More on Inanimate Alice

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My reaction to Inanimate Alice is mentioned in an article here.

The buzz is growing!

Kate Pullinger – Alice’s author is speaking at BETT on January 14th.

And see Laura Fleming’s comment on the same article here.

Ian Harper, the producer, has put me in touch with educators in Argentina working with Inanimate Alice with  a view to meeting up when I’m over there for the Christmas break.

I need all the help I can get!



I like dead trees


Appropos of my previous post:

I am excited about the new definition of text as the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated. I actively encourage colleagues to keep a wide range of reading materials available.

There is a real likelihood that hard pressed teachers (and the squeeze is becoming tighter) will have not have the resources – emotional, intellectual, economic – to familiarise themselves with a broader range of texts than those we already use.

However, we do a profound disservice to our young learners if we ignore the fundamental habits of deep and earnest reading and embrace the new unreflectively.

While my sons at 8 and 9 years old adored having books read to them and were very literate in the broad sense, they were totally uninterested in reading. Then they were introduced to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. These ‘interactive’, non-linear texts (this was the early ’80’s) were the breakthrough for them, not least because they just had to read short paragraphs and felt they were actively involved in creating the story. Determining the protagonist’s next course of action, albeit from a very limited range of choices, was immensely satisfying for them. After a preference was made, the plot branched out and unfolded, leading to more decisions and eventually multiple possible endings. But a crucial point was that such books required less stamina than more traditional ones.

They rapidly moved on to more sophisticated and, it has to be said, more conventional, texts, eschewing the comic books, early graphic novels and sci fi so dear to many of their contemporaries. They built up stamina, learned to read stories which not only had more complex vocabulary but more profound concepts that needed to be pondered upon, incubated, borrowed and for and incorporated into their own thinking. For this, they needed time and space, practice and more practice (with encouragement at times), the opportunity to explore their new learning and link it with what they already knew.

I fear that the bells and whistles of ‘transmedia’ texts (what’s the difference between these and games? Perhaps there doesn’t need to be a distinction) represent an easier option.

Oh I do struggle with all this ‘transmedia’ stuff. I try to act as if I’m in the 21st century – honest. But I wonder about the efficacy of promoting these interactive books without the caveat that we have must not discard books. I don’t believe there is a set body of knowledge, a prescribed list of classics with which every child should be familiar (I’ve never read Dryden and have little inclination so to do). I do sincerely believe that unless young people are exposed and – yes – sometimes urged to step out of the constantly changing scenery of a game or text such as Alice, then they may never acquire the mature skills (or more importantly, the deep pleasure) that come when you finish a good book. It’s a different and equally necessary part of developing literacy.

I’m all for relevance and engagement. I know and dimly understand where kids are coming from today, although I do think it a myth that all youngsters are equally ‘wired’. I am keen on utilising all available tools to support learners to develop and grow and construct their own learning.

But… But… But…

‘Literacy experiences’ don’t always have to be immediately ‘relevant’ and full of whizz bangs just because that’s what the kids are used to. (Forgive me if I’m sounding like Chris Woodhead. Perish the thought!).

The joy of story stems from the emotional connection between reader and read to as well as the quality of the yarn: the child snuggling up to someone who loves her in the age old tradition of listening to a tale. No inanimate object, however jolly, can replicate that. Would I prefer to read ‘The Secret Garden’ to our 6 year old cosying up on the sofa and then take her to the theatre production or would I rather sit her in front of a screen to be made to feel sick at Alice’s trajectory through the desert? I know which she would choose. How about you?

When I’m reading a good novel, I want the story to continue, I need to be immersed and totally involved, to have my imagination exploded and my emotions squeezed.

I want to suspend my disbelief.

I really have no desire to exit the story. I make a story my own by being enraptured, wrapping myself in it, linking what I’m reading with my own experiences. Any exodus, distraction, interruption means I lose my focus, my involvement, my joy in the narrative.

There may be occasions when I want to be a ‘co-creator’. That’s fine. Kate Pullinger, the author of Alice writes about the ‘potential for interactivity that has come about as readers around the world create their own versions of new episodes of the story’. Another commentator describes ‘students developing their own works and stories, using the story as a launch point’.  That’s great. We need to enable our children to express themselves, to create, but that’s something separate from deep reading. Disruption is not conducive to the experiential reading that results in profound thinking and lasting ownership. At least not for me.

People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell. What I need as a reader is fewer distractions and a comfy chair. And children need the same. Perhaps not all the time, I agree. Of course there is a place for interactivity; I would never object to any tool that enabled anyone to explore and learn. After all, my life’s work has been to enable learners with dyslexia to access literature.

But, you know, we need stories as much – at times more – than food to stay alive. Some people need them more than others. And there are some who may never have the experience of self discovery through immersion in a book unless we in school provide the opportunity. We don’t always have to produce something in response to a stimulus in order for it to become part of ourselves. It seems that we’re in danger of focusing more on valuing what we can most easily assess rather than assessing what we value.

Possibly I’m exaggerating (moi?). Perhaps the drive to encourage digital technologies to become a part of learning to read is necessary because my grandchild’s literacy lesson may be very familiar to my sons or even, heaven forefend, to me.

But, I keep thinking of that poor baby and its bathwater.