Changing Planet

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.

Carl Safina is author of seven books, including Song for the Blue Ocean, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, and The View From Lazy Point. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he also co-chairs the University's Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A winner of the 2012 Orion Award and a MacArthur Prize, among others, his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, and The Huffington Post, and he hosts “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. The paperback version of Safina's seventh book, "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel," is available in stores July 12, 2016.
  • Bill Randolph

    I loved the book and love the author too! I was her Associate when she served at the Cathedral of Saint John the Dvine. This book is not just for kids. I read it and was swept away by the characters. I plan to make it a Christmas gift for several of my friends. Brava, Dorothy!

  • Martin tierney

    This book is being well received internationally too, being used in schools in the UK and Ireland to teach these important topics to children. I’d encourage other schools to access it and incorporate it into their teaching.

  • Cheryl Bianchi

    what a fantastic concept….it’s imperative to get our youth engaged in this subject…literally, their futures depend on it

  • Jenny Yates

    Dorothy is a creative genius!

  • Donna Marble

    Having recently retired from teaching High School Earth/Environmental Science for a lifetime, I can tell you that I found teaching Climate change difficult at the high school level because students already have preconceived notions that it isn’t real.

    If all of my students came to high school, after having been through the book and associated curriculum in middle school, then we could continue to explore the science, but more in-depth, instead of having to start at the beginning…yes, climate change is real, climate has always changed…and this time, Man is responsible…& yes, children…there is hope.

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