Tim Wadham saw something disturbing at the library: Kids running to the computers after school to play video games.
"I want them to feel that excitement about books and stories," he said.
So Wadham, the youth services coordinator for the Maricopa County Library District, found a possible solution. With a $19,000 grant from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Wadham got awardwinning author James Deem of Scottsdale to write a mystery novel for grade-school and middle-school students. The hook: It will be online each month, one chapter at a time.
Starting Tuesday, the first chapter of "Mystery Club of Luna Drive" will be featured on the library district’s Web site, http://mcld.maricopa.gov. Access to the book is free.
"As far as we know, this is the first time any library in the country has done this," said Harry Courtright, library district director.
The idea is to use kids’ fascination with computers to get them hooked on books, Wadham and Courtright said. Every month, Deem will give young readers a piece of the mystery surrounding three sixth-graders who discover a strange library during a monsoon in their old Phoenix neighborhood.
Each chapter has activities for kids, such as secret codes they can break; links to information about characters and things mentioned in the story, such as monsoons; and chapter guides and activities teachers can use if they want to involve the whole class. The chapters end with a cliffhanger.
"I can’t say much about the plot, but I can tell you there will be some time travel involved," said Deem, a retired reading education professor from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Deem has written 10 nonfiction and four fiction books on mummies, ghosts, extrasensory perception and other mysterious subjects that provoke kids’ curiosity. But he has never written a serialized online novel, with no editors involved or a finished story. So far, Deem has completed about four chapters and has a draft for the rest. The 12-chapter story continues until September 2004.
"I know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if it will happen that way," Deem said. He plans to get reaction from kids, which could change the story’s progress. "It just sounded like a lot of fun, and different."
Readers worldwide will be able to access the serial novel.
At Galveston Elementary School in Chandler, librarian and teacher Jeanie Sanders said she got staff excited about using the story in class.
Books are often a luxury for the low-income families who send their children to Galveston, Sanders said. With a new computer laboratory at the school, "Mystery Club of Luna Drive" could give kids exposure to reading that they’ve never had before, she said.
"The whole thing is marvelous to me," Sanders said. "I can’t wait until kids are begging (their parents) to go to the library or stay after school."