Reading for the Internet Age
Googol Boy is the first instalment of a witty and inventive series from Randwick author John Michael.
Aimed at kids aged 9-13, the book tells the story of Howie, how he absorbs all the information off the internet in a freak accident, and the hilarity that ensues.
Set in the fictional town of Quockingpoll Flats, the book is populated with clueless parents and outrageous teachers, very much reminiscent of Roald Dahl.
The author, John Michael, teaches English at Sydney Girls High and has filled the book with literary allusions, fun facts and a fusion of different genres.
The book mixes a schoolyard narrative with fantasy and mystery elements, which Mr Michael said was important in making the book appealing to a young audience.
“Everything has been done before and there is so much good stuff being published so the question is how do you stand out? I wanted the book to be re-readable, for kids to be able to go back and discover new things,” he told The Beast.
The book’s title, Googol Boy, is actually the original spelling of Google, which means ten raised to the power of a hundred.
As a teacher, Mr Michael has noticed a decline in reading in school-aged children since the rise of the smartphone, and he hopes that his book will be entertaining enough to engage kids while also helping them learn something new.
The story grew out of years of bedtimes stories that Mr Michael created for his three sons, and in that time the issue of technology has grown from an element of the plot to a new issue in students’ education and reading habits.
“We’re surrounded by all these influences that weren’t around a generation ago and it’s part and parcel of who we are,” Mr Michael told The Beast.
“Students are more complacent these days than they used to be, they have so much information at their fingertips and they confuse that with knowledge.”
Googol Boy does not offer a moral judgement on technology, but uses it to create a relatable narrative to entertain 21st century kids. Enticing illustrations from Dave Atze are also woven into the narrative to add to the fun.
Beyond entertainment, the novel also explores themes of identity, transformation and overcoming obstacles.
Reading has been a lifelong love for Mr Michael himself, and this passion led him into English teaching and now into writing novels.
“I would read everything I could get my hands on, even Mills and Boon if that’s what was lying around. I always had a passion for reading, that vicarious experience where I can be anybody in any context.”
He has already written the second book in the series and plans for a third, with each book taking on new genres and allusions to great works of literature, meaning kids who love Googol Boy might learn to love literature along the way.
Googol Boy is published by Simon & Schuster and Big Sky and is available at Harry Hartog, Dymocks, Abbey’s, Kinokuniya and Gertrude & Alice books stores.