Reading Bridge to Digital Literacy: Atama-ii books

Quick. Invest in the new series of Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books being developed by a group of authors for English language learners. Marcos Benavides is leading the effort to publish these unusual books, designed to delight and intrigue students enough to get multiple exposures to target language.

Update: Marcos writes to tell me CYOA is a brand name, not type of book. Someone has co-opted the concept and is using it to sell books. Distasteful, in my option. 

Fund-raising for Atama-ii

Choose your Own Adventure books have been around a long time. They were originally designed as a young adult reader. I have an original set from the 1980’s on my bookshelves. Mario Rinvolucri adapted the idea for discussion in his book Mazes in 1981, followed by Joni Farthing’s Business Mazes in 1982. (See Vallance) Both are out of print, but I have a copy of the former, which I used for more common discussion activities, with the discussion happening at the decision points.

Example: You are peeling carrots for dinner, and the phone rings. At the same time the doorbell rings. You move to answer, but cut your finger. What do you do next? A) Answer the phone (Go to page 6), B) Answer the door (Go to page 12), C) Take care of your finger (Go to page 8).

Depending on the choices, the story changes. CYOA is also called Branching Fiction, or Hypertext Fiction. StorySpace is a writing environment developed at Eastgate. Scrivener is another hybrid editor, with word processing and hyptertext features combined. But we are getting far afield with writing here. Let’s go back to reading.

Atama-ii books are different. These graded readers you use on your computer or tablet, or phone. When you make a choice, there is no need to flip through pages to find the link target. This makes reading CYOA easier. It also encourages repeated readings, with enough variance to keep students interested, but without seeing the other options available until that path is taken.

I see CYOA books as a bridge to digital literacy. With almost all text material on paper, students plod through each word, sentence, paragraph, page and essay in a linear fashion. As we all know, that is not how the Internet works. Using Atama-ii books gives students a leg-up on the idea that text (even stories) can be constructed in hypertext. Reading and writing in hypertext are skills needed to navigate the Internet.

Marcos and friends are using kickstarter as a way to fund publishing. This is a new, but proven method. A similar CYOA adventure of Hamlet, done in language designed for young adults (native speaker). Another project takes CYOA to real life, making a story that requires you to travel around your city. A fun Tumblr blog has a collection of bad endings for CYOA novels.

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