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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Table of Contents
About The Book
From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a “thought-provoking…wonderful” (School Library Journal) middle grade novel about a young girl who channels her anxiety about the climate crisis into rallying her community to save a local river.
Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.
When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.
But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.
She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.
Sometimes in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, I’d think about the time I lost my family in a bouncy castle.
It happened at a state fair—a million years ago, when I was like four or five. We’d all been bouncing, having a great time, when suddenly my big brother, Carter, said his stomach felt funny. I watched my family race out of the castle, shouting for me to follow. But I wasn’t ready to go, so I just kept on bouncing, all by myself.
Finally I stepped out of the castle to the flat, unbouncy ground, expecting to see Mom, Dad, and Carter.
Except they weren’t there.
For a second I froze, panicking. And then I started running.
I ran over to the Ferris wheel, then the roller coaster, then the ice cream stand where we’d all bought extra-large swirly cones an hour before. I ran over to a water-gun game where the prize was a giant stuffed Pikachu, then to the stage where some guy was playing a banjo, and past a lady in a cowgirl dress who was selling pies.
Somehow I made it back to the bouncy castle—and when I got there, my family was waiting. They looked terrified.
“Haven, what happened to you?” Dad yelled, and Mom burst into tears as she squeezed me tight.
“If you ever get separated from us, just stay put,” she scolded when she finally stopped crying. “Promise you won’t move around next time; let us find you.”
I promised. But I remember thinking how silly that was. I mean, of course I’d try to find them! Because staying put just seemed so helpless and babyish. I needed to do something, not stand there waiting, like a stuffed Pikachu on a shelf.
“Haven’s a true problem solver,” Grandpa Aaron used to say.
“Yes, but not everything is a true problem,” Mom would answer.
She’d talk to me about “learning to relax,” “having patience,” “accepting what we can’t control.” And Dad would talk about “enjoying the process.” About “good sportsmanship,” too, when I’d lose at Blaster Force 3 to Carter or miss an easy goal in soccer.
“Haven, games are not about the final score,” he’d tell me. “It’s important to just have fun.”
And I’d think: Okay, but what’s fun about losing? To me, things counted only when I knew how they added up, or how they ended. So getting to the end of something—the solution of a puzzle, the last chapter in a book, the final scene in a movie—was basically why I was doing it in the first place.
I didn’t try explaining this to Mom and Dad because I knew what they’d say: Haven, honey, you should try to relax—enjoy the process!
Although, to be fair, they didn’t only talk this way, and sometimes they took my side. Like they did last summer, right before seventh grade, when our family went camping at Lake Exeter. I’d never gone fishing before, so I was excited to go out on the water with Dad and Carter. I even caught a trout in the first half hour.
Except the thing was, until the very second I caught that trout, somehow I hadn’t realized that catching a fish meant killing it.
“Can’t we just throw it back?” I’d begged Dad.
“Come on, Haven, fish are food,” Dad had replied.
“Not to me! I’m not a fish killer!”
Because how could I have eaten this creature that was still twitching and staring at me, that just a minute earlier I’d felt tugging on my rod? I absolutely couldn’t. And I didn’t want anyone else to eat it either.
“Aw, honey,” Dad said to me. “Don’t worry, fish don’t have feelings.”
“How do you know that?” By then I was almost crying.
Carter groaned. “Argh, Haven, why can’t you just enjoy the lake! And being on this boat. You’re missing the point of this whole vacation!”
“No, I’m not! Because the point of being on this boat is killing animals!”
“That’s not the point at all! Why do you always have to make such a big deal about everything? And get so emotional?”
“All right, enough squabbling, you two,” Dad said. “You’ll scare off the other trout.”
“Good, I hope we do,” I said.
Right at that moment, without saying anything, Dad threw the fish back. If he was annoyed with me, he didn’t show it, but Carter did.
That night, as we ate a takeout supper back at our campsite, my brother announced, “I can’t believe we came all the way here to fish, but because of Haven, we’re eating ramen.”
“Carter, you don’t even like eating fish,” Mom said. “And you love ramen! We all do,” she added as she caught my eye.
Carter slurped some noodles. “Not the point. Haven’s so hypersensitive. She can’t relax about anything!”
“All right, Carter, you’ve shared your opinion; now let it go,” Dad said sharply.
Mom changed the subject, but I didn’t pay attention. Instead I was thinking how the lake was big, full of fish. Plenty of other people were still fishing. I’d saved the trout, but how much had I accomplished, really?
Plus I’d messed up my family’s vacation, and now my brother was mad at me.
So even though I tried hard to enjoy myself—and the last few days of vacation before seventh grade—it felt like I’d won and lost at the same time.
Reading Group Guide
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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
By Barbara Dee
About the Book
Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife— and ample evidence of pollution. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba’s new factory upstream is behind the river’s pollution. She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear that taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.
1. Talk about how the two events that Haven relates in the book’s opening chapter illustrate two of the book’s major themes. What does the bouncy house incident show readers about Haven’s personality? Do you agree with Grandpa Aaron that “‘Haven’s a true problem solver’”? (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you consider yourself to be a problem solver?
2. Why does Haven decide to become a vegetarian? Do you understand and sympathize with her reaction when she goes fishing with Carter and her dad? Are you a vegetarian, or do you have friends who are? What are some other reasons that people make this choice? Talk about how vegetarianism connects with the issue of climate change.
3. Do you understand why Haven is so upset about climate change? How do you feel about her statement that “’no one cares about anything except what’s going on in their own lives’”? (Chapter: Dinner) Why do some of her friends think climate change is too depressing to talk about? Haven tells Lauren, the reporter, that all kids are worried about the issue. How do you and your friends feel?
4. Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? What are some of the signs of eco-anxiety that Haven is experiencing? How might eco-anxiety feel different from other things kids are anxious about, like taking tests or giving oral reports? What are some actions Haven takes, or could take, to relieve this anxiety?
5. Ms. Packer says to Haven: “‘There’s a positive way to be upset, and another way that just makes you feel hopeless and depressed.’” (Chapter: The Blanks) Do you understand both options? Do you identify with one more than the other? What do you think when Haven says she feels that going to school is pointless, that there are more important things going on?
6. Haven feels much worse when she visits the internet to read hopeless stories and watch scary videos about climate change. Reporter Lauren tells her this is called “doomscrolling.” Are you susceptible to doomscrolling? Do you think the way to avoid it is to stay off the internet when you can, or to try to visit more positive websites and social media? Why do the scary stories sometimes feel more compelling than the positive ones?
7. Haven’s heroine is an Inuit teen climate activist. In a moment of despair, Haven thinks: “I was the opposite of Kirima Ansong. She was brave and bold, a true leader in the world.” (Chapter: Breathe) Talk about the two sides of looking up to a powerful or famous person. They can inspire action with their strength and bravery, but they can also make you feel as if you’ll never measure up to them. What are the advantages and dangers of comparing yourself to others? Do you have a hero or heroine who inspires you?
8. Carter says, “‘Haven’s so hypersensitive. She can’t relax about anything!’” (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you agree with him? Are there instances in the book where you think the author portrays Haven as being too sensitive? Why is she criticized for having this trait? Do you think there are times when sensitivity is a good thing? Share some examples from the book or your life.
9. Part of Haven’s sensitivity is that she has many complicated feelings about her life, her friends, and the environment: “Sometimes it felt like I had so many feelings, I needed a truck to lug them around behind me.” (Chapter: The Scratch) Name some of the feelings Haven lugs around. Are you familiar with any of these, personally? Do you think these are common in other kids? In adults?
10. Haven admits that talking with April, a therapist, does make her feel better. Do you think that talking with a trusted adult can help with complicated feelings? How is that different from sharing problems with friends? Haven can talk to her friends about climate change, but why doesn’t she tell her friends when she’s upset with them about personal things, like being left out of the sleepover?
11. How is talking to friends, teachers, or a therapist different from talking with parents? Haven’s parents want her to relax, but as she and Carter tell them, “‘When we’re grown-ups, it’ll be our planet. Our problem, not yours.’” (Chapter: Dinner) Do you and your friends agree? How do you feel about inheriting the planet’s crises? Are you angry with grown-ups for not taking kids and their worries for the climate seriously?
12. Which of the adults in Haven’s life seem to understand her feelings and frustrations about climate change? The mayor seems sympathetic but tells her, “‘Climate issues are huge and complex.’” (Chapter: On the Switch) Do you agree more with his idea that these changes take time or with Haven’s suggestion that grown-ups have the power to actually make changes now?
13. Ms. Packer shares with Haven a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” What do you think about this quote? Do you think that tiny changes can make a difference, or are big changes the only ones that matter? Haven says: “‘I just want to do something that actually matters.’” (Chapter: Antarctica) Do you understand her feelings about this? What is an issue that is important to you, and what do you want to do about it?
14. Why does it matter so much to Haven to find out if Gemba is polluting the river? Carter tells her, “‘We don’t know the truth . . . maybe we never will.’” (Chapter: Breathe) Why does that feel unacceptable to Haven? As she says earlier: “What was the point of knowing the truth about something if you didn’t know what to do with it?” (Chapter: The Truth) When it pertains to climate change, which side are you on? Is it better to know the hard truths or to live happily in denial?
15. Haven’s mom tells her, “‘You’re in seventh grade; no one expects you to save the world,’” but that contradicts the book’s plot, which illustrates how taking action helps Haven deal with her anxiety. (Chapter: Report) When Diya’s mom criticizes the river protest, she suggests some other actions Haven might have taken. Besides writing letters to newspapers and gathering petition signatures, what are some other actions kids can take to improve their world? What actions are you scared to take, as Haven is nervous about speaking in public?
16. Min says, “‘Balls were rolling, wheels were turning’” and Haven thinks, “Just because I couldn’t see those balls and wheels didn’t mean things weren’t happening. Good things.” (Chapter: Big News) Do you think that’s true? What are some ways kids can stay hopeful and optimistic about the planet?
1. Choose one of the following and write an essay:
- How does Haven’s name reflect the major theme of the book?
- Revisit the chapter titled “The Scratch,” and the scene in which the author describes Haven’s room and talks about how her room shows readers who she is and what’s important to her. Then write a description of your own room, and ask a partner if they can identify what is most important to you.
- Using the quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”), write an essay about what that means, giving specific examples from the book.
Research and Report
2. Haven’s heroine is a fictional Inuit teen climate activist named Kirima Ansong. Choose a real-life teen activist and write a report about them, the issue they support, and the actions they’ve taken.
3. The headline of the RiverFest story is “SEVENTH GRADER GRIPPED BY ECO-ANXIETY,” which nicely sums up the major theme of this book. How prevalent is eco-anxiety among the kids at your school? Create a survey and share it to discover the answer. Write a report sharing your findings.
4. Choose one of the following topics from the book to research and write a report about, using the facts shared in the book as a jumping-off point to learn more.
- Doomsday glacier
- Prehistoric germs
- Great Barrier Reef
- Coral damage
- Disappearing frogs
- Dissolved oxygen
Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
- Publisher: Aladdin (September 27, 2022)
- Length: 304 pages
- ISBN13: 9781534489837
- Grades: 4 - 8
- Ages: 9 - 13
- Lexile ® 640L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
Middle grade author and tough topics expert Dee returns with a thought-provoking look at the very prevalent, but little known, issue of eco-anxiety and how it is affecting our youth. Dee has deftly brought the important topic of eco-anxiety to the fore, while developing a wonderful story about juggling normal middle school worries such as friendships, crushes, and sibling issues.
– School Library Journal
"Though Dee (Violets Are Blue) offers no easy answers about how an individual can make a significant impact, Haven’s endeavors are earnestly wrought, and her compassionate heart and interpersonal conflicts balance the book’s environmental thrust."
– Publishers Weekly
"A powerful depiction of the impact of climate change on a young activist’s mental health."
– Kirkus Reviews
Awards and Honors
- School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
Resources and Downloads
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Author Photo (jpg): Barbara Dee
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