I may have mentioned a few times on this blog that I’ve been writing a series of interactive kids books called You Choose. As I’ve been working on them, I’ve been reading other interactive books, to get a feel for what’s out there. Old ones and news ones. Adventurous ones and romantic ones. Good ones and… not so good ones.
The interactive book was made popular in the 1980s by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. These books put the reader into the stories and give choices along the way. I read heaps of them as a teenager. But there were so many, that there were also lots that I missed out on. So I’ve been seeking out old copies on eBay. I recently read these three…
Choose Your Own Adventure 12: Inside UFO 54-40 by Edward Packard, 1982
This is a much-discussed classic of the style. I never read it as a teen, and I’d been trying to track down a copy for quite a while. I finally got my hands on a reasonably priced second-hand one. It’s an intriguing read. The reader is kidnapped by aliens and kept prisoner aboard a UFO, from which s/he must try to escape. Written by Edward Packard, the originator of the series, it is typical of his books in the series, in that it is action/adventure based and meticulously plotted with lots of unexpected deviations. What makes this book stand out, is that the only way to reach the ultimate goal of finding Planet Ultima, is to cheat. There is a page on which you reach the planet — but no other page leads to it. The only way to get to it, it to flip through the book page-by-page until you find it (or I could just tell you that it’s… SPOILER ALERT… page 101). I imagine it would have been somewhat mind-blowing for young readers when it was first released!
Choose Your Own Adventure 101: Alien, Go Home by Seddon Johnson, 1990
A Soviet space shuttle crashes in the Yukon and you go out to investigate. Why has it crashed? Are there aliens on board? It’s an entertaining enough read, but the plotting isn’t as good as with Packard’s books. What’s interesting is Johnson’s attempts to inject some humour and character variation into the story. Unfortunately, it’s the unintentional humour that’s funnier — especially when you search for the Glory Hole gold mine.
Choose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers 46: A Day With the Dinosaurs by Edward Packard, 1988
As you and a group of students search for dinosaur fossils, you discover a hole that sends you back in time to meet some live dinosaurs. This book is part of a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books for younger readers. The story is quite short and simple and, despite being written by Packard, has a rather simplistically structure, with not all that many choices along the way. In fact, there are only 6 choices, with all the other sections simply pointing you to another one.
Then there are the other interactive books I’ve recently read…
Pick-a-path: The Dandee Diamond Mystery by Jane O’Connor and Joyse Milton, 1982
Oh dear. Perhaps the poorest example of an interactive book I’ve ever read. The worst thing about it is that it includes a story cheat. In the story, you are searching for the Dandee Diamond. There is only one… but depending on the choices you make, you will find it in different locations. NOT FAIR! Your choices have not affected how the story progresses… your choices have simply led you to a different story in which the diamond is hidden in a different location. I really dislike this sort of structure. On the plus side, the illustrations by Daryl Cagle was quite engaging.
Cool School: You Make It Happen, John Marsden, 1995
Australian author John Marsden wrote a couple of You Make It Happen adventures in the 90s. In this one, it’s your first day at a new school, where you have to face bullies, secrets and potential romance. This is an interesting one. The attempts at romance are handled by giving a non-gender specific name to the object of your crush — Sam. A valiant attempt, but it struck me as being rather contrived. The other interesting thing is the types of choices you are given. Many of them are outside the context of the story — something I don’t care for, as I find it takes me out of the moment. At one point, as you are confronted by the bully, someone comes up behind you… and you are asked to choose if it’s a teacher or a student. Given that the reader is a character in the story, I prefer choices to be within the context of that story.
Choose Your Own Ever After: How to Get to Rio, by Julie Fison, 2014
Aimed at tween girls, Choose Your Own Ever After is a romance series. Not usually the sort of genre I read, but I’ve got to say that it’s well-wriiten, peopled with engaging characters, and gives the readers some good moral dilemmas. I liked it a lot. It’s interesting in that unlike most interactive books, this one isn’t written in second person and doesn’t put the reader into the story. The reader is making choices on behalf of the main character, in this case teenage schoolgirl Kitty MacLean. It works surprisingly well. The sections are a lot longer than the standard 1-4 pages before you’re given a choice. It’s usually a few chapters before you have to make a choice in this book. All up it’s a pretty good read. My only problem with it, is that all the resolutions are happy.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, 2014
This is really bizarre. Actor Neil Patrick Harris has written his memoires in the interactive style of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. It’s in second person… and the reader is Neil. It’s a weird and wonderful way to read non-fiction as you work your way through the reality and the made-up bits, as well as the recipes, cocktails, magic tricks (yes, there are actually magic card tricks in this book) and even some guest chapters from the likes of Steven Bochco (creator of Dougie Howser, MD), actress Whoopi Goldberg and a few others. Uber cool, very entertaining, but ultimately, as a biography, it’s a bit unsatisfying. With a non-linear path through Harris’s life, where you are he, weaving through fiction as well as non-fiction, you don’t really get a good sense of him. There are moments of empathy, where you feel like you’re connecting, but they are quickly whisked away.
So there you have it, some of the interactive books I’ve been reading. Of course, I’ve also been writing them. Two new books in my You Choose series got released earlier this month: Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. These are both adventure stories, each in a different genre — one B-grade sci-fi, the other a creepy kids’ horror — and I try to inject a good dose of humour into them as well. I’ve got another two coming out in August.
Catch ya later, George
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