Digital Literature Reviews – How to Rob a Bank

Alan Bigelow’s award winning 2016 multimodal text How to Rob a Bank is an example of what Lamb (2011) defines as a ‘transmedia text’. Utilising multimedia imagery in the form of animated text conversations, game play, Google search and its autofill recommendations, maps, and more, this tech supports the Lamb’s supposition that “social technology has become a core element of transmedia storytelling for young adults” (p. 15). Recounting the experiences of a young Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple planning and robbing banks against a backdrop of romance, Bigelow’s text allows the reader to assume a first person perspective of the story, seeing the world through the lens of a smartphone screen.

How to Rob a Bank is an engaging text, not only by virtue of its plot but by the immersive experience generated through the hands-on experience, the sounds (diegetic and non-diegetic), and perhaps most of all, the frenetic changes between social technologies, jumping rapidly from Google to maps to gaming to texting. This mirroring of the constant and vigorous modern use of personal devices makes the story and format a uniquely relatable one which only serves to underscore the inclusive nature of the story.

Engagement aside, however, How to Rob a Bank remains a largely linear story. While the reader controls the speed of delivery and is able to move backwards as well as forwards, the story itself is predetermined and unchanging. Though multimodal in nature, this digital text does not employ varied hypertext (beyond a next or back) and does not allow the reader to explore or make changes to the evolution of the narrative. James & De Kock (2013) puts forth that “reading landscape” has changed so decisively to embrace the digital native who “absorbs information almost exclusively in a digital, hyperconnected space.” I would argue that digital literature like How to Rob a Bank recognises this evolution and attempts to utilise it but has yet to reach its full potential. A multimodal story with a higher degree of interactivity, one that allows for exploration outside of a strictly linear plot, is surely the intended goal of a text for our current digitally autonomous students.

Bowler (2012) argues that for our children “reading is no longer an exclusively book-bound experience[,that t]heir reading traverses multiple platforms: books, games, computers, and increasingly, handheld mobile devices” (p. 32). How to Rob a Bank acknowledges this digital traversing through its inclusion of a wide range of social technologies, but never crosses that line into allowing our students to hold the reigns and traverse these platforms themselves. In many ways, this text is, in fact, a step backwards from more traditional texts such as the Choose Your Own Adventure texts of the 80s and 90s. These reader determined stories are experiencing a resurgence with modern readers and I can only imagine that a convergence of multimedia digital literature and Choose Your Own Adventure is on the horizon for this current generation of primary and middle grade readers.

Pick-a-path story telling is a popular project within many English classrooms and I have run these units myself with my Stage 4 students. Their ability to utilise simple platforms like Google Slides and their collate resources from their own smart phones and devices has resulted in basic but thematically similar texts to How to Rob a Bank. Though they lack the sophistication of narrative and production, in some instances the level of interactivity and reader autonomy produced by my Year 8 students far outstrips that of How to Rob a Bank. This has left me excited to see what our most valued authors will be capable of when embracing these new formats.



Bowler, L., Morris, R., Cheng, I-L., Al-Issa, R., Romine, B., & Leiberling, L. (2012). Multimodal stories: LIS students explore reading, literacy, and library service through the lens of “The 39 Clues”Journal of Education for Library and Information Science53(1), 32-48

Bigelow, A. (2016). How to Rob a Bank. Retrieved from

James, R. & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital david and the gutenberg goliath: the rise of the ‘enhanced’e-book. English Academy Review, 30(1), pp. 107-123.

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from

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