IF YOU’RE READING THIS, THEN MAYBE YOU KNOW
YOU OUGHT TO READ EVERYTHING, AND MAYBE
YOU KNOW YOU OUGHT TO READ DEEPLY. BECAUSE THERE’S
WITCHERY IN THESE WORDS AND
SPELLWORK IN THE SPINE
AND ONCE YOU KNOW TO LOOK FOR SIGNALS IN THE SMOKE,
FOR SECRETS IN THE SEA, THEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT IT IS
TO READ. THIS IS A BOOK. YOU ARE THE READER. LOOK CLOSER,
THERE’S MAGIC HERE.
So begins Traci Chee’s amazing story of pirates, magic, and the power of a book in The Reader: Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold.
This week my students and I will be discussing The Reader with author, Traci Chee for our upcoming monthly Twitter Book Club. There are so many great elements to the story that I had to reread the book again. Additionally, Traci Chee has embedded ten puzzles, ciphers, and clues throughout the story and I was on a hunt to uncover them all – in my second read I have identified 9 of the 10.
The Reader is filled with strong female characters throughout and weaves between three different story lines. Sefia, the protagonist’s story and quest is primary. Captain Reed’s adventures written in The Book Sefia reads and is marked in a different layout embedded throughout Sefia story. The third story is of Sefia’s parents which run parallel with Sefia’s chapters (until you realize who Lon and the Assassin really are in Chapter 29). Chee has crafted a compelling story that plays on words and begs her readers to ask questions about the power of words and books to control facts, truth, and history.
The main protagonists is 16 year old Sefia who has lost both her mother and father. As the readers, we are told and reminded that her parents were brutally murdered. Sefia is cared for by a family friend, Nin, until Nin is kidnapped one day by a “hooded woman” with a “sick stench of metal.” Sefia is left to fend for herself and seek revenge and resolution. In this world the people cannot read. “They had never developed alphabets or rules for spelling, never set their histories down in stone.” Stories and histories are passed around orally so they are not forgotten. Except a secret society of people trained to read and write from a “mysterious object called a book.” Sefia’s parents had the book hidden and now it is in Sefia’s hands as she uses it to find answers and understand her past.
So the puzzles embedded throughout The Reader. . . Some are there masterfully to reinforce ideas in the story like the fingerprints smudged throughout the book from Sefia’s paper cuts that bloodied her fingers reading and rereading the book in her hands. Another character, Tanin, carries around a crinkled, burned, and weathered paper that she reads and rereads trying to understand like a map that is presented on pages 416 -417 to help uncover just what really happened when Sefia is with Tanin and Rajar. If you look closely at burned page on page 417 Sefia’s parent’s names have been rubbed out and erased. Page 25 there are details blacked out about Sefia’s father that beg the question whether her parents are really dead. On page 211 there are words faded out to again asking the question, “What information is being held from us, the readers?” Again on page 307 specific words are bolded and enlarged when Sefia is reading about her father’s death in the book. “There was – no face left.” This hints that Sefia’s father can be alive and the body Sefia saw was planted as a distractor for his enemies. Did you catch the hidden message in the quote at the beginning of this blog post – LOOK CLOSER.
At the bottom of the page numbers there are words floating throughout. It is a poem. Oh, Traci Chee you are a clever author . . .
This is a book and a book is a world and words are the seeds in which meanings are curled pages of oceans and margins on land are civilizations you hold in the palm of your hand. But look at your world and your life seems to shrink to cities of paper and seas made of ink. Do you know who you are or have you been mislead? Are you the reader or are you the read?
Unpacking the Book As a Theme for Gamification
In Explore Like Pirate: Gamification and Game Inspired Course Design (2015), Michael Matera suggests that successful gamification needs a story with a theme, setting, and characters to drive the game and motivate the players into action. The Reader is my inspiration and guide for my ELA classroom. In a world where students who love reading is few and far between, and paper or tangible books might been a thing of the past, my students and players will be the chosen to uncover the mysteries and powers of the book. The goal is for students to LOOK CLOSER at their world and the information that we are bombarded with visually and in print. In books, and digitally. What is true? Do books contain magic? What can we learn from the adventures described in books and the histories that have been recorded? Can we use our knowledge and understanding to see that “everything is huge and connected. . . But the book[s] are the key, and if [we] can figure out how to use it, [we’d] be able to open the door, uncover the magic that lay, ripping and shifting unseen currents, beyond the world [we’d] experience” (Chee, 41).