Review Blog

Jan 02 2015

You Choose series by George Ivanoff

cover image

Random House, 2014
The Haunting of Spook House. ISBN 9780857983862
Maze of Doom. ISBN 9780857983855
(Age: Yr 3+) It seems even our youngest children have been lured in by the appeal of computer-based games as they allow each player to have control of what happens to the characters driven by the decisions he/she makes about the decisions the characters make. So when that power is made available in book form, propelled not by graphics and a controller but by words, reading and understanding, everyone is happy - those who like to control the adventure and those who like to see their children reading. Harking back to a very popular format of about 20 years ago, where books were the most accessible form of self-driven entertainment and where the reader chose their own adventure by making a choice about what action to take and therefore where to move next in the story, this series 'You Choose' puts the power back in the reader's hands, rather than the author's predetermined storyline. And each time the book is read a different choice can be made and a new story created.
As with the first two in the series, The Treasure of Dead Man's Cove and Mayhem at Magic School, the author has chosen traditional venues that appeal to adventurers with just enough of the dark stuff in them to maintain the suspense but not scare them off completely.
Maze of Doom is set in a 'lame-looking' sideshow at the fun fair. However, its exterior belies what it contains inside and if the reader doesn't discover its secrets, they may be trapped inside forever. The Haunting of Spook House is all that is expected. The reader is dared to go inside to investigate if a man was indeed mummified there and now haunts the place.
Written by an author who, himself, was a devotee of this sort of format and only became an avid reader after he discovered it - something that my friend found happened when her 15 year-old grandson who has been euphemistically called a 'reluctant reader' discovered the books in her to-review pile - this is a series that not only combines interactivity and reading, but also enables the reader to think about cause and effect, to consider the options, to take the time to make a decision, and to take risks in a safe environment, all traits we try to encourage.
The appeal and importance of gaming within the formal education setting is becoming the focus of a lot of research and literature and this series provides a great foundation to actively engage and explore options. Map the story, its choices and consequences on a flow chart; have students add a few twists of their own and discuss how these can have an exponential effect on the outcomes; perhaps even venture down the Technologies strand of the Australian Curriculum and let your budding programmers start to design the coding. Then set a new scenario and start to explore the pathways and fun of 'what if . . .', encouraging the students to let their imaginations go, push the boundaries, think beyond the usual as they draw on all they've seen and experienced. As well as offering an engaging read, skilled teachers could use these books as models for an absorbing, integrated project that would draw in their writers, their illustrators, their mathematicians, their computer experts, and their gamers to create something new that accentuates the need for a team, encourages negotiation and compromise as well as the skills of seeing things from another perspective and looking for alternatives, and perhaps, even, the concept of empathy.
So glad this format is back on the reading agenda of the younger readers in my life.
Barbara Braxton

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