Inspiring Love of Literature through Creative Activities

Internet School Library Media Center's Children's Literature & Language Arts Resource site is maintained by James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. Oral interpretation of literature through dramatic activity, storytelling or Reader's Theater is an effective method of promoting enjoyment of literature, developing oral expression, and increasing reading comprehension. This site offers numerous resources for such activities.

Visit the Storytelling Resource Site.

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Inspiring Readers with Clean Literature

"Clean Thrillers" and "Playful Storytelling:" A new trend?
Who says a book has to be filled with gruesome details to keep you on the edge of your seat? Sometimes the best thriller is one that leaves it all up to your imagination. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." Author Robert Wise is one of a number of contemporary authors seeking to convert the masses to "cleaner" literature with his latest detective novel.

The Dead Detective (Thomas Nelson, July 2002) is the second installment in Wise's Sam and Vera Sloan Mystery series and comes in the wake of such prominent Christian titles as LaHaye and Jenkins' Left Behind novels and Frank Peretti's Veritas Project. The rise in religious fiction corresponds with the growing trend for Christian-based pop culture (think "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, God-filled celebrity award speeches and movies like "Bless the Child," "Stigmata" and "End of Days.")

"It's time the book industry started acknowledging the importance of faith in the lives of its readers," says Wise, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, is an Episcopal Archbishop, and has written twenty-six other books. "If we are trying to accurately reflect society with our chosen art, then it seems obvious to include religious themes."

In his new book, Wise tells the story of Sam Sloan, a detective on the trail of an international money-laundering scheme who is presumed dead after his plane mysteriously crashes. It is up to Vera, his wife and novice private investigator, to uncover the truth. Vera turns to her faith to lead her through her grief and ultimately win the battle between good and evil.

"The idea evolved out of the writing I have been doing on what is generally a violent subject," says Wise. "I was the ghost writer for The Death of Innocence, the story of JonBenet Ramsey's death told from her parent's point of view, and stumbled across the fact that people want to hear about the issues but not with profanity, violence, and gratuitous sex. From that point on, the emerging theme developed."

Wise is among a growing number of concerned authors and educators who feel young people can be inspired by reading character-building literature, instead of watching violent and sexually explicit television, movies and video games. "National surveys for the last thirty years have identified with consistent results that violent and sexually explicit themes do specifically effect children and teenagers," he says. "The more a child watches these programs, the higher is the rate of violent response. Often young people are traumatized by these violent themes."

"Recently libraries and book interests have launched nationwide campaigns to encourage reading. It is extremely important to catch the young person immediately after they learn to read and start them down the path of consistent absorption of written material. I believe the schools must increasingly stand behind these efforts and promote them."

Wise is quick to point out that he is against any form of censorship, and that he believes the public at large must make the effort to change the environment.

"I believe that the arbitrary changing of films or books is a violation of copyright law. Regardless of one's personal opinions and their validity, no one has the right to change artistic expression. The world of personal choice and the realm of public expression are two very different environments. As soon as the secular world senses that sort form of censorship or pressure is being exerted in the name of 'religion,' you can expect a severe backlash. I would be on the side of those concerned to protect freedom of expression even if I disagree with the content."

Does he expect this movement might have an impact on tastes in literature outside the Christians market? "I believe the public generally is looking for the "clean" approach and this will have it's own impact. However, I believe the most significant impact comes at the cash register. What people buy or don't buy makes the point!"

For its part, Wise's publisher Thomas Nelson is contributing to the trend with numerous crossover editorial and marketing efforts. A tour of the 200 year-old bible publisher's current catalogue illustrates the effort to publish titles that will attract mainstream readers to books that entertain and enlighten, applying Christian principles to the world of business (The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork Embrace Them and Empower Your Team); recreation (Wild at Heart Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul); and even nutrition (What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer).

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Not all efforts toward "clean" literature come from Christian publishers. The Hermux Tantamoq Adventure books by Michael Hoeye are one of the self-publishing success stories of the last year. Originally released under his own imprint, Hoeye signed a major three-book deal with G.P. Putnam (see article from IP Dec '01).

Not all efforts toward "clean" literature come from Christian publishers. The Hermux Tantamoq Adventure books by Michael Hoeye are one of the self-publishing success stories of the new millennium. Originally released under his own imprint, Hoeye signed a major three-book deal with Penguin/Putnam, bringing major distribution and promotional clout to these imaginative storybooks about a land of adventurous and eccentric rodents.

"My point in writing Time Stops for No Mouse was that there is a substantial thrill in learning to play that is as relevant to real life as learning to be scared, sexually stimulated or grossed out. To play with language, imagery, concepts, literary forms, names, social status, products -- all the stuff we're actually surrounded with -- these wide ranging forms of play actually lead to valuable skills like being able to create and evaluate new concepts. To me, this is pretty fundamental for the long-term viability of the human race. (I am indebted to the British children's psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott for the fundamental concepts underlying this.)"

"My objection to the "dirty" thriller for young readers is that it is so redundant. There is already so much shock product that it seems more deadening than stimulating. What I think shock value does on a more fundamental level is bore people (kids as well as adults) while appearing not to. It does this by being distracting rather than engaging."

I mentioned a recent Wall Street Journal quote of Alfred Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, about the violence and action-packed cartoons he sponsors on Saturday morning TV: "When boys fantasize, they fantasize about power, strength and speed, so they need Pow!, Ka-zam! and Voom! in their stories." Hoeye takes issue with Kahn: "Fantasy, like most things in life, is an acquired taste. And while it's true that today's average 12-year-old boy may be more susceptible to images of power, strength, and speed, 30 years ago they were quite happy to embrace the Boy Scout vision of preparedness, honor, and service."

"The difficulty is that more complex fantasy systems require substantially more work to achieve. Witness the effort Tolkien expended to create his world, which certainly goes several light years past Power Rangers. For that matter, look at Gene Roddenberry. For all the warp speed of the Federation world, it is basically built with and runs on morality and imagination. And not surprisingly it has held up to close and repetitive scrutiny by several generations now."

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Everyday Wisdom Books is a new imprint from the creative book design team of Andy Mayer and Jim Becker, whose ideas have always been a bit different. The pages of their quirky hit, The Official Book of Thumb Wrestling (Workman 1983), depict a variety of wrestling "arenas" with holes cut for participants' thumbs, and has sold nearly 400,000 copies. Located in Bellevue, Washington, they are a long way from the New York publishing scene, in both geography and in style. The new company will produce books on themes that promote positive thinking and a sense of community and that "celebrate the small blessings and simple joys in our lives." The first book in the series will bring together personal reflections on the question: "What are you grateful for?"

After publishing books about thumb wrestling, beer making, and cheating at golf, what brought about the change? "Jim and I both have families of our own now, and we are more and more attracted to making books that can make a real difference in how one feels about one's life and world, rather than producing mostly 'novelty' books as we have done in the past," says Mayer. "We would not have been interested in starting a book publishing company around just any book, or any series of books - and we've had many opportunities to do that over the last 25 years. We were always interested in bringing a much fuller experience to our products, and that's what these books will be all about. We want everyone to contribute, not just a well-known author or celebrity.""

Becker and Mayer are committed to making books that create a cycle of giving and receiving. Is this a lot to ask of a book? "Absolutely," says Becker. "But the excitement that this project is generating leaves no doubt that it's already beginning to happen. The entries on our website (www.everydaywisdom.com) are multiplying exponentially by the day, and we're hearing from a wide variety of individuals -- from teenagers and seniors to single dads and baby boomers." Deadline for submissions to the book is December 20, 2002.

A portion of the profits from For This I Am Grateful and other Everyday Wisdom Press books will be donated to literacy organizations. Distribution will be handled by gift market-specialist Chronicle Books, and program for group fundraising is being established. Other themes planned for the series include mothers, spirituality, and America.

"We want non-writers, people from all walks of life, people from around the world to contribute to these books," says Mayer. "I'm really attracted to the concept of hearing what people have to say. The idea is that we all have a little bit of wisdom to share with others, and that wisdom does not reside in a select few -- but is in all of us."

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THE DEAD DETECTIVE
By Robert Wise
ISBN: 0-7852-6696-8, $13.99
Thomas & Nelson Publishers

The Hermux Tantamoq Adventures
By Michael Hoeye
TIME STOPS FOR NO MOUSE
ISBN: 0-399-23878-6
THE SANDS OF TIME
ISBN: 0-399-23879-4
G.P. Putnam's Sons

FOR THIS I AM GRATEFUL
by All of Us
Everyday Wisdom Press (Fall 2003)

THE OFFICIAL BOOK OF THUMB WRESTLING
By Jim Becker and Andy Mayer
ISBN: 0894803638
Workman Publishing


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