Danica Davidson - Blending Books & Gaming to Increase Literacy
It's no secret that kids today are bombarded with distractions, gaming being one of the biggest. Often times that means that more ordinary pursuits like reading slip through the cracks. Luckily, there are people like Danica Davidson, an author whose goal is to promote literacy through Minecraft. We had a chance to talk with Danica and to get a sneak peek at one of her Minecrafters novels over at GameSpace.com!
MMORPG: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you found yourself writing books for kids?
Danica Davidson: I started out writing stories when I was three (usually I’d dictate them to my parents, but I do have a few old stories that I very carefully and sloppily wrote by hand). Thinking up stories was what I did a lot of the time, and as the years went by, I got better at writing them down. In middle school, I wrote multiple novels and started submitting to agents and editors. They told me I was too young. I started writing professionally for newspapers and magazines as a teenager, and then went on to write for MTV, CNN and The Onion. The whole time, what I wanted most was to write books. When the opportunity to write my books for Minecrafters came around, it just tapped back into my childhood love of good kids’s books. Whenever I work on these books, I go back and look at what I was writing at eleven, to tap into the right voice for the main character.
Image credit Jennifer Hecht
MMORPG: Your books are based in gaming. Are you a gamer? If so, what types of games do you play? What's your favorite?
DD: Yes! I started playing video games in elementary school. I used to go to my friend’s house and we’d play Sonic the Hedgehog, then I got my own gaming system and was really excited. I still have a thing for retro games. Thanks to my boyfriend, we have a Nintendo 64 and we like to invite friends over and play Mario Party and Mario Kart, stuff like that.
For favorites . . . I guess I’d have to say I’m a little impartial to Minecraft these days!
MMORPG: Why Minecraft?
DD: It’s a great canvas to tell fun adventure stories. Minecraft feels real to a lot of kids, so I write books where Minecraft is real, and the main character is an eleven-year-old boy in the Minecraft world named Stevie (get it?). Stevie finds a portal to Earth, makes them friends there, and then he and his Earth friends travel around the different worlds.
MMORPG: How do kids respond to your books and what are some of your favorite memories of kids who've read them? Do they respond well to the fact that it's MINECRAFT? :)
DD: Kids get really excited. Like you said, it’s MINECRAFT! When I visit schools, I tell them about writing from an early age and encourage them to follow their interests and work for their passions, which I can tell gets them pumped up. When kids tell me what they like best in the books, it’s usually either the chapter-cliffhanger action scenes or the stuff about friendship. One time I was at a Minecraft event and a young girl and her mom I’d never seen before came over to my table, saw my books, and started quoting scenes from them. I don’t think the girl really understood I was the author, but I could tell she’d really enjoyed the books!
MMORPG: Your books are designed to assist kids with literacy. How do they promote literacy and how do you tailor your stories to suit kids with different reading skill levels?
DD: First and foremost, they’re designed to be fun, entertaining stories. It’s my belief that a strong foundation in literacy will help in countless other areas of life, including education, a quest for knowledge, and better understanding the world around us. I find that most kids who say they don’t like to read either aren’t getting the help they need, or they haven’t found books that speak to them. Minecraft speaks to a lot of kids, so I’m hoping that passion will bring them over to books like these, which hopefully will spark their interest and get them reading more. I hear a lot from parents who say, “My kids don’t like to read, and they can’t put your books down.”
For reading levels, I mainly pay attention to kids’ vocabulary, how they talk, how I talked at that age, and what the language levels are for books geared to those ages.
MMORPG: What's the ideal age or reading skill level for the Minecrafter series?
DD: They’re aimed for ages 7-12, though I do have older and younger readers.
MMORPG: How many books are currently in your series of Minecrafter books? Where can people get hold of either (or both!) digital or physical copies?
DD: The first series, Overworld Adventure, consists of six books: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. These books follow Stevie and his friends in fights against Minecraft-hacking cyberbullies, the Minecraft bogeyman Herobrine, and more!
Then there’s a spinoff series, The Overworld Heroes, which is just starting to come out. It begins right after the first series ends, but the characters will be facing new villains and adventures. The first book, Adventure Against the Endermen, dropped in November. That will be followed by Mysteries of the Overworld (coming out in January), Danger in the Jungle Temple (in February), Clash in the Underwater World (in April), The Last of the Ender Crystal (in June) and Return of the Ender Dragon (in August). This series will go into the history of the Overworld, and while each book is a self-contained story, mysteries brought up in book one will be answered at the end of the series.
Physical copies can be gotten at any bookstore, or from stores like Target and Walmart, or ordered online. The books that aren’t out yet can all be pre-ordered. You can start anywhere, but for the most enjoyment I would recommend starting with Escape from the Overworld and going in order.
MMORPG: Do you have any plans to use other games for a foundation for a new series?
DD: Nothing is in the works right how, but we shall see!
MMORPG: Please add anything else you'd like our readers know.
DD: I hope these books can instill (or continue) a love of reading in young people, and that the fast action keeps them turning the pages and that the talk about real world stuff (like cyberbullying) lets them know they’re not alone and that they can do something about it.
I also write other books, and I want to keep writing for different ages and in different genres. I have a book out on how to draw manga (Manga Art for Beginners) and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, is coming out in the spring. I also have a Barbie graphic novel out called Barbie: Puppy Party, where Barbie and her sisters throw a puppy party to get all the local shelter pets adopted (I’m an animal lover here). Plus I’m going to be in the new Tales from the Crypt: The Stalking Dead graphic novel coming out in January. I liked writing in all different styles as a kid, and that hasn’t changed!
Feel free to check out my website at www.danicadavidson.com or my Twitter handle @DanicaDavidson. Thanks for stopping by! Check out my Amazon page and the Escape from the Overworld page to learn more!
Our thanks to Danica for a great interview!