We Interview

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Carl Hiaasen has spent most of his life making adults laugh about serious subjects, but recently he's been cracking up kids with a couple of novels about the environment. The new movie "Hoot," about a boy named Roy on a mission to save some burrowing owls from being bulldozed, is based on his first children's book. His second book, Flush , tells the story of Noah and his friends as they try to stop a casino owner from polluting the harbor. Here, Book World senior editor Ron Charles talks to Carl Hiaasen in a telephone interview.

How can you be funny while writing about things as serious as polluted water and dying owls?

I've never progressed very far from my days as a smart aleck in middle school. I've always enjoyed making people laugh. But in order for me to be funny, I have to get ticked off about something.

When you were a kid, were you like the kids you write about in your books? Fighting for causes you believed in?

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.

Can young people make a difference when it comes to saving the environment?

Kids feel so strongly about what's going on today and what's happening to the world, and that's very inspiring. I feel more hopeful than ever before about the future. It's comforting to know that the kids who are writing me all these letters and are so interested in this film are the kids who are going to be in charge of the world in the future. I have a strong feeling they're going to do a better job than my generation did.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company