TFK chats with author Carl Hiaasen about his new wildlife thriller Chomp
Newbery Honor winner Carl Hiaasen, known for his best-selling children’s books Hoot, Scat and Flush, is back with a new wildlife adventure called Chomp (available now). In Chomp, animal wrangler Mickey Cray is asked to help with a reality TV show called Expedition Survival!, which is filmed in the Florida Everglades The show is hosted by egotistical actor Derek Badger, who is posing as a survivalist.
On his Everglades escapade, Mickey takes his son Wahoo—a daring boy with a lot of animal experience—and Wahoo’s friend Tuna, a strong girl who has endured hardships in her short life. Mickey, Wahoo and Tuna get more than they bargained for in this exciting and funny story. TFK spoke to Carl Hiaasen about his new book.
Where did you get your inspiration for Chomp?
I have a 12-year-old son, and we watch the silly reality shows on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. A lot of the shows involve crazy stuff like eating scorpions and creating fire by rubbing rocks together. I thought [something like that] would have the potential to be a funny book if it involved a fake survivalist. That is where I got the inspiration for Derek Badger.
Where did you get the inspiration for Tuna? She is a very exciting character.
There is no particular person in real life that I based her on. I just felt like the book needed a strong female character to be Wahoo’s partner. Sadly, there are many situations in this country where children [like Tuna] are afraid of being hurt by one of their parents. It’s tragic, but true. I wanted a character that was strong and tough, who could pick up and go to the Everglades if she wanted to.
Is there a moral or lesson to the story that you were trying to tell readers?
I don’t believe in preaching to young readers. I think the best thing you can do is tell a [good] story, which keeps people turning the pages. Most importantly, you can create characters that have a strong moral core. The characters themselves are the lesson. They do the right thing; they act with their heart and with other people in mind. The readers can connect with the characters.
The book features many animals. What is your favorite animal? Why?
I grew up around many animals around the edge of the Everglades, and I ran into many of the animals mentioned in the book. Except, when I was a kid there weren’t iguanas and pythons because they didn’t live here yet. They became invasive species here in the Everglades. I tried to raise a couple of wild raccoons once, which probably was a mistake. I always had some kind of crazy pet in the house.
All of your children’s books have one-word titles. Are you going to continue this with future books?
Yes. I actually did it on purpose because first, I like the way it sounds, and second, I try to distinguish them from the adult books that I write. When parents go to the bookstore, I want them to know that the one-word title books are suitable for younger readers. My adult novels are more appropriate for older readers.
Many of your books are also set in Florida, where you grew up and live. What is it about Florida that makes it a perfect setting for books?
Florida is so different from other places. It is very different within the state of Florida as well. The Florida Panhandle is very different from Key West, for example. It makes for an interesting collision of cultures. There are so many people and a lot of wild things going on. So, if you’re a writer, it is a great place to get material and inspiration.
What do you enjoy most about writing for kids?
Kids are the best audience you can write for. They are so intelligent. I think they are born with a great love for nature. My stories are always set in a wildlife backdrop, and young readers are able to connect with the stories, whether they have been to that place or not. The responses I get from the readers are very rewarding.
Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend to our readers?
I read a very good non-fiction book called The Ice Balloon about some adventurers a very long time ago that tried to take a helium balloon to the North Pole, and they got lost. It is a great book, and I can certainly recommend it.
The use of animals in movies is a big topic in the news right now, and you address it in Chomp. Do you think wild animals should be used in entertainment?
I certainly think that animals can be used in entertainment as long as it is in a humane way. I have a friend who is an animal handler. His animals are used in commercials and movies, and he treats the animals like they are his kids. He is responsible with them, and as a result, none of them have been hurt or killed. But you could have a person that was irresponsible with the animals and that would be wrong.