Trudi Trueit does something so important with her Explorer Academy series. She certainly tells a good story, highlights fascinating discoveries and people and brings far-away places to our very own reading nooks. But the true power in her work is that she empowers kid readers, helping them see themselves as protectors of the natural world, from the smallest flower to the largest mammal. Read on to learn more about the latest addition to her exciting Explorer Academy series, The Star Dunes (National Geographic).

Trudi Trueit

My heart is hurting. A beloved silverback mountain gorilla in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was recently killed by poachers. The criminals were apprehended but the loss is great. Twenty-five-year-old Rafiki, which translates to ‘friend’ in Swahili, was the leader of a group of 17 habituated gorillas, meaning they’re comfortable with humans (from a distance). The eco-tourist trade that supports local villages and pays for the protection of these endangered animals hinges on habituation. Rafiki was the only mature male in his group and with his death, no one is sure what will happen. The group may disband or it may be taken over by a wild silverback, in which case the gorillas would likely avoid humans in the future. We can only wait and watch.

I have an affection for the gorillas of Bwindi. They play a key role in The Star Dunes, the new title in my fictional Explorer Academy series from National Geographic. In this fourth book, teen protagonist Cruz Coronado and the other young explorers head to the preserve to aid ill gorillas. The apes have contracted a virus that is, in reality, usually harmless to us but can be fatal to them: the common cold. Along the way, the explorers discover that saving a species takes more than desire. It is often complicated by environmental, economic, and humanitarian challenges. Striking a balance can be difficult to achieve and hard to maintain. Rafiki’s tragic story is proof of that.

The inspiration for this novel came from a real National Geographic explorer, as do many of my ideas for the science-based action-adventure series. The explorers are, to put it mildly, remarkable people. Whether protecting the tiniest flower or studying the largest whale, each radiates a passion for their field and being a positive force for change. I’ve been fortunate to see this dedication firsthand. With the release of nearly every book in the Explorer Academy series (except this most recent one, of course), my publisher has sent me on a book tour accompanied by an explorer. Since the series debut almost two years ago, I’ve traveled with some incredible individuals, among them Erika Bergman, a submarine pilot; Zoltan Takacs, a bio-scientist who collects snake venom for use in human medications; and Gemina Garland-Lewis, a photographer and eco-health researcher. It was Gemina who sparked the idea for the gorilla storyline. Working for the Center for One Health Research at the University of Washington, Gemina studies how diseases are passed between animals and humans (when I interviewed her for the book more than a year ago, neither of us could have had an inkling of what was to come!). On a typical school visit, the explorer and I will give a joint presentation to an assembly. As the kids listen to the scientist, I see their eyes widen. They are charmed. Fascinated. Inspired. They want to be that explorer. Afterward, some students will pull me aside or write to tell me of their plans to be a marine biologist, wildlife photographer, conservationist, or whatever aspiration beats within them. They are on fire to make a difference in the world not just when they are adults, but now—today. It is gratifying to see them set off on this journey of self-discovery and selfless participation. It took me a long time to get there, but I am trying to do the same. 

Explorer Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love.” I suppose Explorer Academy is my anthem for the next generation of passionate, remarkable, dedicated explorers. It’s a simple message really: love the planet and take care of it. I know they do and I have faith they will.

The Star Dunes by Trudi Trueit

Trudi Trueit writes the kinds of books she loves to read; stories that reminds us to forge our own path and be our own hero! A former TV news reporter and weather forecaster, Trudi has published more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles for children, including the EXPLORER ACADEMY series (National Geographic), MY TOP SECRET DARES & DON’TS, STEALING POPULAR, and the SECRETS OF A LAB RAT series (all from Simon & Schuster). Born and raised in Seattle, WA Trudi still lives in the Northwest with her husband, Bill, under the careful snoopervision of their four cats. Visit her website at www.truditrueit.com.