Read.gov: Rarely Has Reading Been So Much Fun

exquisite-corpseThe next two days for us will be a whirlwind of events as we celebrate the ninth annual edition of the National Book Festival.  But there’s one aspect I just absolutely had to call out.

Our folks have been busily working behind the scenes on a revamp of our literacy.gov website, which promotes lifelong literacy and related programs at the Library.  The result, which we have launched to coincide with the Book Festival, is called read.gov, and not to be immodest, but it’s pretty dang fantastic.

Some of the new features include a huge array of classic books that can be read in their entirety with a nifty page-turning technology (I’m in the middle of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz“), author webcasts, writing contests promoted by our Center for the Book (CFB), and even a link to a new online book club that we have begun on Facebook, based on CFB’s Books and Beyond series.  It works like this: Folks can read the books featured in the series and watch the webcasts of the respective authors, and then go online to discuss.  (Paging Oprah … )  Oh, and I almost forgot: Every single page, book or feature of the site is sharable to a dozen of the most popular social-networking sites, a feature you’ll begin to see more and more on our websites.

But what is almost indisputably the coolest thing of all, and which has had many of us around here giddy with excitement, is the curiously named “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.”  Actually, the full title is “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure: A Very Unusual and Completely Amazing Story Pieced Together Out of So Many Parts That It Is Not Possible To Describe Them All Here So Go Ahead and Just Start Reading.”

In the process, many of us learned that an “exquisite corpse” is an old parlor game in which people would write a phrase on a piece of paper, fold it over, and then the next person would continue writing from there, and so on, until a whole sentence was completed.  Our “Exquisite Corpse” debuts in at least two senses of the term (and don’t worry, the literal one is family-friendly).

Famed authors of books for young people will contribute 26 successive chapters, which will be released every two weeks on read.gov, with the final chapter coinciding with the 2010 National Book Festival.  (The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance has been a tremendous partner in this project, and the Ad Council has been an enormous help with the overall read.gov site.)

The first chapter was penned by none other than our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jon Scieszka.  It is zany, it is funny (I literally LOL’d several times reading it), and it makes you want to know just where the heck the story can possibly go from there.  I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few more chapters in advance (no spoilers), and so far, it’s a terrific ride.

I wanted to end with a testimonial that I received from Chris of our web development team.  (In many ways, this was his baby.)  Granted, he’s biased, but his kids aren’t:

Tonight I had one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my professional career.

Audrey asked me to put the boys to bed (as I had been dragging around the house all day with this cold, and watching her do everything).  Of course, before bedtime, we always read.

I told the boys to lie in our bed and that I had a surprise for them.  I got Audrey’s laptop and went to read.gov.  I sat between Jonah (age 7) and Sam (age 4) and I read the introduction (about content) of the Exquisite Corpse.  I then asked them if I should read it to them.  They were somewhat interested.

Then I launched the book viewer :-)   Both of them perked up.  I began to read and both listened intently.  As I reached the end of the first page I asked Sam to push the button.  He did and the page turned.  They both oohed and awwed, but more importantly, they wanted me to read what was next.  They giggled in anticipation as I read this part of the story:

“If the train makes it over the last treacherous gorge, there is a good chance that you and Nancy and Joe will have to deal with werewolves and mad scientists, real ninjas and fake vampires, one roller-skating baby, a talking pig, creatures from another planet (possibly another dimension), killer poetry, clues from classic children’s books, two easy riddles, several bad knock knock jokes, plenty of explosions, a monkey disguised as a pirate, two meatballs, a blue plastic Star Wars lunch box (missing its matching thermos), three ticking clocks, and not just one bad guy – but a whole army of villains, cads, scalawags, sneaks, rats, varmints and swindlers. Also several desperados, a gang of evildoers, and one just plain bad egg.”

When we reached “To be continued”, Jonah tried to push the button to turn the page.  I told him that we would have to wait two weeks and then the book would magically add pages. :-)   I then told them that Daddy had a team of people at work who created the story and the software.  I think at that moment he thought I was the coolest dad in the world.  He then asked,”Dad, if you are working on this, can’t the new chapters come out every week instead of every two weeks?” :-)

Both boys loved the illustration and asked to see more. They kept making me go back so that they could look at the dynamite.

I told them that I would bring them a poster to hang in their rooms and huge smiles illuminated their faces.

Yes, we will indeed have Exquisite Corpse posters to give away tomorrow at the Library of Congress Pavilion, so get ‘em while they last.  They’re terrific, reminiscent of the cover of a well-worn pulp novel, and using the first illustration from the story as inspiration (see nearby image).

It truly doesn’t matter how old you are: I think you’ll really enjoy “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure”!  And I’ve added it to the long list of reasons why I work at the coolest place in the universe.

6 Comments

  1. “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`mamahaas““““““““““““““““““““““““““““
    September 25, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Great blog. Loved the kid’s commentary. I look forward to the next installment. Keep that Chris guy . He’s very talented.

  2. cheryl Best
    September 26, 2009 at 8:25 am

    WOW! I love it! I will use this in my fifth grade classroom! It will be so much fun to watch this continue to develop!

    Thank you for such a wonderful experience!

    Could I get a poster sent to me?

  3. Max Elliot Anderson
    September 26, 2009 at 9:19 am

    It’s so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it,especially boys. In fact, I’ve recently completed a feature magazine article on this subject that comes out in October, “Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers.”

    I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

    My blog, Books for Boys http://booksandboys.blogspot.com is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading.

    Keep up your good work.

    Max Elliot Anderson

  4. Matt Raymond
    September 28, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Cheryl, email your contact information to me (Matt) at mray@loc.gov.

  5. Laurie Urquiaga
    October 5, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Matt … how could you be releasing new episodes of the book every two weeks and not use a wonderful word like “fortnightly”?! Please correct the oversight :-)

  6. Matt Raymond
    October 9, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    [smacks self in forehead]

    And to think that I always watch the “fortnight at Wimbledon.”

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