Book Review: Spirit Animals

Scholastic is making another push into what appears to be a lengthy book series, and I feel mixed about it. Spirit Animals begins with this first book, Wild Born. Here, there is the story of 12-year-old kids connecting with mythical animals that arrive during a special celebration and then the four set off on an adventure to save their world from evil forces brewing all around them. Sure, we’ve read this tale before. Many times. I’m not complaining, but I have to admit that my son liked this one better than I did, as we did it as a read-aloud together. I did enjoys the cover of the book. It’s very attractive and eye-catching. And I appreciated that writer Brandon Mull added complexities here and there in the plot and character development, such as competing storylines so that you are never quite certain which group is the real bad side.

But I can’t escape the feeling that there’s a marketing genius at work, though. I mean, you can’t go wrong with connecting animals with young heroes when it comes to young readers. Everyone loves powerful animals. And that’s what rubs me the wrong way with Spirit Animals. It feels like marketing more than storytelling.

I felt the same way about Scholastic’s 39 Clues series, although my older son loved those books and read them as they came out. Maybe it’s just me and a natural apprehension when a big company enters the room. Like 39 Clues, the Spirit Animals series has a web-based platform for students to “play the game” as they “read the book.” I let my son go to the site and set up an account, but looking over his shoulder from time to time, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with what I saw. He lost interest after about 15 minutes. Yet I don’t think he every got to the Quest part of the site, so maybe we didn’t fully experience the “play the game” element.

I remember sitting in a conference session at NCTE last year, where “transmedia books” was the topic, as represented by some publishing companies, including Scholastic. But I had to walk out midway through the presentation because their vision of “transmedia” was setting up a companion website for kids to “play” with the story and characters but it was clear that what they really meant was to “sell” more books in a series. Now, listen, I know publishers are in the business of selling books but I feel odd when kids are targeted through games and online portal spaces that are branded with by a company. Maybe I am being too critical of Scholastic here. I know they are trying to navigate the changes in the way kids read. I just feel a little put off by it all.

Peace (in the stories),

PS — the trailer:


One Comment
  1. Hi Kevin,
    My daughter is getting her masters in Digital Design and her thesis is all about transmedia books. I gave her this link and she may want to contact you to talk more about your thinking. Thank you again for all of your thinking. It’s pushing me forward. Now I’m off to read about #hourofcode. 🙂

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