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Reading in the digital age

Woodbury Middle School students in Linnea Gamache's book club Skyped with author Hal Malchow Dec. 8 about his book "The Sword of Darrow," which the students recently read.

Students at Woodbury Middle School took reading into the digital age last month when they Skyped with author Hal Malchow.

"For a lot of them it's their first glimpse at someone who has written a book," said WMS reading teacher Linnea Gamache.

Malchow spoke with students Dec. 8 through the online video-chat program Skype about his book "The Sword of Darrow" and his experience writing it.

The book, which Malchow co-wrote with his son Alex, tells the story of a magical realm of Sonnencrest filled with various creatures that has war brought upon them by the evil goblin King Malmut. Princess Babette, the only surviving member of the royal family, manages to escape and seeks refuge with Asterux, a powerful wizard who agrees to teach Babette magic, and who disguises her as an ugly gypsy girl to protect her from King Malmut's thugs.

Ten years later, Babette must use the magic she has learned to help aid the kingdom's only hope at defeating the goblins' reign - Darrow, a lame boy who can barely pick up a sword but has a great gift for inspiring others. With Babette's unseen help, Darrow begins a journey to free his country once and for all and bring peace back to Sonnencrest.

The thing that makes "The Sword of Darrow" unique, Gamache said, is that it is formatted and written for students who have learning differences, since Malchow's son had dyslexia. For example, the print is larger and the spacing is different.

"But, it appeals to all students," Gamache said.

Gamache, who runs the school's book club, said she decided to offer the Skype event after receiving an offer from Malchow for 40 free hard copy books and the opportunity to have students Skype with him.

"I'm always looking for new and interesting ways to get students to read," she said. "I also look for ways to partner reading with technology because that's such a big part of what a 21st century reader will have to deal with."

Gamache said Skyping with an author, rather than having them come into the school, allows for so much more flexibility in terms of schedules, cost and access to authors.

"Overall that's going to be the trend because it's so easy to access that technology," she said.

Gamache said having students interact with authors can be such a beneficial experience because it really opens their eyes to what is possible if they put their minds to it.

"They probably have a lot of ideas floating around but are struggling with writing them down," she said. "Talking with any author gives them the opportunity to meet someone face to face to get a good idea of what they're all about - it gives them some motivation."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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