Wilderness users are an aging group. The U.S. Forest Service recently reported that the average age of those who go to the Boundary Waters is now around 50. Gray hair has replaced the darkened threads of youth. How can we attract young people to the wild outdoors?
I decided to write a teen book that I hoped would address this concern in some small way. It would combine a fictionalized high-adventure survival story (that would be fun to read) with dozens of practical outdoor skills and survival tips that kids could use when they take to the woods. I taught environmental science to 8th and 9th graders for 30 plus years so I know the age group well. Young people can't learn if their mind wanders, so the cardinal rule in teaching is "get their attention and keep it!" It follows that the story would have to be entertaining and fast-moving, and the educational components useful and short. I hoped that the tale would draw readers into the wonders of wilderness, while the skills (simplified from my other books) would teach them right. Kids do spend huge amounts of time on their cell phones, but contrary to popular belief, most still do read books, that is, if they're not too long. So, I specified a length of around 43,000 words which is fairly typical for 11 to 17 year olds.
I settled on a title: "Justin Cody's Race To Survival". Here's the synopsis:
Thirteen-year-old Justin Cody is failing two classes and is addicted to texting and playing video games. Forced to take a wilderness canoe trip in Canada with his Grandpa Henry, Cody is thrust into a RACE FOR SURVIVAL when the two discover a top secret drone developed by the U.S. military. Grandpa Henry is kidnapped and Justin—who knows nothing about canoeing and camping—must canoe alone to a distant lake that promises rescue.
RACE TO SURVIVAL is a high adventure tale and a wilderness skills book. Young readers will be entertained while they learn practical outdoor skills. Some examples are: How to read a map and compass; make fire when the woods are wet with rain; rig a stormproof camp; what to do when you’re caught in a lighting storm; tips to repel mosquitoes and black flies; important knots; essentials for a stay in the woods; emergency signals; wild foods that you can easily find and safely identify; what to do if you meet a bear or cow moose while you’re hiking—and much more! Essentially, it is a "canoeing/camping/survival" how-to book dressed in riveting fictional clothes.
I hope the teenager(s) in your life will enjoy it as much as I loved writing it. Most of all, I hope they'll learn to love wild places and have the courage to protect them from development.