Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Adventure: The Worst-Case Scenario Blog Tour

Our son's adventure began at the end of his book -- about 189 pages in.

That's where, he was told, he'd find a manual that could save his life: "The Amazon Expedition File."

The manual had everything he needed: a map, packing list, survival tips, even a few words of Spanish and Portuguese.

(For a reader who doesn't always make it to the last page, going to the end was a great beginning.)

He was told to absorb every tip, including -- gulp -- what he should do if bot fly larva crawled under his skin.

And he did just that.

In fact, he asked me to quiz him on what he'd read so he'd be ready for anything -- and he was, almost. (But more on that later.)

Luckily, our son is a sponge when it comes to animal and insect facts, and he's watched enough Man vs. Nature to want to take on the unknown too.

The manual was written a lot like the fact books he reads. It had brief descriptions of things he might encounter with dos or don'ts, and how-tos.

Once he felt prepared, he flipped back to the front of the book. He wasn't quite sure how the adventure would unfold, but he was excited to find out.

The trek started slowly, as members of the expedition team were introduced, with write-ups and pictures, and the team left the spring that feeds the Amazon. 

But once the team got into the jungle, the pace picked up and every few pages it would wander into a dicey situation. 

In one scenario, the Amazon river was flooding and the team needed to set up camp. So our son called up a satellite image on his computer to predict how far the river would overflow. But did he remember how to interpret the image?

In another, our son heard the rumble of peccaries (pig-like animals with tusks) and had to decide if he should get away fast, or stand still and make loud noises. What was it that the manual said about the size of their herds?

Usually our son would have to draw off what he'd learned in the manual, but sometimes he just had to make a judgment call, based on what he'd just read in the story.

This was harder for him, certainly less clear-cut. In one scenario he had to decide whether, after a tough day, he should call home, which would use up his computer battery, or help his teammates resolve their conflict.

Our son, being a child, was imagining what it would be like to be in a jungle at night far away from home, and was tempted to make the choice of calling home.

But he wasn't sure so he asked what I thought he should do. At that point I asked him whether he thought it would be hard to work as a team tomorrow if two of his team were mad at each other.

Phrasing it that way made the choice much clearer for him, though it definitely required him to set aside what he wanted.

His favorite parts of the trek were his encounters with dangerous animals. He liked that he had to think on his feet: Do I pick up a piranha by its tail and under its gills? Do I run from a jaguar, or stare it down and try to look ferocious?

Our son couldn't wait for these. He'd sense that a predator was creeping up in the story and see two or three choices waiting for him at the bottom of the next page (they're highlighted in black). Then he'd clench his fists and grin.

He usually knew what to do immediately. He'd select the answer and go to the page it sent him to. Then he'd read on with nervous excitement, not absolutely sure he'd made the right choice but pretty sure.

Once or twice he was sent to graphic panels that showed him what was going to happen, rather than told him. "It was like, boom, it's actually happening," our son said, pointing to a picture that represented him in an action scene.

As soon as he knew he was safe (either a graphic would show it or another team member would tip him off), I'd hear him exhale an emphatic "Yes."

The book gave our son a feeling of control over the story and accomplishment. It took his focus off of how hard it was to read or how quickly he read, and shifted it to how was going to make it through the jungle.

And because the story skipped around, he never felt overwhelmed by how far he still had to go in the book. 

In fact, his first decision, which got him past a swarm of giant wasps, sent him flipping ahead from page 27 to 134.

Suddenly he was three-quarters of the way into the book and he was being congratulated for getting there. For a boy who struggles with his reading pace, this was pretty great.

At the same time, he was awfully curious about what would have happened if he'd taken the other path. So he asked if it was okay if he snuck back and followed the wrong decision.

"Absolutely," I said, and you can probably imagine how fun that was: A boy getting to watch himself be swarmed by wasps the size of a hand without actually getting hurt.

Now that's cool.

Some readers might actually prefer to follow all the wrong paths just to see how bad things get. At the end of his journey, our son did just that and cracked up.

In doing so, he also discovered there were a few animals he never encountered on the main route.

When readers make the wrong choice, the story doesn't always end right away. Sometimes readers are sent on a side path which has its own dangers and choices to be made.

However, these trails eventually end. Either readers get hurt and have to go home or worse, they get cornered by a wild animal or fall into the river and drift away, leaving readers to fill in the blanks.

I have to give our son a high-five for reading the manual so thoroughly; he knew what to do even when I'd forgotten.

Only once did he make a mistake. A giant pit viper was perched above him and instead of standing still, he ran.

Oops. Not good. A viper's bite is lethal.

But lucky for us -- now I exhale an emphatic, "Yes!" -- books aren't real.

And the past can be the present all over again.

At my suggestion, he flipped back to the page with the choices and did a do-over.

Love those do-overs. Especially when they launch our son back to where he wants to be:

In the middle of an adventure inside a book.

1 comment:

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