This review was completed for INF533- Literature in Digital Environments as part of my Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) studies.
Maggot Moon (multi-touch edition) by Sally Gardner is a dystopian tale that tells the story of Standish Treadwell. Standish, together with his grandfather, survive under a ruthless, totalitarian regime called the ‘Motherland’. This brutal and corrupt government his diminished Standish’s freedom and livelihood and is responsible for the disappearance of his parents. The multi-touch edition of this novel, published by Hot Key Books, contains interactive content including video, images, extracts from the audio book, animated page sequences, political talking points, quizzes and writing prompts. The addition of multimodal content in the narrative moves this book into the classification of transmedia storytelling (Lamb, 2011, p.15). This review compares the multimedia edition of Maggot Moon with its printed version and asserts that the digital features result in an altered reading experience, a modified characterisation of the protagonist, and embellishments in the theme of the story.
Since its publication in 2012, Sally Gardner’s young adult novel, Maggot Moon, has received much acclaim and won two prestigious literary awards: the Carnegie Medal and The Costa ‘Children’s Book of the Year’ award. These awards indicate the story has been judged to contain well-written content of outstanding literary quality. When the winner of the Carnegie Medal was announced in 2013, the chair of the judging panel, Karen Robinson labelled Maggot Moon as “gripping, moving and exquisitely written, it offers a powerful portrayal of a genuinely frightening dystopia and the unlikely hero that dares stand up to it. It is an outstanding book in every sense” (The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards, 2013, para.5). Although both the paper book and the digital edition were published in the same year, reviews of the digital edition are not easy to find. One critique found was by Kirkus Review who stated that the multi-touch edition was full of, “digital distractions—many of them tangential, at best” (2013, para.1). Known for being “reliably cantankerous” (Rich, 2009, para.15), Kirkus Review was also critical of the paper edition of Maggot Moon when it was published, saying that it was “a book with a message but no resonance” (2012, para.3). Overall, the literary qualities of Maggot Moon, in both the print and digital editions, can be seen as one of its strengths.
Essentially, the plot of the multi-touch edition of Maggot Moon is no different to that of the printed book, however the multimodal features offered alter the reading experience. As the reader engages in the story of the digital version, they are offered embellishments and interactive content that go beyond the words and images on the static page (Koss, 2014, p.26). The interactivity of the content is limited to touch, in which the reader can expand a thumbnail of an image or document to a larger version, press play on a video or audio piece and choose from multiple answers in quizzes. This interactive content is presented in the margins, a design feature that allows reading the text without disruption. When held in portrait position, the page is a ‘clean version’ of the text with thumbnail images of the accompanying content, while the landscape view provides a larger snapshot of the multimodal content.
[Access to interactive content is presented in the margins. Images: Gardner, 2012b, p.1]
The reader is told that the purpose of these embellishments is “to mess with your mind …. [so that you do not accept] what you are told” (Gardner, 2012, p.i) [refer to image below]. This, however, might be seen as a paradox because although the reader can choose to engage or not in these multimodal additions, they are not given an option to choose between differing tenets and are only offered those provided by the author.
[A warning that the content of this book will “mess with your mind”. Image: Gardner, 2012b, p.i]
Sally Gardner has been praised for the “startling clarity” (Moon, 2013, para.7) of her characterisation of Standish Treadwell, the protagonist of Maggot Moon. It is clear from page three of the novel that Standish struggles with academic learning when he tells us that he, “can’t read, can’t write”, and, “isn’t bright” (Gardner, 2013a). In fact, Standish is dyslexic but this is never once explicitly labelled in the narrative of Maggot Moon and Gardner asserts that, through this character, she wanted to give the reader an insight into the way a dyslexic person thinks. This, she says, is a gift rather than a disability and is just another way of looking at the world (Hot Key Books, 2012, para.3). In fact, when reading the printed version of Maggot Moon, unless the reader is familiar with some of the idiosyncrasies of dyslexia, they might never know that this is what plagues Standish leaving them free to imagine his peculiar thoughts and speech, not as a deficit but instead, as a unique quality of his diversity (Hodgkins, 2013, p.33). The multimedia edition, however, contains no such ambiguity. This is due to multiple videos of Gardner describing how her own dyslexia is represented in the characterisation of Standish and several animations of how a dyslexic person experiences text on page. Thus, in the digital edition of Maggot Moon, there is no option but to know Standish as a person labelled with dyslexia. This didactic element of the digital version is incompatible with Standish’s characterisation evidenced when his friend Hector tells him that, “the best thing we have is our imagination and you have that in bucket loads” (Gardner, 2012a, p.142). Consequently, the integration of multimodal content affects the reader’s experience of character by diminishing the complexity of Standish’s personality.
When assessing the value of the digital content presented in the mutli-touch edition of Maggot Moon, one might arrive at conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, some of the digital affordances offered include the opportunity for the reader to express their own opinion by responding to ideas in writing, and to explore ideas in more depth by connecting to information via hyperlinks. Conversely, some of the digital offerings compromise the themes they intend to develop. An example of such compromise occurs when the author expands upon political allegories by offering the reader real world examples of hoaxes, interrogation techniques and twentieth century genocide. The examples presented are prescriptive and over-simplified, and contradict the theme of challenging propaganda and the strategy of presenting facts selectively or lying by omission to further a government’s agenda.
[Examples of multimodal content that contradict the themes presented in the novel.
Images: Gardner, 2010b, pp.41, 110, 145, 222]
Conclusively, Maggot Moon multi-touch edition is an example of transmedia storytelling in which multimodal elements have been added to a story written for the page rather than one created in a digital form. Walsh insists that quality digital literature needs an, “aesthetic synergy between the technical features, the artistic creation of the text and the ideas within it” (2013, p.187). According to this criteria, the multimodal features in the digital edition of Maggot Moon take the reader beyond words on a static page with mixed success because they alter the development of character and absorbing ideas that are presented in the printed form of the story.
Buckley-Archer, L. (2012, December 29). Maggot moon by Sally Gardner – review. The Guardian. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/28/maggot-moon-sally-gardner-review
The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards. (2013, June 19). ‘Unteachable’ author enters children’s book awards hall of fame: Sally Gardner wins the CILIP Carnegie Medal with Maggot Moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/pressdesk/press.php?release=pres_2013_winn_carnegie.html
Gardner, S. (2012a). Maggot moon. London: Hot Key Books.
Gardner, S. (2012b). Maggot moon (Multi-touch edition) [2.1] Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/maggot-moon-multi-touch-edition/id557942824?mt=11.
Hodgkins, S. (2013). Dyslexia Discourse: E-book accessibility and the resistance of literacy norms in Maggot Moon. Write4Children, IV(II), 28-36. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from http://www.winchester.ac.uk/academicdepartments/EnglishCreativeWritingandAmericanStudies/Documents/w4cJune2013Diversity.pdf
Hot Key Books. (2012). Maggot moon: Dyslexia. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from http://www.maggotmoon.com/dyslexia.php
Kirkus Reivew. (2012, December 1). Maggot moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/sally-gardner/maggot-moon/
Kirkus Review. (2013, October 2). Maggot moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/sally-gardner/maggot-moon-app/
Koss, M. D. (2014). Digital children’s book apps: Bringing children’s literature to life in new and exciting ways. Reading Today, (December 2013/January 2014), 26-27. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from file:///Users/stowh/Downloads/Digital_children_s_book_apps__.PDF.
Moon, B. (2013, December 22). Maggot moon, a literary David [Web log post]. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2013/12/22/maggot-moon-a-literary-david/
Ramey, S. W. (2015). Hinduism. In World Book Advanced. Retrieved fromhttp://www.worldbookonline.com/advanced/article?id=ar257300
Rich, M. (2009, December 11). End of Kirkus Reviews brings anguish and relief. The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/books/12kirkus.html?_r=0
Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).