Transforming Gamers into Readers

Earlier this fall I went to the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) conference to give a panel on “Transforming Gamers into Readers” (many thanks to the conference organizers for making this possible).

On the panel with me were:

David Levithan, editor the 39 CLUES series, and well-known YA author.

Kelly Czarnecki, a Teen Services Librarian at ImaginOn in Charlotte, NC.

And moderating was Jennifer M. Brown, Children’s Editor of Shelf Awareness. She’s blogged in greater detail about this panel at Shelf Awareness.

We covered many points, but here are a few highlights:

  • Video games and reading are not mutually exclusive.
  • There are bridges or “breadcrumb” trails to take gamers to reading.
  • Entertainment in the future (and to some extent right now) jump among multiple media— game, TV, webisodes, comics, novels, film, and alternate reality games. In other words you can read a book, follow up on other aspects in greater detail on the web, play the game, etc.  and it’s all part of one bigger story.
  • Barriers between media will continue to become more transparent in the entertainment industries.
  • It is critical when trying to get a young gamer to read that you don’t make it a punishment or chore e.g. “If you read for three hours then you can play Worlds of Warcraft.” Instead, try to link the two activities e.g. “I see you’re playing a lot of Age of Empires… Did you ever read about the Spartan strategies against the Athenians?”

Why am I  so interested in this subject?

A long time ago, I wrote a video game prequel novel called HALO: The Fall of Reach. Soon thereafter I received a few letters and e-mails from kids who said they never like to read, but they like HALO, and they picked up and fell in love with the HALO books. A “few letters and e-mails” soon became dozens, hundreds, and then thousands—and I found myself pleasantly surprised as being a gateway for a new audience into the world of reading.

After reading the HALO novels, these fans would often write back, asking what else they should read. I’d steer them to ENDER’S GAME and then the Robert Heinlein juvenile series, but found there was a surprising shortage of good science fiction for kids in the marketplace today. (This, by the way, is the reason I’ve started writing the RESISTER series of books).

So here’s a list of science fiction books for people who ask “what else is out there to read besides HALO?”

It’s aimed at readers 8 to 14 years old (and for those of us who are young at heart). I list no fantasy. I have nothing against a good fantasy book–heck, I’ve written some, but there’s plenty of fantasy for younger readers these days, and so little quality science fiction for this age group. I also left out many classics that are too hard to find (regrettable, but pragmatic). Unfortunately that makes this list really, really short.

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A “Breadcrumb” Bibliography to Lead Gamers to Reading Science Fiction

  • HALO: The Fall of Reach, by Eric Nylund (keep in mind, parents, these are based on an M-rated game)
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfiled
  • The Uglies series, also by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Resisters series, by Eric Nylund (out April 2011)
  • A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Hunger Game series by Suzanne Collins.
  • The “juveniles” by Robert Heinlein. These are dated, but so cool, and unfortunately getting harder to find. Some of my favorites are: Citizen of the Galaxy; Farmer in the Sky; Have Space Suit—Will Travel; Rocketship Galileo; The Rolling Stones; Space Cadet; Tunnel in the Sky, and Podkayne of Mars.

Once you get to the Heinlein juveniles (which portray science as ultra-cool to kids!) you can transition your young readers to Asimov, H.G. Wells, and more adult fare…and you may end up with life-long readers. Who knows, they might even one day bring this full circle and become video game developers and make games out of these books!

Note: I’ve heard good things about Margaret Haddix MISSING series, but have yet to read them myself. Please, by all means, add suggestions in the comments section or send me e-mails. After I read them to make sure I think they are appropriate, I’ll update this bibliography and put it in my FAQ.

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