Website allows primary school children to direct the outcome of their books

A novel approach to reading has kids blogging and commenting online about what should happen next in books - and authors follow the instructions.

The Fiction Express initiative, already a hit with children in Britain and Australia, is being trialled at a handful of New Zealand primary schools.

The project lets kids "chat" online with authors while children's books are being written and allows them a say in what happens next in the story.

Viscount and Kristin schools have picked up Fiction Express. Tahatai Coast School in Bay of Plenty and Bluestone School in Timaru have also signed up to the venture, expected to be rolled out nationwide next year.


Fran Mes, director of learning at Viscount School, Mangere, said pupils in Years 5 to 8 are already reading more because they feel involved in the storylines.

"It is particularly useful for encouraging shared reading because the kids want to talk to parents and friends about which storylines they should vote for," Mes said.

"It really gets the children engaging with the stories and it complements our already very structured reading programme."

Current Fiction Express titles include The Next Big Thing by Tamsyn Murray and The Gloom Lord by Cavan Scott.

New Zealand-born writer AG Taylor - author of the Superhumans series and The Adjusters - will soon contribute a book called Clock. It is about a boy who can stop time.

Viscount School pupils Steven Senituli, 12, and Maima Mataipule, 13, are fans of Fiction Express.

"When you read the e-books you get some great ideas and it really helps with my writing," Steven said. Maima said it allowed her to read with her friends and she finds the stories "engaging".

Auckland psychologist Sara Chatwin believed the Fiction Express programme would be a useful tool for families to encourage children to talk about what they are reading.

"When children feel they are buying into something and can contribute to how a story turns out, it can only be a positive," Chatwin said.

Spreading Christmas stories

Needy kids will get free books as part of Auckland City Mission's annual Christmas appeal.

On top of a $25,000 donation, budget airline Jetstar will gift 500 books to the Become Someone's Angel scheme.

The books will go to kids before and during the Mission's Christmas Day lunch for 2500 people at the Viaduct Events Centre. Titles include the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and a Moshi Monsters activity book.

"A lot of the families we engage with don't have too many books at home because they are a luxury they simply can't afford," City Missioner Diane Robertson said. "To give a child a book to own as a present is incredibly special for them."

Mum-of-two Correne from Pakuranga is delighted to receive the free books for her kids, aged 2 and 8. "My children love reading but books are so expensive and these will be a great extra Christmas present for them both," she said.

Jetstar and APN, publishers of the Herald on Sunday, are supporting the Mission and encourage others to help.

Jetstar crew will be packing food parcels and some have volunteered to work at the lunch.