STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Children's book publishers are looking for new ways to turn their books into an interactive experience. Their products can be called multi-platform books. They're intended to draw kids in using web-based games, interactive websites and even videos. Ideally, kids would move seamlessly from the printed page to the digital page and back again.
NPR's Lynn Neary has the second of this week's reports on the future of the book.
LYNN NEARY: Staying ahead of the younger generation is not easy for the book publishing industry. Kids, says Lisa Holton, are on the cutting edge of technology, adapting easily to every new device that comes along.
Ms. LISA HOLTON (Founder, Fourth Story Media): Someone was telling me the other day that their three-year-old, because they love playing on the iPad, is now actually going up to the computer and trying to touch the screen and make things happen.
NEARY: Holton is founder of her own company, Fourth Story Media, which is committed to creating what she calls trans-media projects: books that can be experienced across multi-platforms - from the page to the Web, and back again.
Ms. HOLTON: It is really exciting when you are creating reading experiences that work perfectly on each platform.
NEARY: Holton got her first taste of that excitement when she was president of the trade division at children's book publisher Scholastic. At that time, Scholastic was developing what has become one of its most popular series, "39 Clues." The 10 books in the series follow the adventures of Amy and Dan Cahill, a brother and sister who have recently learned that they are part of a very powerful family.
As the series begins, Amy and Dan are sent to find 39 clues that will explain the source of the family's power. But as Scholastic editorial director David Levithan explains, the search for clues doesn't just stay on the page.
Mr. DAVID LEVITHAN (Editorial Director, Scholastic): In the books, you're reading about Amy and Dan and other family members as they race to find the 39 clues. But then when you go online, you become a Cahill family member. And so while they're in the books looking for the clues, you are online also looking for the clues.
NEARY: That, says editor Rachel Griffiths, is what makes the series exciting. Ten of the 39 clues can be found within the books. The rest must be unearthed by using the pack of cards that is included in each book, and by taking part in online missions.
Ms. RACHEL GRIFFITHS (Editor, Scholastic): So, if you go on a mission, there's a series of online activities: characters you can talk to, puzzles to solve, things like that, the kind of things that Amy and Dan would do in the books, that you get to do online.
NEARY: The stories are set all over the world and involve historical figures like Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Amelia Earhart, and in this case, the singer Josephine Baker, who, we are told, spied for the allies during World War II. Baker has left some musical instruments at a theater in Lisbon, and the game player has to find them.
Ms. GRIFFITHS: They have to find them because on each one of them, there's - a part of the code is lifted. So if they put all the instruments together where she's carved in a code in all of them, then you can decode and it'll take you to the next step in that process.
So, so far, a boat sank in - and it's going to be in the Lisbon Harbor. So now you go to the Lisbon Harbor, and you've got to rent a boat. You're going to find out what sank in the harbor.
NEARY: As fun as the online missions may be, everything still revolves around the books. To make the books exciting, Scholastic drew on well-known children's authors like Rick Riordan, who started the story, and then hand it off to other writers.
Momi Garcia, who teaches at the Vista del Valle elementary school in Claremont California, first heard of the books when she saw some of her students reading them.
Ms. MOMI GARCIA (Teacher, Vista del Valle Elementary School): We didn't know about the multi-platform part of it at the beginning.
NEARY: Garcia started a club for kids interested in the books, and gradually, they figured out how to hunt for clues online. Sixth grader Catalina Martinez says that's a lot of fun, but she still likes the books best because they're great suspense stories, and they're funny.
Ms. CATALINA MARTINEZ (Student, Vista del Valle Elementary School): They just make jokes out of nowhere, and it just hits you. You start laughing to yourself. And then the kids look around wondering why you're laughing.
NEARY: Martinez is a good reader, so it's natural she would take easily to the books. But Garcia says her "39 Clues" book club also attracted kids who aren't inclined to read.
Ms. GARCIA: First, they were very interested because it was the cards and it was the Internet part of it. And I told them, I said, you know, you can't do one without the other. You have to read the book to be able to understand what is going on in the Internet, and vice versa. So they have to work together.
NEARY: At Fourth Story Media, Lisa Holton drew on her experience with "39 Clues" to create a different kind of multi-platform series, this one for teenage girls. In partnership with HarperTeen publishers, her company has developed "The Amanda Project." Holton says it's a great big mystery with lots of subplots.
Ms. HOLTON: And the heart of the story is about this very charismatic, enigmatic girl named Amanda Valentino who disappears, but then is sending us clues and signals and little cryptic notes about the fact that she clearly needs our help.
NEARY: So far, one book has been released, with more to come in the new year. As fans wait for the next installment, they can meet up with each other on the website, where they can create their own characters. Each week, a new mystery is posted on the site, and the girls get involved in creating that story in character.
Seventeen-year-old high school senior Leanna Lakeram has been part of the Amanda Project since its beginnings.
Ms. LEANNA LAKERAM (Student): My character pretty much is a classmate of Amanda's, and I also work at an ice cream shop or dessert shop that Amanda and her friends used to visit.
NEARY: Recently, Lakeram was excited to learn that her character appears in the second book of the series. She says the online activities keep her connected to the story.
Ms. LAKERAM: It's a way to get involved with the book other than just reading the book. And then you're done there, you have to just wait for the next book to get out. You get involved on the website, and you stay pretty much in touch with the characters. And it's like you know the characters when you read the book.
NEARY: Multi-platform books may not be the future of publishing, but says Scholastic's David Levithan, they are part of the future. He believes "39 Clues" has shown what can be done when old-fashioned creativity combines with new technology.
Mr. LEVITHAN: To get a whole classroom all excited about Mozart's life, we could do the most compelling biography, and that would get some kids. But to do it in the "39 Clues" form, it gets so many more. And I think we're going to continue to sort of push the boundaries and see again, whether they're on paper, but also especially digitally, because the digital possibilities are amazing.
NEARY: Both Scholastic and Fourth Story Media have more multi-platform projects in the works. And a new "39 Clues" series is set to launch next spring with bestselling adult author David Baldacci signed on to write one of the books.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: You can have your own interactive experience right now. Find links to the "39 Clues" and "The Amanda Project" at npr.org.
And on Facebook, you can find the new NPR Books page, which has author interviews and book reviews. Tomorrow, our series continues as we examine the future of the cookbook looking to survive in the age of apps.
Unidentified Woman: I imagine our typical consumer would be at a farmer's market, and they'd be looking to see what's fresh and in season. Maybe they'd see some gorgeous eggplants, and they would want to think: What could I make? Well, right on the spot, they could just take out their iPhone, look at their How to Cook Everything app, and see what would be a good match for that.
INSKEEP: Our series continues tomorrow.