Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Computer-esque books to lure boys

Project X (OUP)
The books are aimed at school children up to the age of nine

Books illustrated with computer- generated images are the latest attempt to get boys to enjoy reading.

Oxford University Press (OUP) claims the "truly boy-friendly" content and structure of its Project X books will appeal to boys up the age of nine.

The books have been tested in 2,000 schools and can be used interactively through CD-Roms and whiteboards.

But critics dismissed the publications as "ghastly" and a shallow attempt to mimic computer games.

The books centre on the character of Max and his friends Cat, Ant and Tiger, who find their watches have the power to make them shrink, opening up a world of adventures.

The friends end up snowboarding on spoons, exploring inside a sandcastle, white-water rafting on pencils and surfing on lolly sticks.

In later books they encounter Dr X, a villain intent on shrinking the whole world.

Project X (OUP)
The friends shrink to an exciting new size


Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond books, welcomed the OUP's attempt to write fiction for boys, but questioned the books' reliance on computer images.

"They look absolutely ghastly," he said.

"They're trying to look like computer games and they're trying to get them [boys] to interact with them like a computer.

"The point is that books are different to computers - that's the whole point. If kids want to play with computers, they'll play with computers, not read these stories."

Professor Elaine Millard from the National Association for the Teaching of English said the books were a shallow response to the problem of boys not enjoying reading.

"It's counterproductive - we want them to engage with the text so that they enjoy the pleasure of words.

"The culture is such that it is still accepted, in lots of families, that it's okay for boys not to read.

"What we have to do in schools is get that enthusiasm back for words on the page."

'Gripping' story lines

Project X (OUP)
White-water rafting is just one of their adventures

But Elizabeth Blinkhorn from OUP said the books were aimed specifically at getting boys involved.

"We know that boys are very motivated by facts and 3D images and gripping story lines. There are short chapters to keep them motivated.

"And boys really want to be part of the story and in Project X they are part of the story."

Girls also enjoyed the books and benefitted from boys' increased motivation in reading, she added.

Tony Bradman, lead author of the Project X micro-adventure stories, said the books drew boys in with thriller story lines and science-fiction and plenty of action and adventure.

"It's up to us to present books to them [boys] in a way that's attractive," he said.

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