Author’s work inspires survival skills convention with junior high school students


GREENFIELD — If the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park erupted, it would take about eight minutes for Greenfield residents to feel the vibration from the blast and two hours to hear the explosion, said Hoosier author Mike Mullin.

The sound would hit them like a violent artillery barrage.

The next day, ash would begin to fall from the sky like a deadly snow, disabling cars, collapsing homes and destroying infrastructure all across the continental United States, he said. Despite being more than 1,300 miles away, Greenfield wouldn’t be spared the consequences of such a cataclysmic event — the very disaster that sets the stage for Mullins’ young adult series.

Having just read the first book in the “Ashfall” supervolcano series, Greenfield Central Junior High School students spent Thursday bringing the story to life, with the author leading the way.

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This year, the junior high’s seventh-graders read Mullin’s 2011 novel, “Ashfall,” a story following a teenager’s struggle to survive an apocalypse, said Lucy Gellert, director of library services. As part of the students’ studies, the library held a “survival con,” an all-day program providing lessons from experts on the very things that helped their hero stay alive: shelter-building, map-reading, navigating hazardous environments and more.

The convention helped educators connect with students on both an academic and a cultural level — drawing them by setting the day up like a popular comic-con event, while showcasing the science behind it all, Gellert said.

“Libraries are changing,” Gellert said. “This shows what a new library program can do, which is draw in all (curricula). We are tapping into every subject area; we have something for math, science, English and health. Every subject is going to be taught but through a survival theme.”

The seventh-graders, along with participating eighth-graders in the school’s book club, ran through various stations during the day designed to give them a crash course in surviving hostile conditions.

The students learned about first aid from a member of the Greenfield Fire Department, and professional scouts and survivalists gave tips on finding food, water and shelter in the wilderness. Mike Foster, a teacher at the junior high and military veteran, taught about water purification, and a HAM radio group from Anderson talked about emergency long-range communication.

Mullin spent time researching these skills while crafting the novel. Thursday, he talked with students about the inspiration for “Ashfall” and performed a dramatic reading of an excerpt.

He conducted a question-and-answer session for the students and stressed the intense amount of research it took to get the novel’s earth science details just right.

“I really tried to get the geology in it right to the greatest extent I could, even though I’m not a geologist, I’m a novelist,” Mullin said. “And so I can bring a unique perspective into the schools because there is that strong science tie-in.”

Mullin’s research went beyond science and history textbooks; in “Ashfall,” the protagonist uses martial arts to protect himself in the new unforgiving world. Like his main character, Mullin holds a black belt in Taekwondo, and for the finale of the presentation, Mullin broke a brick in half with his bare hands to the applause of the students and staff members.

Seventh-grader Landon Pomeroy enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy books, so a thriller about a natural catastrophe was right up his alley, he said. The skills he learned at the survival con were both fun and practical ways to relate what they learned from the book to real life, Landon added.

Seventh-grader Ethan Privett said he was fascinated by learning the real-world skills after reading with his classmates about trying to live through the end of the world. An avid reader, Ethan said he plans on reading the sequel to “Ashfall” on his own.

“I enjoy cliffhangers,” Ethan said. “I found it interesting and intriguing to see what happens next. I’ve never seen a topic like that before.”

Greenfield-Central libraries wanted to show students where a career in writing can lead, Gellert said. Gellert said every student she talked to loved the book, and bringing in an author whose work they enjoy reading might help them realize their own ability to take writing to the next level, she said.

Mullin’s visits and presentations are a unique education opportunity for aspiring young authors, he said. It’s a rewarding feeling to give them a chance to meet a real author and see that making a career out of writing is something even an ordinary guy can do, Mullin said.

The Indianapolis author hopes to inspire students to tackle professional writing, he said. Even for those who don’t make it, or who aren’t really interested in publishing a novel, Mullin tries to make his visits beneficial for everyone involved.

“Being good at using language, words and writing, that helps you in almost any career,” Mullin said.