Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot Inspires Kids to Fight For Causes They Believe In

An unforgettable story about pursuing justice with reckless abandon in the face of overwhelming odds.

The cover of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off,” Ray Bradbury once said in an interview. “Build your wings on the way down.” That bold advice could serve as an apt metaphor for Hoot (public library), Carl Hiaasen’s novel for young adults. It’s a hilarious coming of age story, and a rollercoaster of a ride that readers won’t soon forget.

The story centers around the burrowing owl, an endangered species that happens to live on a plot of land that’s soon to become a construction site. A popular pancake chain is preparing to break ground and start building its 469th restaurant on that very spot in Coconut Cove, Florida. The story’s young heroes — Roy, Beatrice, and Beatrice’s step-brother, a homeless boy known as “Mullet Fingers” — work together to stop the construction and save the owls.

Combining all the hallmarks of modern society together with elegance and humor, Hiaasen’s book is a masterpiece that keeps readers in suspense to the end. It’s all here — corporate greed and corruption, environmental destruction, teenage malaise, boneheaded bullies, and ecoterrorism.

At its core, Hoot is a story about middle school students standing up for what they believe in. In the face of overwhelming odds and paralyzing moral dilemmas, the story’s heroes stay true to their hearts. They pursue justice with reckless abandon, doing whatever it takes to achieve their goal. The heroes lie to authority figures, vandalize construction equipment, evade police officers, and entrap bullies.

Burrowing Owl in Florida
A burrowing owl (Photograph: Bryan Jones)

The entire book is — dare we say — antithetical to societal values. That’s not a bad thing. Saving owls is a noble cause, and Hiaasen’s style brings comic relief to issues that aren’t a laughing matter. Readers will find themselves empathizing and even identifying with the characters. You can’t help rooting for them. The narrative is enthralling; the heroes’ cunning plans and illicit actions are downright exhilarating.

The character known as Mullet Fingers — so named because he can catch a mullet fish with his bare hands — has lived in Florida his entire life, and he’s sick of watching it disappear.

‘Ever since I was little,’ Mullet Fingers said, ‘I’ve been watchin’ this place disappear — the piney woods, the scrub, the creeks, the glades. Even the beaches, man — they put up all these giant hotels and only goober tourists are allowed. It really sucks.’

Roy said, ‘Same thing happens everywhere.’

‘Doesn’t mean you don’t fight back.’

And fight back they do. From flattening the tires of a flatbed truck to notifying reporters that the environmental impact statement is missing from the city’s records, the underdog heroes pull out all the stops to halt construction. They declare all-out war against the overwhelming forces of capitalism that have converged on the tiny plot in Coconut Cove.

Florida's everglades
Florida’s everglades (Photograph: Jesse Michael Nix)

But the characters also hit some moral conundrums along the way. For Roy especially, the war between his heart and mind never seems to stop. He wants to save the owls, but he doesn’t want to resort to vandalism to do it. The careful dilberations between right and wrong are some of the best parts of the story. Eventually, Roy finds a middle ground.

Roy sat cross-legged on the floor, gazing up at the cowboy poster from the Livingston rodeo. He wished he was as brave as a champion bull rider, but he wasn’t.

The Mother Paula’s mission was simply too risky; somebody, or something, would be waiting. The attack dogs might be gone, but the company wasn’t about to leave the new pancake-house location unguarded for long.

In addition to a fear of getting caught, Roy had serious qualms about trying anything illegal — and there was no dodging the fact that vandalism was a crime, however noble the cause.

Yet he couldn’t stop thinking ahead to the day when the owl dens would be destroyed by bulldozers. He could picture the mother owls and father owls, helplessly flying in circles while their babies were being smothered under tons of dirt.

It made Roy sad and angry. So what if Mother Paula’s had all the proper permits? Just because something was legal didn’t automatically make it right.

Roy still hadn’t settled the argument between his brain and his heart. Surely there had to be a way for him to help the birds — and Beatrice’s stepbrother — without breaking the law. He needed to come up with a plan.

Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen

In an interview with the Washington Post, Hiaasen said that he felt the same way as a young adult growing up in Florida.

When I was growing up in Florida, we felt as passionately as Roy and Noah of Hoot do. These are kids who see something wrong, and they’re trying to make it right, and they’re having a little trouble getting the grownups’ attention. This is often true in life! There are choices about which path to take, questions about what to do when you see something wrong. Do you stand and fight, or do you walk away? In both Hoot and Flush, the kids could have very easily turned their backs and walked away, said, ‘Oh, what the heck — there will be other owls somewhere else.’ Because, you know, when I was growing up, that’s what the grownups did. And now, there are very few owls left.

The dangers of doing nothing — of turning our backs and walking away from situations we know are wrong — are well understood by scientists and activists. As Jane Goodall told Time magazine, “the greatest danger to our future is apathy.” But there’s more at stake than just our future. As Thoreau noted in Civil Disobedience, tolerating injustice is bad for the soul:

How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated again. Action from principle — the perception and the performance of right — changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.

Thoreau’s comments may help explain why Hoot is such a hit among young adults. The book is a fictional embodiment of Thoreau’s message of civil disobedience and “action from principle.” It’s empowering for young people to see strong fictional characters fight back against perceived injustices.

Hoot is a hilarious, suspenseful novel that inspires young readers to stand up for the causes they believe in, environmental or otherwise. Complement with The Tripods series of science fiction books for young adults, then revisit I Am Jane Goodalla must-read book for kids concerned with the environment.

Jane Goodall for Kids: Sharing Her Life Story and Philosophy with Children

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

The cover of the book I Am Jane Goodall“As I traveled, talking about these issues, I met so many young people who had lost hope,” Jane Goodall told CNN in 2005. The great British primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist spent her life working with and on behalf of chimpanzees, but now she was concerned about the young adults she was meeting. “Some were depressed; some were apathetic; some were angry and violent. And when I talked to them, they all more or less felt this way because we had compromised their future and the world of tomorrow was not going to sustain their great-grandchildren.”

It’s easy for children to grow disheartened and disillusioned as they become increasingly aware of the daunting challenges facing our planet. That’s why it’s critical that children learn about environmental heroes like Jane Goodall — people who have dedicated their lives to scientific observation and preserving what little natural habitat remains. But Jane Goodall is much more than a scientist and environmentalist. She’s also a stellar example for young women and, as an individual with strong convictions who practices what she preaches, she’s a role model for all of us.

Now there’s an easy way to share Jane Goodall’s life story and philosophy with children. I Am Jane Goodall (public library) is a children’s book written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos that summarizes Jane Goodall’s life in about 40 pages. The story is based on Jane Goodall’s own books and written in first-person narration. With eye-catching, comic book-style illustrations and lots of thought bubbles, the book is perfect for kids ages 5-12.

The story starts by recounting several specific events from Jane Goodall’s younger years.

I wanted a job where I learn more about animals. But back then, if you were a girl, people didn’t think you could become a scientist. They expected girls to become nurses, secretaries, or teachers.

I wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to study animals. Luckily, my mom always told me: ‘If you really want something, work hard for it. If you don’t give up, you’ll find a way.’

I never forgot that.

The cover of the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

As you might imagine, the majority of the story is focused on Jane Goodall’s adult years and the time she spent researching chimpanzees. It’s a beautifully concise summary that accurately captures the highlights of Jane Goodall’s life in Africa. In many ways, the best part of the story comes near the end of the book, when a moral is drawn from the lessons Jane Goodall learned along the way. It’s an uplifting message that provides concrete advice for young people.

In my life, people told me there was a ‘certain way’ to do things: a ‘certain way’ to study animals, a ‘certain way’ that girls should behave. They told me to follow the rules. Instead, I followed my gut.

In your life, it will be easy to see how others are ‘different’ from you. But there’s so much more to gain if you instead see how alike we all are. All of us — all living things — share so much. We have so many things in common.

Watch. Observe. Be patient. It’ll teach you this: We don’t own this Earth. We share it.

Listen to the feelings in your heart. We are responsible for the animals around us. We must take care of them. When one of us is in trouble — be it human, creature, or nature itself — we must reach out and help. When we do, we build a bridge… a bridge that will carry all of us.

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

Artwork from the book I Am Jane Goodall

The book is one in a series entitled “ordinary people change the world,” a description that certainly seems to fit Jane Goodall. As a child, she had a dream. As an adult, she followed it — to great success.

Children can learn a lot from the example set by Jane Goodall. As she’s quoted saying at the end of the book, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

To that end, Jane Goodall founded the Roots & Shoots program in 1991. It’s a network of more than 150,000 groups of young people who share a desire to create a better world. Young people identify problems in their communities and take action through service projects and youth-led campaigns. Please join us in making a donation.

I Am Jane Goodall is a must-read book for kids concerned with the environment, girls in need of a strong role model, and children who like reading about successful people who have changed our world for the better. Complement with A Little Bit of Dirt, a book with over 50 science and art activities for children, then revisit Mossy, a beloved children’s book by Jan Brett about a turtle plucked from her native habitat and put on display in a museum.

Gossie: The Touching Story of an Adventurous Gosling Who Wears Red Boots

This book for preschool kids has a simple, captivating story and illustrations that are as illuminative as they are delightful.

Cover of the book Gossie

“This is Gossie,” begins the beloved book by author and illustrator Olivier Dunrea. “Gossie is a gosling. A small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots.” The tender story follows the baby bird on her exploratory outdoor adventures.

Gossie (public librarywas an instant hit with young readers when it was first published in 2002. Featuring a simple, captivating story with beautiful illustrations, it was the first book in a series about Gossie and her friends.

The book is perfect for toddlers and children in preschool. The illustrations, which are as illuminative as they are delightful, reinforce many important concepts for young readers, such as forward and backward, uphill and downhill, and rain and snow. Children will enjoy seeing the other animals and insects Gossie meets as she explores the farm in her red boots.

This is Gossie. Gossie is a gosling. A small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots. Every day. She wears them when she eats. She wears them when she sleeps. She wears them when she rides. She wears them when she hides. But what Gossie really loves is to wear her bright red boots when she goes for walks.

Artwork from the book Gossie

Artwork from the book Gossie

Artwork from the book Gossie

As the story unfolds, a problem emerges when Gossie loses track of her bright red boots. Try as she may, Gossie cannot find them anywhere.

One morning Gossie could not find her bright red boots. She looked everywhere. Under the bed. Over the wall. In the barn. Under the hens. Gossie looked and looked for her bright red boots. They were gone.

She’s heartbroken — until she discovers that another gosling is wearing them. Now, some days, Gossie finds a way to share with her newfound friend, and the two set off together, wandering through the wonders of a widening world, each clad in one bright red boot.

Artwork from the book Gossie

Artwork from the book Gossie

Gossie by Olivier Dunrea

Artwork from the book Gossie

On his website, Dunrea explains where the inspiration for the story came from.

Gossie & Friends began in 2001 with sketches of goslings while I was staring out the studio window watching Canada geese fly overhead, honking loudly. A pair of red rubber toy boots sat on my bookshelf for some strange reason. As I sketched goslings I started drawing them wearing red rubber boots. And that is how the idea for Gossie and her ‘bright red boots’ came to life.

Gossie is a perfect children’s book for youngsters. The story is easy to follow, and the illustrations are simply delightful. Complement with The Giant Jam Sandwich, a humorous story about a massive wasp infestation, and Rude Cakesa hilarious story that gently helps teach kids the importance of good manners.