I’m in a rare situation. In the world of authorship, you generally have to finish a book, shop it out to a zillion publishers and agents, and (this part is the most important) learn how to deal with rejection.
What happened to me is that I was offered a book contract before the book was finished. While I’m completing the first draft now, I’ve already got a contract in place with Science, Naturally! a publisher of fun science education books.
My book will indeed be educational, but it’s also solidly in the camp of entertainment: The League of Scientists is young adult fiction, in which smart kids use science and critical thinking to solve what appears to be a supernatural mystery.
For those of you who grew up reading what I read, my book is most similar to young adult classics like The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown. It also has a sprinkling of The Hardy Boys and — as much as I hate to admit it — Scooby-Doo (minus the talking dogs, ascots, and pull-away facial disguises).
The book’s full title is The League of Scientists and the Ghost in the Water. If it manages to make enough money for the publisher, we’ll turn it into a series.
Before I first conceived of The League, I knew my goals were:
To demonstrate to young adults that intelligence and interest in science are very good things.
To demonstrate that, when unraveling mysteries and learning about the world, critical thinking and the scientific method are essential.
To demonstrate real-world science applications, answering the perennial question of students everywhere: “When is this stuff ever useful?”
To pen an enjoyable story with interesting characters. Even non-science geeks can appreciate a good mystery!
It’s always easy to talk goals. Now I’d like to hunker down and talk about the grit, the meat, the bedrock of what I hope will be an excellent book. And I’d like to solicit your help in solving some problems inherent in such a project.
Young adults are enthusiastic and love to try new things. They also have a naturally powerful crap-o-meter. To quote Dr. Seuss, “kids can see a moral coming a mile off.” With this in mind, I have some options.
Option one: Write a story with “morals,” such as the pro-science ones articulated above, and make sure the story’s so perfect, so well-written, so ingeniously designed, that any educational themes are processed by the subconscious.
Option two: I integrate my “morals” with the story so that they come as a result of the storytelling process, and not just plunked there without a darn good reason to have them in place. Perhaps a visible moral can be a good thing, particularly if presented as an essential, natural part of the storytelling process.
There may be a third option. What educational methods best introduce children to science and critical thought? Teaching by example? Or having specific questions/answers in a chapter that readers can stop and answer (as seen in Encyclopedia Brown)? Yes, I have cool science facts here and there. Teaching critical thinking and skepticism is trickier, though, because they’re not a set of facts, but a process. How best to teach a process while keeping it fun?
Swift readers, I’m wondering: Do you have favorite young adult books that teach skepticism and critical thinking? If so, what aspect of those books drew you in? Characters? Plots? Scientific concepts? A setting? (My own books will take place in the “real world” — there’s no fantasy, sci-fi, or vampires.)
These are not rhetorical questions. Your advice will contribute directly to the quality of my finished book.