Eighth-grader Robert "Trey" Savage did not become an avid reader until he got his hands on the Hunger Games trilogy.
"It has a lot of the stuff that I enjoy in a book, like action," said Savage, a student at Willkie Middle School in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw district. "This was the first book I read that had the kind of stuff in it that I liked. Then I wanted more, so I found other books that had the same."
Savage is one of millions of youngsters who have embraced Suzanne Collins' wildly popular series. The books are set in a dystopian future in which teens must fight to the death during an annual tournament that -- in a serious nod to reality TV -- is broadcast live.
While the Hunger Games movie, which opens today, has certainly created a new level of buzz for the trilogy, savvy teachers and librarians have been incorporating the books into lessons and school activities as a starting point to get more tweens and teens interested in reading, much as they did with the Harry Potter and Twilight series and other popular books .
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More than 26 million copies of the books, which also include Catching Fire and Mockingjay, have been sold.
Students at Haltom High School read The Hunger Games for last year's schoolwide book read, and teachers and teens alike are organizing watch parties for the movie, English teacher Marisa Hafley said.
Students were enthralled by the novel's strong female protagonist and suspenseful story line. Some came to school looking exhausted after staying up late to read, Hafley said.
"The goal was to get kids excited about reading. We had kids carrying the book around," she said. "The kids were able to see that the underlying theme was about hope and the importance of fighting for what you believe in."
On Thursday, students in the Book Bites after-school club at Watauga Middle School gathered to hear librarian Stephanie Roe read about 40 pages aloud. They've got about 100 pages to go.
"After the first chapter, I asked, 'Do you want to stop and discuss it?'" Roe said. "They said, 'No, keep reading.' And they rarely interrupt."
Clubs, blogs, field trips
Tidwell Middle School in Roanoke embraced the trilogy in various ways. The series kicked off the school's new book club, and this spring's field day will have a Hunger Games theme -- minus the whole fight-to-the-death thing.
Teacher Kila Bach said students couldn't stop talking about the series, so what was originally a regular book club transformed into a blogging book club so they could continue discussing the book on their own.
"The kids get on the blog and write about where they are and chat back and forth about it," Bach said. "It's a neat thing to watch. Now with the movie, they are asking who wants to go see it together so they can then compare it to the book and wondering how the movie will be different."
Today, Heritage Middle School teacher Andy Tucker will take a group of students on a field trip to see the movie and will follow it up with related writing activities and projects.
Throughout the semester, students at the Colleyville school will write on themes related to the movie -- such as when people become desensitized to violence -- and comparing the book to others, such as Lois Lowry's The Giver.
"It seems like it's getting harder and harder to get kids interested in reading books because we are in an age of instant information," Tucker said.
"So when a book like this comes along, we get excited and expand on it to make reading exciting for them. If they read this book, then maybe they'll read that book and expand their library ... and take ownership of their learning."
Dystopia in demand
Once students have read through the Hunger Games series, they are often eager to find more books in a similar genre, so educators say they move fast to get something else in the youngsters' hands.
Katherine Stedman, librarian at Gunn Junior High in Arlington, said she has stocked up on similar titles that take place in a dystopian state where society is repressed or that have a post-apocalyptic setting.
"When I first started teaching, we didn't have hardly any zombie books or post-apocalyptic ones that were really recognized as good literature," Stedman said.
Now, she notes, the Texas Library Association includes such books on its annual recommended reading list, including Divergent by Veronica Roth and Blood Red Road by Moira Young.
"They can be really depressing and a little different," Stedman said. "But I think the kids understand that we're in a recession and that there are a lot of things going on in the world.
"And while these kinds of books can be a downer, they usually have a positive message about trying to make life better that I think the kids relate to."
At Willkie Middle, librarian Leigh Collazo said only a few of her younger students felt the violence was too much and couldn't finish the book. Otherwise, she said, the Hunger Games series and similar books are flying off her shelves.
But eighth-grader Lindsey West insists that nothing compares to The Hunger Games.
"I've read the whole series, and it just puts you in shock," West said. "I've never been as excited about a book in my whole life. I loved Harry Potter, but nothing has gotten me as excited. Ever."
Staff writer Jessamy Brown contributed to this report.