Saturday 13 August 2011

Review: Booksurfers by David Gatward

Booksurfers: Treasure Island

Jake, Becca, Ryan and Harriet are kidnapped by Dr Crookshanks and his accomplice, Professor Kaufman. Against their will, the gang have to jump 'into' the world’s best known adventure stories to steal important artefacts, using an incredible invention called the Nautilus. If they don't get what Crookshanks wants, what will he do to their parents? And what will Becca do without her dad's credit card?

Crookshanks explains that in order to keep their families safe, the children must bring him back the actual treasure map from Treasure Island. Their parents’ lives are in the hands of a complete madman! The Booksurfers have little time to argue. Before they know it, they are thrown into Treasure Island; they’re talking to Jim Hawkins, running away from pirates and risking their lives to get their hands on that map!

Booksurfers: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Booksurfers have barely dusted the sand off their clothes from Treasure Island before they are flung into another mission for the evil Dr Crookshanks. They land in the strange, magical and altogether pretty freaky Land of Oz, and if they don’t get Dorothy’s ruby slippers back to Crookshanks, they will never see their parents again! This time the Booksurfers aren’t just watching the action – they’ve become the main characters. Jake’s got no brains, Becca’s being ever so nice (for once), Ryan’s crying because he stood on a beetle and Harriet’s attacking strangers!

I know there are many people out there who think that ebooks are a product of the devil, an electronic menace threatening their beloved traditional paper books (or tree-books). Whilst I love the feel, smell, in fact everything about a proper paper book, if we want to continue to encourage 21st century children, and boys in particular to read for enjoyment then I feel we have to embrace rather than fear this new technology. There have been some fantastic book related apps produced for the ipad, but very little else until now as far as I am aware. So when I received an email from author David Gatward (whose The Dead trilogy I loved), asking if I would be interested in reviewing an ebook-with-a-difference that he had written I did not hesitate to say yes please.

David has teamed up with publisher FourteenFiftyFour to produce a new concept in children's books, titled Booksurfers, with the tagline: Ever wondered what it would be like to not just read a book, but actually experience it? The first in the series is called Booksurfers: Treasure Island, and we are introduced to a team of young book loving characters: Jake, Becca, Ryan and Harriet. The foursome have been kidnapped from their respective homes by the totally nasty Dr Crookshanks, and his evil inventor accomplice Professor Kaufman. His demands are simple: using the Nautilus, an incredible gadget created by Kaufman that allows people to enter the story of any book they choose, he wants the children to enter Treasure Island and retrieve Billy Bones' map so that he can sell it for a huge fortune. 

Unfortunately for Jake and his new friends they very quickly discover that this is not as simple as it sounds, and they can't just rock up at the first mention of the map in the story and nab it, as this would mean that the whole story would then cease to exist (what's the point of Treasure island without the map?), and therefore the map would be worthless. And so begins an exciting adventure for the 9+ age group that had me totally hooked. 

But.... there is much more to Booksurfers than just the standard "send new characters in to old stories" plot that has been seen before, as this new story is littered with Kindle hyperlinks that when clicked take the reader to the original R.L. Stevenson text, and in some cases, he very cleverly works this original text into his new story, especially where some of the dialogue is concerned, although this latter aspect is much more evident in the sequel, Booksurfers: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. These hyperlinks take a little bit of getting used to as initially I was unsure how they would work (but then again, I am a lifelong reader who is pretty much set in his ways). After clicking on a few of them, and feeling that they distracted a little from the flow of the main Gatward story, I chose instead to ignore the majority of them. However, inquisitive young minds will, I am sure, make much better use of them than I did. What I did do though was as soon as I had finished Dave Gatward's story, I then felt compelled to read the full text of Treasure Island for the umpteenth time. Did I not mention that with the Booksurfers story you also get the full original text? A brilliant idea and a surefire way of encouraging a new generation of readers to read classic stories, without them feeling like they are being told to read them, as I am sure many would do the same as I did.

Treasure Island is one of my all-time favourite books, and I was initially a little concerned as to how I would feel about a modern day story interfering with my beloved classic. I had little to worry about as I loved it, especially with the way that the new characters occasionally interacted with the likes of Jim Hawkins, Blind Pew and Squire Trelawney in order to ensure that the story did not deviate from Stevenson's original.

Of course, when the foursome finally complete their allotted task they discover that Dr Crookshanks is not going to honour his initial promise to set them and their captive parents free, preferring instead to give them a list of other popular books, with an item to retrieve from each one. This leads us straight into the sequel, Booksurfers: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was published at the same time as the first book. Having finished Stevenson's Treasure Island I was still very interested as to how Dave Gatward would be able to maintain enough variety in the plot to keep young readers interested past the first book. I have read L. Frank Baum's original, many years ago, and of course seen the film many times, but this book is nowhere near as dear to my heart as Treasure Island. And yet I think I enjoyed this Booksurfers outing even more, and instead of the foursome being extras in the original story, this time the Nautilus has them playing the main characters of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin-man and the Cowardly Lion, and it works brilliantly.

A quick email to David Gatward received a reply stating that there are definitely more Booksurfers books planned: Robin Hood in September and A Christmas Carol in November, and I will definitely be getting these for my Kindle.

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