Video Games to Get Kids Reading

A new book series, "The 39 Clues," is tied to Web-based video games.

Dec. 11, 2008— -- There's a battle raging for kids' eyes and time as books struggle to keep up with the digital world. But Scholastic, the nation's largest publisher of children's books, has decided that when it comes to video games, if you can't beat them, join them.

"We want to go where the kids live," said David Levithan, executive editorial director of multimedia publishing at Scholastic.

The number of kids reading for pleasure has dropped over the last 20 years, with more and more kids going online for entertainment every day, according to the Kids and Family Reading Report.

With these trends in mind, Scholastic has developed a new book series, called "The 39 Clues," which is linked to a Web-based video game. Kids need information from the books to advance in the game. Developers hope the game will encourage kids to pick up their handy paperbacks.

Many kids are receptive to the idea.

"Internet and books go together," one fourth-grader from New York said. "It's like a combination. You like books and you like Internet and you combine them, and you like both."

But some educators have their doubts. They worry that the games, with images and interaction, might sate the void that children have always filled with imagination.

"If students rely just on using games and online tools, and they believe that is the only way they're going to learn or have fun, then they will be less inclined to pick up a book," said Becky Pringle, of the National Education Association.

"39 Clues" author Gordon Korman argues that partnering with a video game is not like sleeping with the enemy.

"That's really not the enemy," he said. "I mean, that's like my ally in the fight to get kids really, really hooked on books."

Teachers Use Games to Bring Books to Life

Libraries around the country are now carrying video games, and some schools have embraced the multimedia concept behind "The 39 Clues."

Suzanne Gabrielson, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 135 in New York, has brought the games into her classroom.

"I know they are all interested in playing computer games, because that's what they do every day," she said. "If we can -- if they can interact both things, I think that would really improve their reading level and interest."

Hal Lanse, an education specialist, said there are ways that parents and teachers can help kids build a connection between reading and video games.

"Have a family-reading hour every week where you read aloud a chapter from the book, and then play the game together," he said. "Discuss similarities and changes in central characters as they appear in the books and videos."

Skeptics say that merging the gaming and reading worlds will only keep kids glued to their computers. But many believe it's a step in the right direction for literacy and bringing books to life.