What a fantastic idea. How'd you like to be sitting in English class--and have the prof assign a thrilller or mystery to read? Now *that's* school.
Not that there's anything wrong with Silas Marner or Mill on the Floss. (I never understood that title. I do, now, but not back then.)
That's exactly what's happend to a group of lucky students in Delaware--who are now reading Karen Dionne's
BOILING POINT. We'll let her tell the tale....
KAREN DIONNE: My new environmental thriller, BOILING POINT, is unapologetic, straight-up genre fiction about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Boiling Point features a megalomanical villain who’s taken it upon himself to permanently reshape the planet, and finishes with a 40-page climax that takes place in the caldera of an erupting volcano.
Pure, unadulterated entertainment fiction, right? And yet, this spring, Boiling Point is also going to be used as the main textbook for a class at the University of Delaware, as my first environmental thriller, Freezing Point, was last fall. Genre fiction as textbook? How did that come about?
Like all genre fiction, my novels are written primarily to entertain. But they also touch on serious issues; in the case of Freezing Point, the world’s fresh water crisis, the deterioration of Antarctic ice shelves due to global warming, and invasive species. Because of that, I’d always wondered if my novel could be used in the classroom – perhaps as auxiliary reading for environmental sciences students to help put a human (albeit a fictional human) face on the problems. I even donated a copy of Freezing Point to the high school I attended, and mentioned I’d be happy to meet with students to talk about my novel and the associated environmental issues. But nothing came of it.
Then a year or so after the book published, I got a note from a fellow Backspace member
Carrie Neeley, saying she’d like to use Freezing Point as the textbook for her English as a second language class at the University of Delaware. Carrie saw exactly how I’d envisioned the novel could work in a classroom, and then some. When she sent me a copy of her lesson plans, I was blown away by how much she drew out of my book – though I’ll admit, when I saw her list of vocabulary words, I laughed out loud. Her poor students! I’d always thought of Freezing Point as a quick, easy read, and it is – if English is your first language.
Here’s Carrie’s overview and a sample:
Freezing Point – Syllabus and Timeline
Week 1 (Chapters 1-9)
Look for unusual verbs – write them down
Look for expressions of imagery – write them down
Look for examples of similes and metaphors – write them down
Find at least 3 more vocabulary words that are new to you and write them down with the definition.
Grammar focus for the week: Find examples from the reading and write the sentences and page numbers.
Journal work: Complete nightly journal assignments. Everything should be in the same marble journal, with chapter headings, to be collected at the end of each week by the teacher. The journal entry should be no less than 6 sentences.
Grammar Focus: Modal Verbs
- Similes (page 1) and personification (page 17)
- Parts of a boat –diagram with vocabulary
- St. Elmo’s fire (background and song)
- Film clip of Perfect Storm
Questions: When have you felt the need to pray? What would you do in a moment of desperation and panic?
Journal Question: Do our instincts always lead us to the right conclusion? Have you ever regretted not following your instinct?
- Protesters –history of/during wars, modern day
Journal: Would you sell your dream for money? Are you a risk taker? Would you ask for $2 million and risk losing the offer? Or would you settle?
- page 28….effects of global warming/read reports/watch Al Gore’s documentary
- Water water everywhere…THE ALBATROSS and Metallica song
- bottling water. What kind do you drink? Is it the decorative bottles that draw you to certain
brands or price?
Homework assignment: Ask 5 people if they drink bottled water and what
kind…what makes them choose one brand over another. Is it silly to pay for water? Create survey
results poster and hang in classroom.
Journal: Who should get the water? The highest bidder or those most in need? Do some
research on third world countries and find out what they have to do to get clean water. Any
diseases from drinking contaminated water?
- California wild fires/news clip –articles for homework
- Ice bergs being towed to Middle East to solve water shortage
- “Zen-like backyards” “A house wasn’t a home without a yard. He needed the green.” Do you
have a zen-like place? What do you need for a house to be a home?
Journal: How do you make your home here more comfortable?
- Film to watch: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
Isn’t that impressive? Carrie tells me her students really enjoyed reading and discussing Freezing Point. I certainly enjoyed my Skype visit with them at the end of the session.
But here’s the fun part: Because teachers are some of the most caring and giving people on the planet, Carrie has agreed to let me make both sets of lesson plans available as a free downloadable pdf on my website – even though as anyone can see, she put a great deal of thought and effort into creating them. Once both sets of lesson plans are ready, I’m going to promote both novels along with the free lesson plans to environmental sciences teachers and home-schooling parents at the high school and college level. I have no idea how this project might ultimately affect book sales, but I’m excited about the possibilities. At the least, marketing my novels along with lesson plans to educators opens up a new avenue of promotion to people who might not otherwise have heard about my books.
I can easily see other fiction authors doing something similar with their novels, so I asked Carrie if she’d be willing to create lesson plans for others for a reasonable fee. Turns out, she loves drawing up lesson plans, and had been thinking along the same lines. So if anyone thinks their novel might be suitable for the classroom, and would like to get in touch with Carrie, she’s happy to discuss! [ neelyagcs at aol.com ]
Meanwhile, I’m off to see what sort of educational havoc I can wreak in book number three . . .
HANK: Pretty great. Incredibly innovative. And endlessly fascinating. I wonder how it changes the way we read, to know that there'll be a list of questions afterwards. What do you think?
Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. A second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming is just out from Berkley.
Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she currently serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is also Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers' newsletter and webzine, The Big Thrill.