Darcie Little Badger was always a writer — even before she could write. “When I was a toddler, I would try to write books,” she said. “But I didn’t know the alphabet.” Her scribbles soon gave way to real words. In first grade, she wrote a 40-page detective story; by age 12, she’d written a 300-page fantasy novel.
She grew up in a family that valued stories, Little Badger added. She especially treasured her mother’s tales (Little Badger and her mother are enrolled members of the Lipan Apache tribe). “A Snake Falls to Earth” (Levine Querido), Little Badger’s new young-adult fantasy novel, opens with an elderly woman, Rosita, telling her great-granddaughter Nina a story in Lipan, a language the child doesn’t understand.
It’s a language that’s at risk. “It’s currently in the process of revitalization,” said Little Badger. “Sadly there are a lot of holes in it right now, and no fluent speakers. For a lot of years, it was dangerous to be speaking Lipan. In my family line, the last fluent generation were probably my great-great-grandparents.”
The book’s plot brings together Nina, who lives in a near-future Texas, with Oli, a cottonmouth snake who can take human form, who hails from what Little Badger calls “the Reflecting world.” The two must work to keep Nina’s family safe from the violent disruptions of climate change.
Little Badger, who has a PhD in oceanography, understands climate change as a scientist. “There is this sense of defeat that’s pretty widespread. Already we’re starting to experience some of these changes that are making life difficult,” she said. “On the other hand, I also know that what we do now will actually affect the magnitude of the future. For me, it’s really important to work for the best possible version of the future that I can.”
Combining storytelling, culture, and science feels natural for Little Badger. “I find that being a scientist and learning more about the world around us has actually been a great source of inspiration for my fantasy books,” she said. “At the heart of my fantasy is this love for the world.”
Darcie Little Badger will read 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, in a virtual event hosted by Porter Square Books.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.