Dahl goes digital

Here’s a fact that might make you feel a teensy bit old. Roald Dahl’s The Twits marks its 35th anniversary this year, which makes it three whole years younger than me. Gulp.

It’s certainly a book that’s stood the test of time and seems as fresh and contemporary as more recent children’s fiction. Dahl’s unique style has certainly proven to be inimitable over the years (although critics have been quick to signpost David Walliams as a potential successor).

I do like Roald Dahl books but if I’m totally and completely honest I don’t think The Twits is all that terrific. Yes it’s original, funny, utterly daft, completely gruesome in places too but it’s a little all over the place for my liking. It’s more of a daft sequence of events than a decent story. Still, it certainly hits the spot with six-year-old readers. It’s a book Toby has read twice now – with me and for school. He loves it.

To mark the anniversary, the book’s current publisher Penguin Random House and the Dahl estate are to release a digital app, reports The Bookseller magazine. This free app downloadable from Google Play or the iTunes app store is cleverly titled Twit or Miss and features a game themed around a food fight. The app will heavily promote all the book products too.

It’s a nice idea but it signals slight panic from the book publishing world that the only way to engage kids with books is to wrap them up as games. When there are plenty of other games competing for our children’s attention do we need the publishers of our favourite kids’ books getting in on the act too?

I think we need to stop assuming that the only way to connect with our young people is through gaming. Yes our kids love games but they also love cuddling up and hearing us read to them too.

We also need to credit our children with the capacity to enjoy something as old-fashioned as reading a book. If the story is of high quality and it connects with their interests, humour or feelings, they’ll be as hooked to the book as they will to Minecraft.

I’m also a little sceptical that the game will be sophisticated enough for the target readership. My boy likes The Twits but I can’t imagine him being interested in this game given that he’s used to the complex, creative world of Minecraft. Some of the other Lego games he’s played showcase highly developed worlds and demand a fair bit of lateral thinking. It’s not that he is especially precocious; his friends all play similar stuff.

Still, it’s a cute way to draw attention to the anniversary and The Twits, and if it does win Dahl new readers then it’s a worthy venture.

You can read more about the new App in The Bookseller.

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