by Marcus Sedgwick
Almost exactly 20 years ago, I was writing what would become my first published novel, Floodland. Set in a future Britain in which rising sea levels from climate change have seen half of the country disappear under the waves, it came out in March 2000. Obviously, the publication of one’s first book is an intense thing, and there are lots of memories, but one thing that happened surprised me at the time. When the book was published, that year, it was very wet in England. (This is not the thing that surprised me, that’s coming.) In fact, there were epic floods across the country and it was making national news. Such apt publicity for a book release is clearly tricky to arrange – never mind that the kind of flooding I was writing about in the book, due to sea levels rising, was not the kind of flooding that was occurring that spring, which was due to excessive rain fall and rivers bursting their banks as a consequence. Though both, of course, are a consequence of climate change. What surprised me was that many people said to me, quite genuinely, how clairvoyant I must have been to write a book about flooding just before it was about to happen.
To be honest, I found this ridiculous – climate change is not a new story now, and it wasn’t a new story 20 years ago either. (Theories of climate change stretch back to the early 19th century.) The very fact that my slim novel had grown out of a request from a publisher for short stories about climate change showed that this was on lots of people’s minds. But in the strange (I thought) reaction I received to my book’s theme, I learned something important – just because we might think something is well-known, accepted scientific fact, doesn’t mean everyone does.
That’s why it’s very important that we continue to speak (even at risk of boring ourselves) about the vitally important matters that need to change in the world – in this case, climate change. And of course, the best way to do this is to work with younger people. Most adults, once they have made up their mind about something, never change it, regardless of how ill-informed their choice was, how sparse or incorrect the information they based their decision on. And frankly alarming experiments into confirmation bias show us that once made, even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, most people stick to whatever they have decided is ‘right.’
It is for this reason that I was delighted that Floodland was later accepted as part of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s Power of Reading project, and has been actively used in primary schools for most of its life. The work that CLPE do across the board is both powerful and well thought out. Kicking against the pricks of successive ill-informed education ministers with their unworkable and ineffective schemes – phonics, ‘learning objectives’, all the National Curriculum box-ticking exercises – CLPE produce excellent material that primary teachers can use in the classroom, based around the use of ‘real’ books, which are read in their entirety over the course of a term, perhaps, and then explored and expanded in a variety of ways: through art, drama, science, music and so on. The work I am still sent every week from teachers who’ve worked with the book makes me happy enough; the letters I get from young students bring tears to my eyes.
Incidentally, thinking back to confirmation bias, other research shows that people’s minds are more easily changed by fictional accounts (ie books and films) than by factual accounts (ie news stories and scientific pieces). So working with books like the ones on this site is a genuinely positive step for change.
That’s why I am pleased to be able to offer here the CLPE’s (recently updated) scheme of work for Floodland, for you to share with whichever primary teachers you happen to be, or know. Thank you to CLPE for offering this work gratis. If you’re interested in Primary Education, you probably already know about their work, but if not, go here and see more of the resources they have to offer.
By Marcus Sedgwick (May 2018, Updated November 2020)
MARCUS SEDGWICK is a writer of novels for adults, novels for younger people and of non-fiction. He even published a couple of picture books once but that’s a secret. He is winner of many prizes, most notably the 2014 Michael L. Printz Award for his novel Midwinterblood.
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