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March 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Classroom Connections
Video games continue to exert their seemingly ubiquitous dominance over our lives. This past summer saw national news coverage trumpeting the popularity of Pokémon Go, as participants ran around attempting to capture Zubats, Lickitungs, and the like (at least gamesters were outside, getting some fresh air). This unprecedented craze created headlines across the country, as millennials happily revisited the days of their Pokémon-obsessed childhoods.
For most of today’s tweens, video games have always been part of their everyday experience. Several books aimed at middle-school audiences feature gaming, and this article provides an update on fiction titles published in the past year. Selections include books where characters get swept into online realities or where video games are a key element of the story—not just a background activity or a non-negotiable qualification for a potential crush.
Consider this list an update to Angela Leeper’s more comprehensive overview from last year (“Classroom Connections: Coding and Gaming,” Book Links, November 2015). Some of these titles do skew towards an older audience. For complementary titles with a STEM focus aimed at the K–5 crowd, consider Kristin Fontichiaro and Molly Hall’s “Classroom Connections: Maker Minds” (Book Links, April 2015).
Ascending the Boneyard. By C. G. Watson. 2016. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, $17.99 (9781481431842). Gr. 7–10.Tosh lives in two places: Sandusky, Ohio, and The Boneyard, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in a desperate, devastating, violent world. As he spends more and more time online, Tosh’s two realities blend into a disquieting mix of desperation, action, and peril, leading to the ultimate question: If it feels real enough, can it be real?
Click Here to Start. By Denis Markell. 2016. Delacorte, $16.99 (9781101931875). Gr. 4–7.Ted’s great-uncle’s dying words set him off on a hunt for an undefined but tantalizing treasure. Clues are embedded in a video game involving WWII, looted Nazi treasure, and Japanese internment camps. As Ted gets closer to the solution, it becomes apparent that there are people willing to do anything to prevent him from solving the puzzle and finding the final reward.
Double Down. By Gwenda Bond. 2016. Switch, $16.95 (9781630790387). Gr. 8–11.Lois Lane, reimagined as a high-school reporter, was first introduced in Fallout (2015). In book two, Lois has finally made some real friends (previously she only had her online gaming buddy, Smallville Guy). When a friend collapses in a shady part of town, Lois is caught up in a dark, dangerous mystery. Be on the lookout for volume three, Triple Threat, due spring 2017.
The Game of Lives. By James Dashner. 2015. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780385741439). Gr. 7–10.Michael is on cyberterrorist Kaine’s trail, trying to stop him from recycling humans and Tangents (sentient computer programs) through an endless supply of stolen bodies (result: everyone will live forever). But Kaine comes under attack, and unless the “real” game player can be located, all Tangents and their human hosts will die. A satisfying finish to the Morality Doctrine trilogy.
Genius: The Game. By Leopoldo Gout. Illus. by James Manning. 2016. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (9781250045812). Gr. 7–11.Only 200 invites go out worldwide for The Game, a competition for the smartest teens on the planet. Tunde, a Nigerian engineering genius; Painted Wolf, a blogger from Shanghai; and Mexican American Rex, an expert hacker, work to unmask a darker purpose embedded in the competition. The abundance of STEM concepts, action, and suspense will get all types of readers hooked.
Hostage Run. By Andrew Klavan. 2015. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 (9781401688950). Gr. 7–10.Rick, alienated ex–football star and video game prodigy, teams up with athletic Molly to continue their fight against the Smiley McDeath gang, villains posing as government agents attempting to thwart a foreign threat. Because of the complexity of the plot and the large cast, readers new to the series should begin with the first volume, MindWar (2014).
Josh Baxter Levels Up. By Gavin Brown. 2016. Scholastic, $12.99 (9780545772945). Gr. 5–8.Outsider Josh sees the world as a video game. He is entering his third school in two years, and once again it’s game on. Standing up to a school bully earns him an in-school suspension. There he meets and teams up with a fellow gamer, necessitating actual real-time social interactions, including eventual entrance into the school’s video game decathlon.
Lauren Ipsum: A Story about Computer Science and Other Improbable Things. By Carlos Bueno. Illus. by Miran Lipovaca. 2015. No Starch, $16.95 (9781593275747). Gr. 4–7.After an argument with her mother, Lauren runs into the woods, gets lost, and must find her way home through a strange landscape with confounding rules and officious gatekeepers. Kids will effortlessly learn about basic applications and how to apply problem-solving logic as Lauren navigates Userland using programming concepts, logic puzzles, wordplay, and funny metaphors.
Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters. By Margaret Dilloway. Illus. by Choong Yoon. 2016. Disney/Hyperion, $16.99 (9781484724873). Gr. 4–7.Xander, a half Asian sixth-grader whose major interest is playing and coding computer games, comes from a long line of warriors who possess magical powers. This retelling of a Japanese folktale has flying white rats, a fire-breathing bird, a snow demon, and other creepy things. There’s also a celebration of courage, friendship, and family heritage.
Paths & Portals. By Gene Luen Yang. Illus. by Mike Holmes. 2016. First Second, $10.99 (9781626720763). Gr. 3–6.In this sequel to Secret Coders (2015), our heroes are trying to program a robot. Each time the kids write a new program, the author breaks down the steps visually, while occasionally inviting readers to come up with their own coding solution. Well-rounded, informative, and gamelike, with graphic-novel appeal.
Slacker. By Gordon Korman. 2016. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545823159). Gr. 4–7.Cam’s parents have put up with his gamer lifestyle for years. After a near real-life calamity, they demand that he take up a new interest. Cam starts a fake middle-school club for good-deed doers, which takes off despite his sabotaging efforts. He becomes the reluctant president of a successful enterprise while dealing with an undermining mastermind and an evil online nemesis.
Song of the Deep. By Brian Hastings. Illus. by Alexis Seabrook. 2016. Sterling, $12.95 (9781454920960). Gr. 3–6.This book, based on a video game Hastings helped create, follows Merryn’s search for her lost fisherman father. She travels in a homemade submarine, helping various sea creatures who, in turn, guide her on her increasingly dangerous voyage. Merryn is a strong female protagonist who will appeal to readers with vivid imaginations.
Trouble in Zombie-Town. By Mark Cheverton. 2015. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $9.99 (9781634500944). Gr. 4–6.Tommy, a huge Minecraft fan, has managed to digitize himself and enter the Minecraft world. He is chasing after his sister while trying to stop a megalomaniacal virus from infecting the real world. Because Tommy can travel between the real world and the Minecraft universe, readers can read about either playing the game or having adventures within the game.
The Wiener Strikes Back. By Max Brallier and Rachel Maguire. Illus. by Rachel Maguire. 2016. Aladdin, $13.99 (9781481424967). Gr. 4–7.The crew of the interstellar hot-dog stand The Neon Wiener return, ready for new, heavily illustrated intergalactic adventures. In this sequel to Cosmoe’s Weiner Getaway (2015), Earth-boy gamer Cosmoe and his alien sidekick, Humphree, hitch their space wagon to a traveling circus with epic results. This episodic romp is based on the webcomic Galactic Hot Dogs.
Classroom Activities: Focus on STEM
Well-developed characters and intricate plots extend these selections’ appeal, slipping easily into fantasy, science fiction, or action-adventure genres. Have students compare and contrast books of different genres (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9), or examine the interaction of a story’s elements and drama—such as how setting shapes the characters or plot (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.3).
Ask students to write online peer reviews. Middle-school kids love to express opinions, provide feedback, and conduct polls. Students or library patrons can create and post brief reviews and ratings and then invite interaction through class, library blogs, or social media. Links to favorite video games can be incorporated, along with home-generated tips for achieving supreme dominance (components of ELA Common Core standards at every grade level, including CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6).
Kathleen McBroom recently retired from a 40-year career that spanned public, academic, and school library assignments. She currently works as a consultant.
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