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Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieszka

Top Secret TIME WARP TRIO Teacher Info

by Jon Scieszka

I first thought of The Time Warp Trio when I was teaching second and third grade. A lot of my kids were struggling with the transition from easy reader books to the more challenging chapter books. The boys in particular, seemed to be having trouble with the most basic motivation — finding something they really wanted to read.

So I set out to write something that would motivate my kids to want to read, in a form and style that would make it easy for them to become independent readers, with subject matter that would introduce them to a wider intellectual world. I knew it would be the kiss of death if any of my readers suspected the books of having any of this "educational" intent. From the readers' point of view, the books would have to look cool, read fast, and be fun.

I've always loved the endlessly wild and crazy stories from history. One of my favorite teachers was my high school American history teacher, Al Nagy. He didn't lecture us about how different times were back in the old days. He brought those old days to life — telling stories about real people and real events — and let us make our own conclusions. I remembered Al Nagy, and created The Time Warp Trio to bring history alive, by putting kids in the middle of real history and letting them make their own conclusions.

The Time Warp Trio books are purposely designed as a series. In my classroom I found that ongoing characters and the same basic repeating plot were a great help to learning readers. After you've read one book, you know Joe, Sam, and Fred. You know they are going to mess up. You know The Book is going to take them somewhere in history. And you know they are going to have to find The Book to get back home. You don't have to figure that out all over again in each book. You are already a successful reader before you've even started the second, third, or fourth book.

And I always loved having a good answer for the struggling reader who finally found a book they liked, then asked for another book, "just like that one."

The books are also designed with cool-looking covers, short chapters, and a mix of text and interior illustrations that look sophisticated enough to count as "real" reading, but not so dense as to be intimidating. The fast-paced plots, cliff-hanger chapter endings, real kid characters (based on my former students), and funny, odd, and gross bits of history are all part of the plan to engage readers . . . and keep them wanting to read more.

The other most important element of the series is its historical content. When I start a new Time Warp book, I immerse myself in researching the general time period. I find out a hundred times more than I ever put into a final story. And I make sure that every historical event, person, and detail is as true and accurate as possible. When a reader encounters Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb, Washington Roebling building the Brooklyn Bridge, and the beginnings of organized baseball in Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? I want them to be able to look up those people and events and discover that yes, those people really were there in Brooklyn in 1877.

History, introduced through living people and real events that the Time Warp Trio encounters, can be a fantastic way to motivate kids to want to know more. The haiku forms in Sam Samurai, the detailed description of weapons in Viking It and Liking It, and the vestal virgins in See You Later, Gladiator!, are all part of our secret plan to intrigue, entertain, and inspire kids to both read more and dig deeper into history.

When WGBH approached me about turning The Time Warp Trio books into an animated TV series and Web project, I couldn't say yes fast enough. TV and the Internet are hugely powerful elements in kids' lives today. And I think it's our responsibility and challenge to provide kids with the best, most entertaining and educational content in these media that we can.

The TIME WARP TRIO stories told in the animated show, and the TIME WARP TRIO stories and activities on the Web are, at heart, just extensions of the original TIME WARP TRIO mission — to engage, entertain, and educate our audience; to open the wide world of history to them by bringing history alive and putting them in the middle of it; to spark their interest in reading more, finding more, realizing there is always more out there that we can know.

If we can get one kid to wonder what Blackbeard or King Tut or Queen Jinga was really like, we will have been a success. If we get whole classrooms of kids reading watching and thinking about what came before them — who knows? We might even change . . . history.

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