The art of the great prank is at the heart of Mason High School English teacher Kurt Dinan's new book, Don't Get Caught.
"When I wrote the book I had two goals--to write something funny and entertaining, and to write a plot-driven page-turner. From the feedback I've gotten, I think I've succeeded. I think a lot of Young Adult is very serious and issue-oriented, so I wanted to write something fun because part of being a teenager is just dumb, fun time with your friends," Dinan explains.
Dinan's young adult fiction tale combines two of his favorite things: The Breakfast Club and Ocean 11. The book is told in a series of "heist rules," and doesn't take itself too serious - which he credits with the book's appeal to students who don't think of themselves as readers.
"I couldn't work out a way to have an ensemble group of teenagers steal things and make it morally acceptable, so instead I had them planning and executing elaborate pranks as a way to get revenge for people who have wronged them," says Dinan. "I'm a big believer that kids will read if you give them time to read and freedom to choose their own books. Don't Get Caught has wide-ranging appeal to guys and girls, and especially to adults, but the book has really found it's audience in reluctant readers. This isn't a long, descriptive-heavy, issue-oriented novel meant to change the world. It's a fast, funny, plot-twisting novel that's meant to make kids laugh and have a good time. Kids who don't like reading have really responded to that, and my hope is it will make them pick up another book when they finish it."
Mason High School students played important roles in helping Dinan share the book with his audience. Owen Tidd and Cole Tibbs from MHS visual arts teacher Aaron Roberts' Design Studio Internship, along with four of Dinan's students, Gaby Medina, Emily Slusser, Spencer Walsh, and Ben Wolfe, produced, directed, and acted in a book trailer. Josh Mullins from MHS business teacher Craig Murnan's Integrated Media class designed an author's website for him, and Whitney Ballentine (formerly Whitney Pelfrey), a Mason grad and former yearbook student, shot his author photos and book signing.
To help students become writers, many experts suggest that teachers need to write side by side with them. Dinan's ability to model writing (and share his ups and downs with the writing process) is a very valuable lesson for his students.
"Because I write every day, I know the struggles the kids are going through and can empathize with them. Writing can be difficult--I struggle with it on a daily basis--but I also know tricks and strategies to make it less difficult and to set myself up for success. Those strategies are conversations I have with my students," Dinan says.
Listen to Dinan's interview on WVXU Public Radio.