How often have you heard students complaining that they did not have time to read all the books their various teachers were assigning within the same grading period? How many students actually read the assigned reading? I venture to say that SparksNotes, CliffNotes, and Shmoop experienced a serious workout during that term. If one book could provide a path down which the English, science, art, math, social studies, history, geography, economic, and health classes could travel within the same academic term, would you be interested? If so, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone is a book worth reading. It is probably the scariest nonfiction book that I have read. The back cover boasts Stephen King’s opinion as “One of the most horrifying thing I’ve ever read. What a remarkable piece of work.” Within the “Praise for” section, Science News claims The Hot Zone to be “more chilling than fiction,” and Kirkus Reviews states that it is “A bone-chilling encounter with a lethal virus . . . a total convincing page-turner, proving that truth is scarier than fiction.” Of course, I am not advocating less reading; I am suggesting more student-engaged reading.
During their journey through The Hot Zone, students will encounter specialized experts such as Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Jaax, Veterinary Pathologist at USAMRIID (U. S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases); Colonel Gerald Jaax, Chief of the veterinary division at USAMRIID; Eugene Johnson, Civilian virus hunter for the Army; and Dr. Joseph B. McCormick, Chief of the Special Pathogens Branch of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. As they travel from America to the rain forest of Africa and back to America, the students will also be introduced to the horrific characters Ebola and Marburg. Preston creates a vivid image of the effects of these viruses through syntax and vocabulary that are straightforwardly accessible to students. Teachers in conservative classrooms may need to prepare students and parents for Preston’s use of mature language. Though this may take the extra effort of sending an approval letter to parents, the book and lesson opportunities it provides are well worth the effort.
How can this book cross the curriculum of nine difference courses?
- The English class can combine the reading of Shakespeare with the reading of The Hot Zone. Some compare the plague in Shakespeare’s London to Ebola. This can lead to cross-curricular projects or research among the English, biology, history, health, economics, geography, and social studies classes.
- Art classes can contribute to the project by contributing drawings of various virus strains and cells.
- Geography and social studies can contribute by examining the effects of the destruction of the earth’s rain forests. Preston treats Ebola as a survivor; when one home is destroyed, it jumps to another.
- Math classes can contribute by providing probability and statistic charts.
- Economics classes can provide discussions on the cost of treatment or lack thereof.
- History classes can provide research on the militaristic aspects of viruses from past to present.
- The English class could also treat this book as a literary work of its own. It is loaded with literary elements such as metaphors, similes, foreshadowing, and conflicts such as man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. self, and man vs. society.