Five books to get gamers reading
[A version of this post appeared on Pragmaticmom.]
As teachers we are no strangers to that mysterious being known as the “reluctant reader.” They’re the students who just don’t seem interested in anything remotely book-like no matter what we do. Finding books that connect with their interests is always a great first step. And many of our most reluctant readers connect in a big way to video games.
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That’s why those Minecraft Handbooks are an amazing resource for any classroom and are topping the bestseller lists around the world. That’s great for non-fiction, but how do you get those reluctant readers diving into fiction where they can develop a love of a good story? Again, connections are the key.
In addition to being a teacher and Minecraft fan, I’m also children’s author. Video games are at the heart of my books, like Ganked my young adult gamer geek mystery or Descent into Overworld, my Minecraft-inspired adventure for middle graders. By using video games as settings for my stories and gamers as my heroes, many reluctant readers find a welcome home in my stories.
Thankfully, I’m not the only author bridging the divide between books and video games. Check out these five books that are sure to get the young gamer in your life to put down the game controller and pick up a book.
Five Go-To Gamer Books
Epic by Conor Kostick
For the inhabitants of New Earth, success in life depends on success in the video game known as Epic. Every person on New Earth must play the game, fighting monsters and completing quests to earn gold that translates into real world wealth and power. For teenage Erik, Epic is a game rigged to favor those who are already rich and powerful. Refusing to play by the rules of the game, Erik creates a character doomed to fail and in the process unlocks the dark secret that caused his father’s exile to the edges of civilization and could lead to his family’s salvation.
Epic is the first in the Avatar Chronicles trilogy and is a great read for teen readers not put off by thick books. Weighing in at 384 pages, it might seem daunting for reluctant readers, but the video game battle sequences, inspired by real world games like World of Warcraft, will keep readers engaged.
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
Every gamer is familiar with those two dreaded words: “Game Over”. When 14 year old Giannine gets trapped inside the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, “Game Over” could mean life over, if she doesn’t solve the game’s puzzles in time. Taking on the role of a medieval peasant suddenly in line to inherit the kingdom’s throne, Giannine must dodge rivals, outwit a riddling dwarf and defeat a man-eating dragon before returning to reality with her life, and her mind, in one piece.
Game-loving readers will relate to Giannine’s struggles as she starts her video game over and over again after each mistake. With each restart, Giannine learns from her mistakes and gets one step closer to overcoming her enemies, inheriting the throne and escaping the game.
Vande Velde writes with a sharp humor that gamers will enjoy. By making her hero a girl, she challenges the myth that games are just for guys. That said, even with a girl protagonist, middle grade boys will be pulled into this story of monster-filled technology gone wrong.
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Told from multiple perspectives, For the Win follows a group of teens each with their own reasons to play their favorite online video game. Among them is Leonard, a typical American teen gamer and fifteen year old Mala from rural India who toils for hours in the game as a low-paid gold farmer, harvesting virtual items to sell to rich gamers for real money. When they’re contacted by mysterious player known as Big Sister Nor, these two gamers are soon caught up in a fight to protect their fellow gamers from exploitation both in-game and in the real world.
While For the Win deals with some big issues, like worker’s rights and globalization, its fast action and gamer-speak style of writing will appeal to readers who like a little espionage and hacking with their dragon-hunting adventures.
Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes
From the early 1980s, before there were Xboxes or Playstations, Canadian science fiction author Monica Hughes was writing video game inspired adventures for middle grade readers. Invitation to the Game (also published as The Game) is one of her finest. In this short book, Hughes takes readers to a dystopian future where a group of teenagers, deemed unemployable by society, are given the chance to play a virtual reality game that tests their endurance and survival skills. As they spend more time in the mysterious game, the teens find the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur, leading to an unexpected climax that holds all the hallmarks of a classic science fiction plot twist.
At under 200 pages, Invitation to the Game is an ideal length for even the most page-phobic reluctant reader. The suspense created behind the game’s true purpose mixed with some very tense survival scenes will keep gamers guessing until the very end. It is definitely a sci-fi classic that holds up even in today’s high tech reality.
Gameworld by CJ Farley
Sixth-grader Dylan Rudee is good at only one thing: video games. He’s not so good at standing up to the bullies who harass him at school, getting homework done or succeeding at anything that doesn’t involve a game controller. When Dylan gets a chance to compete in the Game Changers video game tournament, he hopes it will solve his problems and help his aunt who just lost her job. But when his gaming skills release some very real creatures from Jamaican folklore, Dylan and his friends are thrown into an adventure that threatens to destroy all worlds, both real and imagined.
CJ Farley’s Gameworld draws on West Indian mythology and features a multicultural cast that brings some much needed diversity to modern children’s books while telling an action-packed story sure to engage middle grade readers.
Those are just five books to get the gamers in your life reading. What are your reluctant reader suggestions? What are your go-to title to get your students to put down the game controller and pick up a book? Share your suggestions in the comments below!