To Foster a Love for Reading, Think Outside the Book

The principal at my daughter’s school has been waxing poetic lately about the 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents, as identified by the Search Institute, a research organization with a mission to discover “what kids need to succeed.” Number 25 of the developmental assets is reading for pleasure. For librarians, this comes as no surprise. The million dollar question, though, is how do we get kids reading more, especially at the adolescent stage when the voluntary choice to read begins to wane?

It’s time to think outside the book…

…and graphic novel (though these are great)…

…and magazine (not sure that these count as sustained reading when they are formatted as bits and bites of information).

So, what other modes can give that same sense of sustained reading (I’ll call this a state of flow) that really good books (including graphic novels) so often do?

Here are some ideas:

  • Text adventure games. These harken back to the days of DOS, and I think any self-proclaimed gaming geek will be familiar with them. This is reading plus gaming, which makes for a powerful literacy tool. You can still play some of the classics, including Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork. Additional titles can be found here (you can even create your own). Text adventures are a great way to bridge gaming literacy with traditional literacy.
  • Story exploration games. Consider these a more modern take on the text adventure games with multimedia and (sometimes) transmedia elements. They are story-driven, so combine traditional reading with the multimodality of more contemporary gaming literacy (including visual, information, media literacies). Here are some examples:
    1. Gone Home
    2. The Stanley Parable
    3. The Minims
    4. Minecraft: Story Mode
    5. Cloud Chamber
    6. For other titles, check out Games for Change
  • Interactive fiction. Technically, text adventure games and story exploration games can be thought of as interactive fiction (and are sometimes categorized that way). For the purpose of this post, I am using the interactive fiction category to include titles that are not necessarily games, though most include gaming elements. Interactive fiction comes in many flavors, from “choose your own adventure,” hypertext, multi-ending stories to digital novels and multimodal audiobooks. Reading (or narration) is a central component of interactive fiction. Here are some examples:
    1. Inanimate Alice
    2. Hilda Bewildered
    3. Rockford’s Rock Opera
    4. Beneath Floes
    5. Flight Paths
  • Story making. Writing is an active approach to reading, so what better way to foster recreational reading than to foster recreational writing? Internet technologies make it so easy. My favorite story making tools include Storybird, My StoryMaker (Carnegie Library), and Drawp (also, Drawp for School). For a list of more tools, click here.
  • Transmedia franchises. Hollywood has handed librarians a pot of gold with the proliferation of transmedia franchises. We can now enter a story world through a movie, a video game, or a social media platform (and more) before we ever discover the book. The Game of Thrones franchise is a massively popular example of this, as is Star Wars. Take advantage of transmedia franchises by helping students make connections between the story worlds, so that they eventually land on the book.

If you want to explore more innovative ways of thinking about reading “outside the book,” be sure to check out my upcoming publication, titled Transmedia Storytelling: The Librarian’s Guide (click on the image below to find out more):


Hooking Non-Readers with Interactive Fiction

It’s National Library Week, so I have decided to write about the thing that we librarians love the most. READING.

I love to read. I make time to read. (I imagine you do too.)

I also know that people who read regularly have much larger vocabularies. This makes learning easier. There is also evidence that reading regularly can improve your memory, and reading fiction might even improve your empathetic skills.

So how do we get students to read more? Many students will tell you they don’t have time – too many classes, too much homework. This is likely just an excuse, as a number of studies have shown that college has actually become a part-time job for most students. They’re not studying as much as they used to (they spend far more time socializing). Read Academically Adrift for an eye-opening look into this phenomenon.

So HOW do we get students to read more? Certainly, a popular reading collection should have some priority in the budget. But, that will most likely only attract the students who are already avid readers.

There’s another way. And it’s (mostly) free. Have you heard of interactive fiction? It’s been around for a looong time. Interactive fiction is a game genre that is narrative based, but requires the reader to solve puzzles or mysteries. Back in the DOS-only days, these games were called text adventures. In fact, the first text adventure game was Colossal Cave Adventure, and it’s still available to play online (along with some of the other early text adventure games). They’re fun.

Today, you have more sophisticated interactive fiction, or transmedia fiction as it is now called. Inanimate Alice (love!) and Collapsus (also love!) are just two examples of this. There are also commercial games, like Myst, that fit into this genre.

I see interactive fiction as a fantastic avenue for hooking non-readers. Why not start an interactive fiction reading program or club? You might even get faculty interested in it. This is good because interactive fiction is a genre that promotes all the new literacies (digital, new media, information, visual, etc…). And there is a lot of potential for integrating it into curriculum and instruction.

If you are interested in “collecting” interactive fiction, check out the following web sites:

The best way to become a transmedia/interactive fiction enthusiast is to play the games yourself!