Thursday, January 08, 2009

SKELETON CREEK by Patrick Carman

We received an advanced copy of Patrick Carman's upcoming book, SKELETON CREEK. This is a middle grade novel--a ghost story and mystery. I am thinking 5thish through 8thish grades. (I am never sure when it comes to ghost stories.)

SKELETON CREEK is a format that is totally different from anything I've ever seen. As Patrick Carman says, "It is a book and a movie at the same time." Here is how it works. The main character in the story, Ryan, has had an accident and is stuck at home in bed recovering. The accident occurred when he and his friend, Sarah, were exploring the spooky dredge in their city, trying to uncover a secret. It helps Ryan to write about his experiences and thinking, so the book is actually Ryan's journal.

Because of the danger that Patrick and Sarah seem to get into, they are now forbidden to see each other anymore. But with technology, they communicate via email. Then Sarah begins to send Ryan videos of her own findings.

Here's the way it works. You read about 20-30 pages of Ryan's journal, emails, etc. Then, as Ryan checks his email and notices another video from Sarah, you go to your computer to watch the video.

When we got the initial information about the book, I was not sold on it. BUT, because I have committed to "stretching my thinking" about these things AND because I know Carman's work, I decided to give it a try. The package came, I previewed the book and read the accompanying letter and was really not sold. I am a reader who likes to be lost in a book. The idea of having to stop every 20-30 pages, go to the computer, and watch a video did not appeal to me at all.

Well, my opinion changed rather quickly. I loved it right off. Funny thing was, I found myself counting the pages until I could see the next video.

The story is very well done and this format could only work with certain stories. I have seen other attempts at this book/tech connection for novels but this is really the best I've seen it done. They are so interconnected that one doesn't work without the other. The text and video work together perfectly to tell the story.

I was trying to think through the things that make it a different kind of read for me. First of all, it took me a long time to "like" Sarah as a character. Because you meet her through video and not text, you actually see and hear her--unlike envisioning her on your own if you were reading. But, I came to like her soon enough so all was well. The combination of knowing some characters through writing and others through video took me a little while to get used to but it worked.

The other difference is that the videos make the story a little bit scarier than it would be if the info was in the text if that makes sense. In other children's ghost stories, you aren't actually seeing the scary stuff. You are seeing it in your head. But actually watching a video MAY make it scarier for kids. Now, I am not a scary book/movie person. So I am a bit sensitive to this. For some readers, more scariness might be welcome. For me, I have to read things like this during the day! And the lights had to be on when I was watching the video clips!

Killer cliffhanger at the end of this book and I am a little angry at Patrick Carman for this. (I forgave him quickly when I remembered how much I love the book. ) Seems we'll need to wait 6 months for the 2nd (and final) book. So, be ready to be slightly annoyed at wondering for a fairly long time.

One of the things that Patrick Carman says about the book is that he is hoping that the 20 page read followed by video clip will appeal to reluctant readers. I have to agree with this. Having worked with many, many reluctant and struggling middle grade readers, stamina is often an issue. They like a book but interest dies out. With this book, it is very hard to lose interest because you are reading until the next clip. It could be a huge support for these kids. Even though it will certainly appeal to others.

So, I am so glad that I made a commitment to stretch my thinking a bit about 21st Century Literacies. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would have missed this book. The concept did not appeal to me. If authors can continue to play with formats like this one--formats that match the storyline and add to the storytelling, then I am all for it. It opens up so many possibilities for publishers and for student writers.

If you are interested in reading more about this book, you can visit Patrick Carman's site and you can also read an interview with him here. There is also another site that goes along with the book that you might be interested in (although I would read the book before you visit this site--just my opinion.) It might actually be a great piece to explore while waiting for Book #2.  You can also read an excerpt from the book here.  And, of course, a video clip:

Mark February 10 on your calendar--the day this book comes out.  Kids are going to love this one!


  1. I am so fascinated by this format. Can I borrow this one?

  2. HOLY COW FRANKI! Twittering, ninging, and now this!!!! I'M EXHAUSTED! And I can't wait to read/see this! Do we still call it reading?????

  3. Scope Notes gave this a good review a well -- something I'll be reading after the Newbery awards!

  4. I want to read this one with Connor. I think we will both like it. Can I borrow after Karen?


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