US space program, and what each of them contributed. It also makes painfully clear the obstacles that women had to overcome to take their place in space exploration. I look forward to spending autumn working with this absorbing book and sharing these women’s stories with young readers. The adaptation will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
But wait, there’s more! I also had the privilege this year of adapting David Barrie’s 2019 book Supernavigators, a fascinating look at how we have learned what we know about animals’ remarkable feats of navigation. The illustrated adaptation for young readers will be issued by Tra Publishing. I’m especially happy to have included the amazing journeys of spiny lobsters, who trundle for great distances, head to tail in long lines, over unfailingly straight paths across the dark sea floor. The clever experiments of the researchers who investigated these and other animal navigators are as surprising and entertaining as the animals’ journeys themselves.
I can’t announce the details quite yet, but I’m delighted to have a new nonfiction adaptation in the works. It will be an illustrated book for kids 8 to 12 years old on a fascinating topic in animal behavior. The original book is wonderful, well researched and entertaining; it will be fun as well as challenging to adapt it for a younger audience.
And by “we” I mean historian Howard Zinn, scholar and educator Ed Morales, and, to a much lesser extent, me.
The late Howard Zinn published the indispensable A People’s History of the United States in 1980 and updated it in 2003. A few years after that, with Howard’s encouragement and support, I had the great honor and pleasure of adapting the book for young readers. The Young People’s History of the United States was published in 2007 and has remained in print ever since. It’s deeply gratifying to know how many young people it has introduced to Howard’s important work.
Earlier this month, Seven Stories Press released a new edition of the Young People’s History. The text was updated to reflect the language we now use when talking about various groups within the American population. Ed Morales contributed two new sections that greatly expand coverage of the histories and roles of Latino immigrants and their descendants in the United States. Finally, I added new material on Asian American activism and on today’s young activists and their causes.
Helping to make Zinn’s work accessible to young readers has been an extraordinary privilege. I’m delighted to see this new edition of the Young People’s History already making a mark. I’m even more excited to report that a Spanish-language version of it will be published later this year.
Not really, more’s the pity, but the French publisher of How to Change Everything has put these posters in the Paris Metro stations. How to Change Everything is the book for young people that I wrote with Naomi Klein, about fighting against climate disaster and for social justice. Proud to see it in the Metro!