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How those Minecraft books got my students reading . . .


The three most coveted books on our Grade 1 class library. Are you surprised?

[This post originally appeared on GamingEdus.org, but I figured folks dropping by here might like to read it too!]

If you’ve been near a young Minecraft fan lately, you’ll know that this year’s must-have items aren’t the creeper hoodies or pink piggie stuffies. It’s books. Minecraft books.

They invaded my Grade 1 classroom and help turn some of my reluctant readers to word decoding ninjas. I’m talking about the books pictured above, Beginner’s Handbook, The Redstone Handbook, the Combat Handbook and more.

They quickly became part of my classroom library and my daily reading program for my Grade 1 students. In this post, I’ll show you how I use them with young readers and why I recommend them for any teacher with reluctant-reading Minecraft fans.

The Long Wait

Before we even got our hands on these books, some of my students had a very long wait in front of them. They first showed up at our school during the Scholastic Book Fair in January. Our amazing librarian ordered six copies of the Beginner’s Handbook. They sold out in the first 10 minutes. A few of my Grade 1s, ordered a copy anyway with the hope it would arrive at school ‘soon’.

A few days later, instead of the ordered books, our librarian received this note from Scholastic:


Scholastic’s note to anyone foolish enough to order the Minecraft books.


I guess this Minecraft thing is kind of popular? This was February. I now had to tell a group of 6 year olds that they had to wait three months for a book they already paid for. They were confused. We hadn’t even done time yet in math and three months was an unbelievably long time to ask them to wait. At the time, we were buried under miles of snow in an endless winter. So, I explained to them that when the snow melts and flowers appear, so will the Minecraft books. That helped. A little.

It was a long, cold winter.

Avid Gamers = Engaged Readers

When finally spring did arrive, the books finally arrived and also began to appear in bookstores across town (the ones still around.) My students brought them to class by the armload.

I bought a few for my class, slapped my name on them (things go missing fast in my classroom!) and they quickly became the go-to item during our morning reading time.

Once these books made an appearance my students who would normally wander the classroom spending 10 minutes “looking for a book” were reading right away. The text is written at a higher reading level than Grade 1 but their engagement with the subject, in this case Minecraft, pushed many readers to try bigger words or run to the dictionary to find the meanings of unfamiliar words.

I also did impromptu shared reading activities with some of the kids. We read passages together with me filling in the larger words. Suddenly I was having quick reading sessions with some of my most reluctant readers. Our work at decoding a paragraph about mining for coal, often led to connections with lessons we had done previously – recognizing ‘ing’ at the end of some words, or identifying the ‘ch’ sound in others.

These on the spot phonics lessons arose naturally, connected to the students’ real world experiences and made the learning much more meaningful. I find this is often missing when I sit students down as a group and do some straight phonics work. It’s hard to keep that stuff engaging.

Non-Fiction Studies Through Lava Pit Traps

The books also made great subjects for our investigations into non-fiction texts.

The books have all the elements of a good non-fiction book, including an easy to read table of contents and plenty of labels on pictures and diagrams. While we had already studied non-fiction texts through our science unit on living things, the students were thrilled to see the same text features in a book about other subjects.


The Redstone Handbook is packed with non-fiction text features and procedural writing examples.

The Redstone Handbook was particularly useful for our work around procedural writing. The students noticed many of the features of good “How-To” books in the redstone guide. Elements like step-by-step instructions and “you will need” list of ingredients were all quickly spotted by the students. Many went on to create their Minecraft How-To books, with guides on how to build your first shelter and more.

As the year wound up and my classroom books were packed away, these three titles were the ones my kids were still asking for on the last day. To me, that’s the sign of engagement and growing readers. Over the summer, I’m going to pick up the rest of the books and see where they can take our learning.

What about you? What Minecraft or video game books have you used in your classroom? Tell us about it in the comments below!

I addition to writing kids books and teaching Grade 1, I share resources for teachers and parents to get their reluctant readers reading through my regular newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.



I’m writing a Minecraft novel! Wait, I’m writing a Minecraft novel?

praxis--crops-students-gamingedusThey say write what you know.

I know Minecraft and I know writing for kids. Combining the two seemed like a natural fit and the beginnings of a really fun project.

The Battle for Minecraft  saga begins . . .

With an idea brewing, I sat down and spent the last month plotting and writing. The result is the Battle for Minecraft saga, a three book series for Middle Grade readers (age 8 – 14 years) set in the world of Minecraft.

It’s still a working title and much could change, but my goal is to have Book 1: Assault on Overworld, available in ebook by September 2014, with a print edition to follow very quickly.

What’s it about? Excellent question. Here’s a blurb for Assault on Overworld:

Things got serious when the creepers blew up the school cafeteria.

Before that Hamid, Ant and Jaina were three typical Minecraft-loving kids. Now, they are trapped inside the mysterious Minecraft world known only as the Seed racing to stop more monsters from spilling out of the game and into the real world.

The Battle for Minecraft has begun . . .

The first book in the series is finished and ready for Beta Readers. Speaking of which, I’m looking for Beta Readers.

Being a Beta Reader means a sneak peak at the book before it is finished. You read the book and offer feedback on things like plot, character or whatever you like or don’t like. It’s lots of fun and you’ll get a free digital copy and thank you in the finished book.

I’m hoping to get feedback from as many Minecraft fans as possible, so sign up to be a Beta Reader and tell your friends about it, too.

How is this even possible?

When I tell people I’m writing a Minecraft book, they’re usually suspicious. And rightly so. Here’s how I came to the decision that  a Minecraft book is something I must write.

In the last few months, I’ve been contacted by two separate publishers about writing Minecraft books. Both books were “unofficial” projects, meaning they were working under Mojang’s generous Brand & Assets Guidelines.

Both deals also fell through, which actually turned out to be a good thing.

I had already been thinking about a Minecraft novel for young readers. I had seen Minecraft novels for kids like this, this, and this appear on Amazon and waited for them to be taken down for copyright infringement by Mojang (the makers of Minecraft).

But they didn’t. More books appeared and readers seemed to like them.

Turns out Mojang is pretty open about using the name Minecraft and their creations (like creepers, endermen, etc). That’s why you see so many Youtube channels with Minecraft content. As long as you don’t claim to own the Minecraft name and characters, it seems you can build on their universe.

That freedom got the mouse in my head working overtime. The result is my upcoming Battle for Minecraft series, which I’ll publish through my publishing company Feeding Change Media.

I’m not sure where all this will lead, but I know I’m having fun. And for writers (and GI Joe fans), that’s half the battle.

What do you think? Would you read a Minecraft novel written by me? If you’re a teacher, would you share with your students? Let me know in the comments below.

How my talk on comics got hijacked (and then saved) by that blocky game

So, here’s the scene:

It’s a busy Saturday at the Toronto Public Library’s Book Bash children’s festival. There’s kids running around everywhere in the TPL’s Northern Branch. There’s stacks of books (obviously). There’s busy balloon-animal maker.  And then there’s me talking comics to a room full of kids.

I have a lot of fun giving my Panel Power presentation to libraries and school groups around Canada and last Saturday’s Book Bash talk was no different. I was about halfway through the talk, showing kids how I come up with my ideas when disaster struck.

The Power Point presentation on my laptop crashed.

I’m talking one of those, crash-so-you-can’t-click-anything kind of crashes. It just froze. And to be honest, so did I.

I made a few uncomfortable jokes, which the adults in the crowd laughed at politely. I clicked a few buttons and generally tried to look like I was in control.

I wasn’t.

One of my clicks must have gotten through because suddenly Power Point closed and my desktop wallpaper was projected on the large screen behind me for all to see.

This is what they saw:


This is what I heard:


Instantly, the frozen laptop was forgotten. Many of the kids in the audience were suddenly sitting up in their seats, eyes wide and ready to talk. And talk we did. Ender Dragons, Withers, World Edit plug-ins and more.

For a few minutes, we chatted back and forth excitedly about video games, that other alternative literacy that, like comics, is big with reluctant readers everywhere.

While my laptop sorted itself out and I chatted to the kids, I was struck (once again) with just how important these other forms of literacy are to young readers. Parents might roll their eyes, librarians and teachers might scoff (but many don’t!) at the mention of video games in general and Minecraft in particular.

I remember when the same could be said of comics in the classroom and the library. And I’m happy to see this attitude changing.

I’m also happy in my choice of computer wallpaper.

As a gamer-geek and  elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas to share with fellow educators, librarians, homeschoolers and parents/guardians. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my monthly e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.




Minecraft Students are evolving. They’ll pwn teachers (and servers). And that’s awesome.

“You’ll never know more than your students. And that’s okay.”

I find myself saying that a lot to teachers looking to bring Minecraft into their classrooms. Any adult who’s been within a block’s throw of a Minecraft kid knows what I’m talking about.

I’ve written about the encyclopedic knowledge of some Minecraft students around upcoming patches, crafting recipes or the latest must have modpack.

It wasn’t always like this. The knowledge of kids playing Minecraft has increased exponentially every year I’ve used the game in my classroom.

And Teachers should be afraid. Very afraid.

They should also be excited.

Before I tell you why, here’s a look at the Evolution of the Minecraft-Playing Student (as seen by me.)

2011: Mine-what?

In the spring of 2011, I brought Minecraft into the classroom for my first time, after playing it myself for about six months.  I had a small group of students,  six who came to me for reading and writing support. I asked them if they had ever heard of Minecraft. None of them had, but when I showed them this trailer, they were all into it.

They were clueless n00bs, the morning was chaotic and there was so much learning to be had.

2012: Minecraft? Yeah I heard of it.

The next year with a new group at a new school, the reaction a vague knowledge around the game. The kids had heard of it but none had played it. Our early sessions were messy and loud, which was expected. What was a surprise was how quickly these students found the growing catalogue of resources online, from Minepedia, to Yogscast videos and more.

By the end of this year, the students were Minecraft pros and a few had got the game and were now playing at home.

2013: Minecraft? Yeah my brother plays it. I hate it.

My third year using Minecraft was the first year I got push-back from a student about using it. Her brother played it, so she officially hated it. But she gave it a go and was the first one in the group to figure out how to chat in game. From there, she was hooked.

The others in the group had also played Minecraft, either at home or at a friends. They knew the commands, how to build and were off.

The first day wasn’t as messy, but it was still fun.

2014: Minecraft? Yeah, I play and I’m gonna hack your server!

This year is the year I’m seeing things really change. Each student had played Minecraft before.

Two ran their own servers at home and immediately set to work trying to crash the server. They ran World Edit commands, they tried to get Command Blocks, the whole bit.

I was thrilled.

They were poking at the edges of this play space we’d created for them. They were testing the boundaries, trying out their theories and seeing if they could get under the hood of the game. These students felt powerful. They felt in charge.

To them, Minecraft wasn’t a video game you just consume. It was a form of media to be manipulated, hacked and reshaped into their own thing (e.g. a broken server!)

The Many Ways to “Play” Minecraft

I can’t say that’s how these students saw themselves or their attempts to OP themselves, make //sphere TNT 1000 or anything else that would have brought down our GamingEdus server (running on some high end university equipment). They were just testing boundaries, pushing limits and playing Minecraft the way any 11 year old with his own server would play.

They were playing the way a server admin would play. And that shouldn’t be surprising or shocking.

Because outside of the physical building known as “school” and after 3:30 pm, that is who they are. And I’m honoured to have them as builders in our lunch time Minecraft club.

The kids will always know more about Minecraft, or whatever game comes next into your classroom. And that is fine. As teachers, hopefully that doesn’t scare you. Hopefully that gets you charged up (as it does me) to have these student push their learning, and your server into uncharted territory.

How many times can you say that about something you’re doing in your classroom?



Giving Away My Books Makes Me Want to Write More


Ganked giveaway goodies almost ready to be mailed.

With Christmas around the corner, the season for giving is definitely here. While I do like the whole receiving side of gifts, this year I’m especially excited for a couple of packages I’m giving away.

Last week, my Ganked Ten Day Giveaway ended and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it all turned out and who won.

Great Response from Goodreads

When I put Ganked up as a giveaway for ten days earlier this month, I had no idea what to expect. I figured a few people would enter and that’d be that.

A few turned into 681 people entering with close to 300 adding it to their “To Read” shelves.  For a new book with zero reviews on the site, I was very happy to have people take notice.

And I’m even more happy to send two copies out to the winners Gail and Marisa (along with some bookmarks and stuff.)

Overall, I’m very pleased with how the giveaway went and will definitely run another in the new year.

But mostly, giving books away makes me want to write more.

Familiar Process with New Results

I’ve written over 30 books for kids for numerous publishers, so this “after publishing publicity push” isn’t anything new for me. Once a book is available, my publisher sends it out to the usual places for reviews and sometimes even places an ad or two in a trade magazine. All amazing stuff that I love them for.

With Ganked, I’m the publisher. I’m the one doing this sort of stuff. I’m directly involved in every step along the way. I get a new thrill when I see readers respond in a positive way. From the emails of support from the amazing people subscribing to my newsletter to “to read” tagging, each is a direct connection to my writing.

That feels new for me. And it makes me want to create more and more and more.

So, I’m doing just that. The sequel to Ganked is taking shape and I’m putting the finishing touches the first in a new series of books for a totally awesome Canadian publisher, who I’ll name very, very soon.

And then there’s the Pixelhead, the new Tech Tales short story about a kid who wakes up looking like a video game character.

Oh, and there’s also that other one  .  .  . you get the idea.

I’d be honoured if joined me on this journey into new writing. You can do that by subscribing to my Reading Change newsletter. It lands in your inbox every month and comes with a new Tech Teaching resource you can use with the young learners in your life.

In the meantime, happy reading!


Ganked print edition arrives. I am happy.

I’ve written over 30 books and graphic novels for kids over the last decade. I like them all. A lot. I’m always happy when the first printed copies arrive at my door. I get to hold them, put them on my bookshelf, show them to my family, so they know that crazy idea I’ve been talking about for the last year is actually a real “Thing”.

So, I was all prepared for the arrival of the print edition of Ganked: Geeked Out Mysteries #1. Except I wasn’t. I kinda freaked out. And it was cool.

I’ve been bathering on about how much I’ve learned from self-publishing Ganked, after traditionally publishing my other books. You don’t have to search far online to find other authors talking about the benefits to publishing your own work (with the help of many talented people, I might add.)

Anyway, tl;dr version: I got my print copies of Ganked and they are kinda awesome (and I hate using that word.)

Here’s what they looked coming out of the Amazon box:


Click to release the biggersaur !


You see. Awesome, right?

But wait. You gotta check them out on my bookshelf against my other (also awesome) books:


It looks better bigger. You know you want to.