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Why I was sad & scared on CBC’s Metro Morning

Why I was sad & scared on CBC’s Metro Morning

Last Friday morning, I took a detour on my way to school to the CBC building downtown.

I wasn’t lost. I had been invited to chat with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning to discuss, you guessed it, Minecraft.

The game has been in the news recently, with the impending Microsoft purchase. That’s what brought me in the door, but I mostly spoke about how I use Minecraft to engage my students with reading, writing and much more.

I also admitted to being very sad and a little bit scared about the future of my favourite game.

Listen to the podcast below to find out why (I come on at around the 9:15 minute mark.)

Not working? Listen to the podcast here.

It was a lot of fun and over before I knew it.  But I’m still sad and scared. Feel free to cheer me up in the comments.

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.

This is why I write for kids


Does Hugh Howey get fan mail with googly eyes? No, he does not.

I know authors for adults get letters from their readers, but I doubt Margaret Atwood’s fan mail is created with crayons and comes with googly eyes. And that’s her loss.

I love getting letters and emails from readers and recently an amazing teacher in the US contacted me to say two of her students, Zoya and Elijah, were big fans of my Max Finder Mystery you-solve-it comic series. They love watching the short comic mysteries on Tumble Book Cloud Junior and they wanted to tell me all about it.

In addition to the amazing covers to their letters (seen in the photo above), Zoya and Elijah each took the time to write me and let me know exactly why they liked the mysteries and which ones were their favourites.

Check them out (click on the image to make it bigger):


An awesome letter from an awesome fan! Click image to make it bigger.


Max Finder fans write amazing letters! Click image to make it bigger.


Thanks for making my day with your letters Zoya and Elijah! There is a package of Max Finder goodies on its way to you. Enjoy and happy reading!

If you’re a teacher or a parent who knows a fan of any of my books, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at: mail [at] liamodonnell [dot] com to say hello or to get my mailing address. I will always write back!


Having a blast creating comics with kids at Toronto Public Library


My mug at the Toronto Public Library. Thankfully, there’s been no reports of patrons running away in fear. Yet.

I’m mid-way through running a four week writing workshop for kids at the Toronto Public Library and I’m having a blast.

This is the second year I’ve run the Get Graphic: Writing Comics (When You Can’t Draw) workshops and I’m having more fun than ever before.  The kids are bursting with ideas for comics and are natural writers – diving into our writer’s challenges, bouncing ideas off each other and generally being awesome.

Around this time last year, I posted some outlines for the first two sessions. You can check them out below:

Writing Comics Workshop for Kids Session 1: Brainstorming and Story Seeds

Writing Comics Workshop for Kids Session 2: Creating Characters

This week, we’re building the plots for our stories and getting our characters into big trouble! Watch for the Session outline here in the coming weeks!