12 January 2014

Trackers (Book 1): Review

Trackers (Book 1) by Patrick Carman

I am currently planning an inquiry based unit asking learners to think about the future of fiction.

Where fiction is going is of great interest to me. I own a few Kindles, though personally, have not fully integrated myself into this realm. I love the fact I can have a book in seconds - but, I still go out and buy the 'real' version of any I read and love on my Kindle. I do not think you can beat the feel and smell and sound of a brand new book.

Geek that I am, nothing excites me more than an hour or so to wander around Kinokunyia (Singapore hosts the largest store outside of Japan), or the lastest arrival from Amazon, of a stack of books for me to explore and lose myself in.
Kinokunyia, Ngee Ann City, Singapore

Throughout my MEd., I have been focusing on where reading and writing might be going for learners growing up in a digital age. I wrote an essay about Kindles, exploring whether they may re-engage learners who read less and less. I also wrote an essay entitled The Future of Fiction?, exploring how technology may enhance learners' engagement with writing.

Learning conversations in the staffroom has fuelled my thinking around these areas. For the past couple of months, I have been mulling over a unit exploring how technology can help to tell a story, and I have met and thrashed out a list of potential tools with the Digital Integrators (word up @Skypunch and @Edtechbailey). I will post more about this unit as it unfolds, but what I do want, is for learners to begin by researching multi-media and digital texts, in groups, to explore potentials and possibilities. For this, I have had to read, so I can recommend some texts (it's a hard life being an English teacher: Oh no, I HAVE to get more books to read :P).

I have explored fully digital books such as Inanimate Alice, and those on Inklestudios.com, but have looked at blended books such as Patrick Carman's (@patrickcarman) Skeleton Creek, and have just finished Trackers Book 1. Both these are print books, but have passwords dotted throughout them that link to videos that are part of the plot.

Skeleton Creek is told by two narrators: Ryan speaks through print, in the form of a journal and emails; Sarah speaks through print emails, but also through videos hosted at SarahFincher.com. The passwords to access the relevant parts of the narrative are interspersed throughout the novel.

Trackers Book 1 is told from the point of view of Adam Henderson, a 15 year old tech genius, whose father owns a computer repair shop. His story unfolds in the form of a recorded interview between Inspector Ganz and Adam, and has video files as part of the 'evidence' for his statement. These are accessed again through passwords, and hosted on the Trackers Interface

The Trackers Interface
A computer prodigy, Adam has been tinkering since he was seven years old; he has his own workshop, the Vault, and unlimited access to parts through his dad's shop, and money, through selling in the virtual world. Through the course of the interview we meet his 'crew' of trackers, who between them, share enough skills to crack even the most difficult of Internet hacks and catch the most elusive of digital criminals.

Both novels are aimed very much at Middle School readers, and I intend to use them with Year 7. The plots are fast-paced and full of action, they are engaging and hook readers from the start. I think Trackers in particular will appeal to today's audience, as the characters are recognisable and the world is feasible. The blend of print and video is a great way to engage digital learners; I hope that my class will be inspired by these examples into creating their own engaging and exciting digital and multi-media stories. Watch this space.