Mark Bekoff and Zoe Weil

Marc Bekoff Interviews Zoe Weil About Claude & Medea: The Hellburn Dogs

Zoe discusses the inspiration behind her award-winning book for tweens

Claude & Medea book cover

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, a prolific author, an award-winning animal behavior researcher, and a member of IHE’s Advisory Council. He interviewed Zoe about Claude & Medea: The Hellburn Dogs, her Moonbeam Gold Medal winner in juvenile fiction. Read a portion of the interview below, or head to Psychology Today for the full interview.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Claude & Medea?

Zoe Weil: At an animal rights conference I attended in 2006, Martin Rowe, the former publisher at Lantern Books mentioned to me that he was thinking about publishing children’s books. On my way home from the conference, two protagonists and the full plot for the first book in a tween series came to me in a flash. By the time I got to my house, I’d written the whole book in my head. Two weeks later, I had a draft of Claude & Medea. Of all the books I’ve written this was by far the most fun to write.

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

ZW: I’m a humane educator, someone who teaches about the interconnected issues of animal protection, human rights, and environmental sustainability. The book begins when a quirky substitute teacher named Ms. Rattlebee (who is really a humane educator) spends a week with a group of seventh graders. She offers them thought-provoking and life-changing humane education activities and lessons—ones that I’ve done with thousands of kids myself.

These activities spur two of the students, Claude and Medea, to become clandestine activists. The book then turns into an adventure mystery, replete with requisite dangers and heroism.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

ZW: The book is written for tweens—10-13 year-olds—and my great hope is that it will be adopted by language arts teachers for their classrooms. I’d be thrilled if it’s made into a movie, too!

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?

ZW: I pack a lot of topics into the beginning of the book because Ms. Rattlebee introduces the students to many issues. She begins by pretending to be an alien visiting Earth to learn how to behave on our planet. Among other questions she asks, her alien persona queries the students about how one is supposed to treat animals. This leads to the kids becoming aware of the inconsistencies between what we profess to believe and how we act. In other words, the kids realize that they treat some animals with care and kindness while causing others to suffer.

The next day, she introduces the students to modern-day slavery, a problem many people think has long since been solved, but which currently impacts tens of millions of children and adults around the globe. The following morning, the students find Ms. Rattlebee standing on a desk with a garbage bag that she dumps onto the floor. It’s full of plastic trash and represents the items found inside of a dead whale beached in North Carolina. Then she engages the students in a conversation about how we could have prevented the whale’s death and so much trash in our oceans.

On the last day, she gives the students a writing prompt…

Continue reading on Psychology Today May 26, 2023