I came to writing books for kids through a very peculiar path. My journey began when my son discovered Minecraft.
According to Common Sense Media, “Minecraft is an open-ended, exploration- and creation-focused environment. Players can create items and buildings from scratch using materials they harvest from the world around them.” My son was very eager to be a part of this new phenomenon. In fact, if you asked him, he’d tell you he had to have it or he was going to die!
My wife and I put up a good fight, but our son was relentless. We ultimately caved and bought him the game. We were surprised and quite pleased with what he did with this new digital power. He built incredible structures, created cities and castles of glass, and floating giants. We’d never seen him so creative or engaged. It was fantastic.
The next logical step was an upgrade to his own Minecraft server. Again, we resisted; but he wore us down in a war of attrition. Instantly, he began to build even more fabulous structures, but this time he wanted to share this fantastic resource and he posted the IP address on YouTube. Fortunately, at the time, he had a small following. Quickly, kids from across the country discovered his server and came to play. It was pretty cool — at first.
Minecraft is equipped with built-in safety features; however, as novices, we didn’t understand them until far too late. Two of the children who played on the server frequently worked with my son, helping to build his castles and cities underwater. Because he enjoyed the collaboration, one day he opened the server to them, giving them complete control over the environment so they could build more efficiently. The following day, my son found his Minecraft world destroyed. They flattened the landscape and posted a YouTube video of the entire affair, mocking my son, and calling him terrible names. We rebuilt, but they came back again and again.
The thing I remember most was when my son asked, with tears in his eyes, “What did I do to deserve this? I was nice to these boys. Why would they do this to me?” This is a common question from victims of bullying. I tried to answer the question as best as I could, but my explanations landed flat and offered no solace.
I decided to write a book that would teach my son a lesson about bullying and friendship, and, perhaps, answer his questions. After writing Invasion of the Overworld, we read it together at bedtime. He got it! He understood it wasn’t his fault. This was one of my greatest moments as a parent and an educator.
It was my first Minecraft-inspired book. Just for fun, I self-published the book on Amazon, and it took off like a rocket. Later, I created a website to connect with the kids who were inspired by my work. Today, I’m working on book 17 and I’ve learned a lot about how Minecraft can be a tool to help reluctant readers and writers. I’d like to share a few of my takeaways with you.
Minecraft Is Inspiring Kids To Write
The most surprising thing happened when the website launched; kids started sending me their own Minecraft stories. I received story after story, with kids telling me my stories were inspiring them to write. Minecraft was the key that unlocked their creativity.
Kids feel as if they are the content experts when it comes to Minecraft, and this lowers their anxiety about writing. I’m sure when they have to write an essay about the challenges Buck faces in Call of the Wild, they aren’t as confident about that content as they are when they’re building a redstone trap to capture zombies in Minecraft. And with my books as an example, paired with their mastery of the game, kids have been willing to tell their own stories. Take a look at some of the stories and artwork kids are submitting.
What’s even more exciting is kids are not only submitting to my blog (a safe space), but are also taking a risk and self-publishing their own stories! Check out Elijah’s Legend of Eldroth and Danny’s The Griefer Attack (Adventure Journals). You can see many more self-published kids here. I’m currently mentoring another child, Ally, and her parents through the process of self publishing. Look at this sample she submitted on the website:
With that, the vile shadow-crafter laughed a maniacal laugh that made the bats flittering around in the cavern cringe in fear, and passed through all the server planes as a warning that the creepers were about to destroy everything, and not even the User-that-is-not-a-user could stop their rampage.
This child’s writing ability is incredible! It makes me wonder what else we might do to inspire and nurture these gifts in our kids.
Minecraft Is Motivating Kids To Read
I want to do more to inspire kids to write, but I also want to motivate them to read. I’ve written three short stories, so far, to do just that. The stories are free to download and use with your classes or with your own children. Many teachers are using them as writing prompts. For example, teachers might ask students to read chapter one, then write their own chapter two. I’m sure you have your own ideas about how you can use Minecraft stories with your students and I’d love to hear about them.
Social workers in middle schools are also using these Minecraft-inspired short stories as rewards for goals achieved or positive behavior, handing out chapters to students who meet each expectation. Because it’s Minecraft, students are willing to do a little more to earn the chapters. And turning reading into a reward is fantastic!
The stories are structured so teachers can hand out single chapters at a time or the entire story at once. It is my hope that educators will begin to use these short stories to motivate their students to read. The files are small enough so kids and teachers can even email them to their friends to read. The stories can be copied and shared without restriction.
If you’re reading and writing about Minecraft in class, I encourage you to have your students send me their stories or email their questions about writing. I answer every email personally: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope these short stories are useful, and if you need something specific, please reach out to me and let me know how I can help. Kids love my books and love my bookmarks (if you want some for your class, contact me). Let’s leverage their popularity to get kids to do more reading and writing.
Keep doing your fantastic work; it is appreciated, whether you’re told or not!
Mark Cheverton was a high school physics and math teacher for 15 years, winning the Jaime Escalante Mathematics Teacher award in his second year of teaching. He moved into technology and worked as a research physicist for 13 years. He holds over 40 patents and has authored multiple technical articles. Currently, Mark is a full time New York Times bestselling author, writing Minecraft-inspired fiction for the middle-grades. He’s written 16 novels, published in 25 countries and translated into 15 languages, with over 1,000,000 copies in print. He works with teachers across the country to get kids excited about reading and writing and helping young authors self publish. Mark also helps teachers who want to bring Minecraft to the classroom, offering free online professional development to educators at all grade levels. Some of the young writers he’s helped can be found here. You can connect with Mark on Twitter @MarkC_Author, or via email, MarkTheMinecraftAuthor@gmail.