A “novel” approach to climate change education: “The Kingdom of Winter,” a book review

By Erica Cirino

When young people in America are first introduced to the concept of climate change–and its effects on the oceans–it’s usually through science textbooks. And that’s if young people are taught about climate change at all—according to education organizations such as the National Center for Science Education, in some parts of the country, students are still being denied a scientifically accurate climate change education.

A novel published this year, called The Kingdom of Winter, turns the textbook approach to climate change education on end. Author Dorothy Papadakos—also a noted organist, playwright and lyricist—seeks to engage young people in their own climate change education, inspiring them to imagine and discuss the issue rather than simply read facts about it.

The Kingdom of Winter is a fantasy story narrated by Sir Windham, the North Wind, the Earth’s most powerful knight. He tells readers:

My superstar colleague Orion pressed me to pen my memoirs to immortalize the extraordinary heroic events that restored Earth’s seasons. Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn relied on me, Sir Windham the North Wind, to keep them on schedule…until one Winter Solstice when it all went terribly wrong. You see, there appeared a fifth season created by Man. We call it the season of fear.

Sir Windham takes readers on an epic journey—told from nature’s point of view—to restore the season of winter after the Fire Witch, who represents human-caused global warming, upsets the planet’s ecological balance. The new fifth season, the “season of fear,” is created by humanity.

The book is complex and exciting, qualities that many textbooks simply do not possess. While less scientifically written than a textbook, The Kingdom of Winter succeeds in making young people think about the concept of climate change and myriad other natural science concepts such as astronomy, botany and marine science—and the role that humans play in the story of Earth. What’s more, some of the books most notable heroes are children themselves—a diverse group of boys and girls each specializing in their own skills and intelligences, such as Rocky, a North African geology whiz; and Mimi, a Latina linguistics whiz.

Upon the publication of Papadakos’ novel in January, this unique angle of engaging students in the climate change story rather than just rattling off scientific facts immediately took off. Since then, 30 STEM teachers and hundreds of middle school students at the Wake County School District in North Carolina designed a science and literature curriculum around The Kingdom of Winter which has recently been completed and approved for schools across the nation. Papadakos says she plans on publishing three more books as part of her The Kingdoms of the Seasons series, around which related curricula will be created.

There is a growing excitement among educators to incorporate Papadakos’ book and its related science and literature curriculum into their institutions.

“The book series and curriculum based around The Kingdom of Winter certainly look like an innovative and exciting way to engage students in weather and climate,” says Brian Fitzgerald, director of education at Mount Washington Observatory. “I’d be happy to send along any resources or links to our teachers for this year’s professional development programs.

The Kingdom of Winter is now being taught at schools across the country as part of a pilot program, and is being promoted by Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education. Additionally, The Kingdom of Winter was selected by Barnes and Noble for their new Authors in Schools program. This will give Papadakos the opportunity to visit schools where students are reading her book and have discussions with them about what they’re learning from it.

Science experts too express their excitement for Papadakos’ book, and in fact provide the author with the scientific facts she needs to make her books accurate.

“Given Trump’s action on the Paris Climate Accord, now is the great global turning point in human history regarding climate,” says Papadakos.

Perhaps The Kingdoms of the Seasons series will give young people the knowledge and inspiration they need to combat the real-life Fifth Season.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Ecologist Carl Safina is author of seven books, including the best-selling “Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel,” and “Song for the Blue Ocean,” which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has won a MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, CNN.com and elsewhere, and he hosted the 10-part “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University.