Questions about My Adventure Books

"My Adventure" stories have been called "interactive books." Why would a kid need an interactive book? Don't they have plenty of interactive electronic gadgets?

Sure, and all those engaging interactive electronic gadgets compete for the limited time and attention of today's kids. But let's face it. Kids who can read and write effectively are more likely to succeed in this information age. Kids who read more books and write better paragraphs get better grades. Too many young people end up in college classes unable to use their textbooks effectively or write a coherent paragraph.

Books have always been interactive. The writer puts words together to create text, but the reader must somehow extract the meaning. The reader must bring to this process a base of knowledge and experience that enables him to comprehend, analyze and evaluate the ideas conveyed in those words. The writer must have some idea of how a reader reads and the reader must have some idea of how the writer writes. So, learning to read and learning to write are inextricable processes, even though they use different parts of the brain and require different skills.

Advanced My Adventure stories invite the reader to experience a richer interaction with the text by becoming a co-creator. As he searches for an adjective to fill in a blank, or creates a packing list for his impending journey, he connects his own knowledge and experience to the story. Creating illustrations helps forge connections between the words and visual images. This gets more of the brain engaged in the process.

By the time kids are nine or ten years old, shouldn't they be able to write their own stories?

Some can. But the writing process requires a huge array of skills that must be brought together to create a finished product. you need skill with penmanship or keyboarding, spelling, punctuation, language mechanics, vocabulary, literary conventions, organization, sequencing. And then you need something to write about. And once you get something down, it's smudged or your mother criticizes your spelling. "What? I have to revise it again and make it look good? Give me a break!"

Difficulties in any of these areas can bring the writing process to a screeching halt. Too many kids just quit when the task seems impossible. Some of the best and brightest look at the beautifully rendered picture books on their shelves and think, "No way. I can't possibly make something like that. And I don't want to make something stupid-looking."

My Adventure stories remove some of these hurdles and build scaffolding to increase the chance of success. The greatest hurdle--terror of the empty page--gone! The presence of the story already on the page relieves much of the tedium of getting the basics down properly, so that the co-creator can use more mental energy to provide imaginative details. The final product gives the co-creator that special feeling that comes from completing a worthy task. Nothing encourages the hard work needed for success better than the experience of that special feeling.

When you have a tiny tot who wants to play basketball like the big kids, what do you do? You don't stand her at the free throw line and yell at her. You hand her the ball, and hold her high over your head so she can experience the slam dunk. You get her a scaled-down hoop for practice. And as she feels the delight of that swoosh when the ball goes in, she comes to love the challenge and develops her own style.

Won't their creativity be stifled by the structure? Won't they get frustrated if they can't think of the right word to go in a space?

This isn't a guessing game. It's a creative process. There isn't a "right word." There are lots of different ways to complete the story. The Advanced My Adventure stories offer more space so that the co-creator can add phrases and sentences and paragraphs if needed, along with illustrations. And if that young person gets half-way through and thinks, "This ending is dumb--I have a much better idea," then celebrate and buy more paper!

What if kids don't have the knowledge or experience they need to come up with details?

Heavens! Should a ten-year-old be able to gush forth details while seasoned writers spend months or years doing research before putting words on paper? I hope these projects will encourage kids to look things up. Help them find ways to observe real birds or reptiles or arthropods--on nature videos, at the zoo, or in your own backyard. Visit the library! Use that field guide! Thumb through that thesaurus! Visit my website (www.janetgingold.com) for links to some helpful internet resources. The deeper they dig, the richer the final product. And nothing they learn is wasted.

My fifth grader refuses to do his writing assignments. The more I push, the harder he pushes back. His teacher says he'll fail language arts if he doesn't hand in his work. What can I do?

You are not alone. This is a common problem, but it has many different causes and therefore many different solutions. Some kids feel that whatever they do they will get criticism and they hate that. Often, perfect is the enemy of good--kids would rather do nothing than create something that is less than perfect. Some kids this age succumb to a prevailing anti-intellectual attitude among their peers. They might feel embarassed by their peers' reaction to their work, either good or bad.

Some kids have difficulty with a part of the task that interferes with their ability to complete the assignment. Some kids do well if they can dictate their ideas into a tape recorder and then write them down. Some kids prefer to type rather than write. Some kids need a different type of assignment.

Some kids struggle with control issues or privacy concerns. I've known some kids who resumed doing assignments when their parents agreed to relinquish their roles as omniscient editors. Okay, so they handed in some stuff with spelling mistakes and missing commas, but they took responsibility for their own work and got out of a power struggle.

You might need to work with your pediatrician and the school counselor to figure out what the trouble is. Sometimes, the best way to make progress is by changing the subject and working in a different direction. But most kids respond better to empathy and encouragement than they do to scolding and coercion. So try to find ways to identify obstacles and get them out of the way. Instead of a critique, offer support.