Punxsutawney Phil embarks on environmental adventure Co-authors’ middle grade fantasy is “Redwall” for a new generation, with environmentalist message

Delray Beach, FL – Set off into the unknown with an intrepid groundhog and his friends in search for a way to save his community in The Great Weather Diviner: The Untold Origin of Punxsutawney Phil (Morgan James Fiction, Nov 7, 2023). Reimagining the story of Punxsutawney Phil, debut authors Andrew Dolberg and Rob Long create a thought-provoking and delightfully charming environmental story. Perfect for readers 9 and up, and ideal for Groundhog’s Day!

A native of Punxsutawney, Rob Long grew up listening to the legendary folk tales of Punxy Phil. He is Deputy Vice-Mayor of Delray Beach, FL. Rob has dedicated his life to educating children on environmental stewardship and the importance of protecting the Everglades and mitigating the climate crisis for the next generation. With help from his writing partner, Andrew Dolberg, they turned the most legendary weather predictor into a hero that learns his role in the world can help more than just his small community of animal friends.

Philip Rodington IX aka “Junior” is a young groundhog with the power to predict and control the weather, but he’s still learning and sometimes his abilities get the better of him. When his hometown is devastated by a flood, he sets out to find the Guardians, legendary superpowered animals who help his home when they need it. Pursued by the evil raven overlord, Callidus, Junior must save his town, uncover the mysteries of his powers, and discover the truth about his family’s history and their role in the balance of nature. With the help of his new friend Jill, a brilliant hedgehog, Junior must decide whether he is willing to risk everything to save his home and restore harmony to the natural world.

The Great Weather Diviner: The Untold Origin of Punxsutawney Phil

Andrew Dolberg and Rob Long 

November 7, 2023 | Morgan James Fiction | Middle Grade Fiction 

Paperback | 978-1636981628 | $17.95

Andrew Dolberg is a Florida native with a passion for using storytelling to effect change. With extensive experience advising elected officials and candidates at all levels of government, Andrew has a deep understanding of how to engage and empower local communities. He is also the founder of Champion Briefs, an education resources company that teaches students the power of public speaking, media literacy, research, and critical thinking through storytelling and debate. Andrew lives in the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida.

Rob Long is a sixth-generation Punxsutawneyian who grew up amidst the lore and magic of the world’s greatest weather predictor. After moving to Delray Beach, Florida, Rob became Chair of Palm Beach County’s Soil & Water Conservation District, and currently serves as Deputy Vice-Mayor of Delray Beach. He regularly publishes editorials in the local papers and releases a monthly newsletter advocating for environmental protection and water quality. In 2022 he received the Public Service Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. 

Find out more about them at https://greatweatherdiviner.com/ 

Follow along on social media:

Instagram: @groundhogbook

In an interview, Andrew Dolberg and Rob Long can discuss:

  • Punxsutawney Phil folklore and history, and their creative interpretation
  • Rob’s platform to educate the next generation on climate change and his work in public office
  • The writing challenges faced when reinterpreting a legendary folk tale
  • Rob and Andrew’s process of working together to create a cohesive coming-of-age story for kids

An Interview with

Andrew Dolberg and Rob Long

1. What inspired you to reinterpret the tales of Punxsutawney Phil?

Rob: Because I grew up with it. Punxsy Phil and Groundhog Day were a big part of my childhood and the culture of our town. I was drawn to this recent trend of fractured fairy tales – this sort of reimagining of classic characters. It occurred to me that the existing mythology about Punxsy Phil was very tied to the actual town and the Groundhog Day tradition, as well as the humans that he interacted with. I wanted to explore a more universal, topical, message that really leaned into weather and how it’s tied to climate change. I’m passionate about educating the next generation on the perils of climate change, but I also love stories. This reimagined look at Punxsutawney Phil is meant to present a new world with a lot of depth, characters, and adventures that kids and adults will not only find relatable, but symbolic of real environmental and social issues.

Andrew: When Rob approached me with the original short story that eventually became The Great Weather Diviner, I loved the idea of reimagining a folk talk to tell a modern story. I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling to help people see the world differently, and we saw Groundhog Day–with its mythos about the weather–as the perfect way to explain the threats of climate change. I’m a major fan of fantasy stories, and this was also an exciting opportunity to craft a brand new world for our adventure.

2. One of the major themes of this book is climate change and how it affects the weather/environment. How did you incorporate those lessons into your story?

Rob: The characters in the novel interpret climate change in different ways – their society calls it “Discordia.” It presents an ever-present threat that sets the plot in motion and gives our protagonists their charge. It also presents some harsh truths and realizations for some of our characters when they come to learn its true cause. We use the climate change narrative to portray generational differences and responsibilities. There are several major natural disasters in the book caused by Discordia, but I don’t want to give too much away. You’ll have to read to find out!

Andrew: We usually talk about climate change in terms of the impacts you can see as they happen, but unfortunately, that approach doesn’t give you an accurate read on just how dire the environmental crisis is. We wanted to talk about climate impacts in a way that is more tangible, where readers could instantly notice the ways that a character’s actions might make Discordia (the world’s name for climate change) worse. We didn’t want to go deep into environmentalism in a way that would be boring for readers, instead, we shaped an action-packed plot around the climate message we wanted to convey. There’s some big moments in the story that are the direct result of natural disasters (no spoilers!) and we think these will be easy for any reader to decipher. Our hope is that this book inspires a new generation of young readers to think more about climate change and the environment.

3. As co-authors, was it challenging to write a cohesive story? What did you face when it came to bringing the story together?

Rob: Andrew and I’s writing routine kind of fell into place naturally. We’ve been friends for years, so I brought him the original book concept which was in the form of a short story that I’d written during Covid. Andrew loved the idea and injected a whole new energy and structure into it. We worked on it nonstop after that. We both have a lot of respect for each other, we have a similar grasp on storytelling, and our strong suits are largely complementary, so our process developed pretty seamlessly. 

Andrew: Our collaborative writing process was only possible because Rob and I are such close friends. Before we ever put pen to paper, we talked about the world we wanted to build for hundreds of hours. Some of our best ideas were texted in the middle of the night. Once we decided it was time to start writing, the story flowed easily because the whole thing already existed in our brains. We basically switched off on chapters and the person who didn’t write a chapter would go through and make edits. It was a truly collaborative process because we really shared a brain about all of the details. I don’t think anyone could pick out the sections that he or I specifically wrote because it came together so cohesively.

4. Rob, how did you incorporate your work as a public official into your story? What have you learned from your time in office that has helped shape the story?

Rob: My passion for conservation and the environment, much of which was cultivated during my former role as Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District Chair, was a major motivating factor for writing this. In my former role, I helped create a field trip program that teaches hundreds of Palm Beach County students a year about the Everglades and sustainability. The kids would get tested after they visited a wetlands area for the day, and we’d get to see what they learned. It was extremely rewarding to me, and this story in a way felt like an extension of that mission. Kids today, more than any of us, have inherited a climate crisis that will shape their entire lives. Their generation are the ones who will have to save the planet. Educating them now is crucial.

Our story also touches on the complicated nature of leadership. A lot of that is directly inspired by my current role as Delray Beach City Commissioner.

5. From saving his town to learning about his weather-predicting powers and the history of his family, Junior faces a lot throughout the story. Was he inspired by anyone you may know?

Rob: Junior wants to do the right thing but starts out very naive and misled. He struggles to make sense of the outside world and his role in it. Even though he’s a groundhog and his journey is fantastical, this is a coming-of-age story at heart. Junior’s story should feel relatable. I can’t think of anyone who directly inspired this story, but it’s dedicated to anyone who takes personal risks to serve the greater good.  

Andrew: We didn’t have a sole person in mind as we wrote Junior’s story, but he was certainly inspired by many people that Rob and I personally know and some people that we admire. For me, I thought a lot about students that I’ve had in the debate world because their view of the world was so un-cynical to the point where they can do anything because they believe anything is possible.

6. What’s up next for Junior? Will we see more stories in the world you’ve created?

Rob: Yes! The Great Weather Diviner is book 1 of a four part series, which Andrew and I are hard at work on. Additionally, we’re working on a spin-off series starring Hugo the Flamingo. These will be picture books meant for 5 – 10 year olds, and detail Hugo’s adventures in the Florida Everglades.

Andrew: From the very beginning, we wanted this to be a series so that we could fully tell Junior’s story and further explain the environmentalist message. The Great Weather Diviner is part one of a four-part series, which we’re already moving forward with even before the first book hits stores. We are also excited to branch out into picture books for younger readers that will feature Hugo the flamingo’s adventures as he leaves the world of the Great Weather Diviner and heads to the Florida Everglades.

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