Tech for Teach

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.

3 thoughts on “Reading Bridge to Digital Literacy: Atama-ii books”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Very interesting article. I completely agree about the suitability of multi-path stories on digital formats.

    However, I just wanted to make a very important clarification: Our series, Atama-ii Books, is NOT connected in any way with Choose Your Own Adventure, which is actually a registered trademark. I realize people often use the CYOA name interchangeably with the type of story–as they do with “Xerox” or “Coke” as well–but CYOA is, in fact, a brand name in current use by other publishers.

    I happen to have worked in the past on McGraw-Hill’s Choose Your Own Adventure series, which is a licensed adaptation, but Atama-ii Books is completely unrelated to that project as well. Just wanted to be clear on that!

    Thanks,
    Marcos Benevides,
    Publisher, Atama-ii Books

  2. I experimented with making a flash animated CYOA (gamebook) story as a grad student. The idea still fascinates me.

    With the Atama ii series being so text based, but also a computerized gamebook, they kind of remind me of the old text based RPG games from the 5 1/4 inch floppy disk era.

    I wonder if they will venture to make manga versions?

  3. Hi Kevin,

    Again just to clarify: Choose Your Own Adventure, or CYOA, is the brand name of the original series of books in this format. It’s not that someone has co-opted the name, it’s that they, the CYOA people, actually *created* the genre decades ago, and still publish in it using the CYOA trademark.

    Since then, dozens of other 2nd-person gamebook series have come out under other series names, but because of the popularity of CYOA, people often refer to all books in the genre as “choose your own adventure” books, as you did. This is probably fine if used informally. However, in my case, I don’t want to give the impression that Atama-ii Books are *literally* Choose Your Own Adventure books, as they are not. They are a completely different series, albeit in the same 2nd person adventure genre.

    Bear in mind that genres can’t be copyrighted, only actual stories. Sorry for any confusion!

    Marcos

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