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I don’t know if you caught it, but the lead article in today’s Publishing Perspectives is titled: Vitamins 2.0: How Children’s Books Can Change the World in a Digital Age.
The gist: give children beautiful books full of beautiful imagery–rather than digital bells and whistles– and they’ll be better prepared for managing the “high-stimulus” digital future. And start early. The earlier the better.
My reaction: Of course. What took you so long ?
The idea of exposing children to great books isn’t new. In fact, the idea that “great books build great minds” is at the foundation of most progressive literacy initiatives of the last 50 years. I appreciate the new emphasis on the “visual” aspect, but I think it’s just that the mainstream may be waking up to what librarians, teachers, authors, and children’s book publishers have known all along.
There are a wealth of great picture books which have been building imagination and visual perception since the golden age of the mid-twentieth century: Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Goodnight Moon to name just a few. No one who has fallen in love with those books thinks the words are doing the heavy lifting.
And I also believe we’ve got a bumper crop of amazing artists right now who are pushing the boundaries of the children’s book artform. Mo Willems, Emily Gravett, Lane Smith, Brian Selznick, Adam Rex, Kevin Henkes, Melissa Sweet, Peter Brown, Antoinette Portis, Loren Long, Shaun Tan, Matthew Reinhart, Peter Reynolds, Bob Shea… I could go on and on.
I don’t think it’s that books need to get flashier or more artistic, and in fact, adding too many bells and whistles can actually get in the way of developing great habits of mind through reading. Just adding more pictures doesn’t add more meaning. It’s hard to imagine how to improve on the bedtime experience of Goodnight Moon, for instance.
Here’s what we need to change: adults need to get better at understanding and encouraging active engagement with media. In general we tend to lack understanding of exactly how sophisticated a learning tool a great children’s book can be. Asking questions about the story, looking for details in the illustrations, anticipating what might happen next–-these kinds of activities create great analytical skills and an empowered reader.
This kind of reader will hopefully go on to ask better questions of all media, evaluate the quality of information, and make thoughtful decisions about what is worthy of their attention. THAT’S a 21st Literacy Skill, not multi-tasking per se.
In fact, I would argue that ATTENTION–-the ability to decide what needs one’s attention at any given time–-a single source, or multiple sources and how to switch back and forth mindfully–-is a much more critical skill.
How many adults do you see wrestling with that one when they are juggling a cell and driving? I’d say they haven’t mastered the literacy of Attention themselves, so how will they teach it to their children? Multi-tasking without the ability to also mindfully focus is just culturally-generated ADD. The successful thinker of the future needs to be able to do both.
What we want from a new crop of children’s books are great stories, and nuanced artwork that engages the imagination. Sometimes this means restraint as opposed to more visuals, so the message is clearer.
If you want to see a BRILLIANT example of this, check out Polly Dunbar’s recent series of Tilly and Friends Books for Candlewick Press. They are so visually rich, and so elegantly spare, they are masterful examples of powerful storytelling for young readers. They are pitch perfect at capturing the zeitgeist of a toddler, and they have some great ideas to teach.
As for older readers, I think there are great opportunities to enhance books with multimedia features like online content, games, and related video, but here’s the catch: these elements should be about inspiring the reader to immerse themselves further, to follow their curiosity, to expand their knowledge, or to participate with others in a community around a book.
They shouldn’t just be there because publishers and developers think kids need the “cool-factor.” Kids are amazingly sophisticated these days, and they don’t swallow every hook, line, and sinker–especially if it doesn’t have deeper meaning.
Although I’m very happy to see kids books getting this kind of coverage, I think this article misses the point. It’s not enough to say “books prepare kids for a digital future.”
I’d argue that great children’s books and a rich experience of visual storytelling prepare kids for every future, digital and otherwise. They help kids build all the skills they will need for every eventuality: Attention, Empathy, Creativity, Imagination, Writing, Storytelling, Self-Awareness, Logic, Collaboration, Community, and Critical Thinking. It’s hard to beat that, and I think it’s amazing that the larger publishing community is just getting around to discussing it.
In case you missed it, make sure you check out the text of Jason Epstein’s keynote on the future of publishing in the digital world, as presented at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference.
In it he lays out a great case for human nature, and how it will save us from the undifferentiated content streaming through the WWW.
Also he articulates his vision for good content (authors must eat), e-readers (yes), large publishing houses (will die), print-on-demand (Gutenberg x 10), and lots of other stuff.
If you don’t know who Epstein is, he has worked in the publishing industry for fifty years as an editor and a publisher, and is responsible for many innovations. He created Anchor Books at Doubleday, which was the first Trade Paperback imprint, and he is the co-founder of On Demand Books, which markets the Espresso Book Machine, which can print and bind a 320 page book on demand in about 4 minutes.
Ten years ago he did a series of lectures on the publishing industry at the New York Public Library which became Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future. I highly recommend it.
If my blog had a wash-and-wear tag it would say:
Slight imperfections, bumps, and color variations are characteristics of handcrafted projects, and they enhance the beauty of this garment.
Why do I say this?
I’m just back from an extended Book Expo hiatus, which is a three month marathon for me, during which I literally have time for nothing else, including food and sleep.
It’s nice to be home.
In recent link-backs some of you blogeratti have very tactfully pointed out that although I post infrequently, what I have to say is interesting, or relevant, or at least not-irrelevant. I appreciate your circumspection.
But here’s the thing I have noticed about being a blogger. I’m sure you other bloggers will understand. If I’m not careful, blogging begins to feel an awful lot like work. And, as many of you know, I have plenty of work already.
How many of you saw the 4/6 article in the NYT titled In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop? Actually, that’s probably a stupid question, since we are a pretty self-referential bunch. I’m sure the blogosphere was alight. Anyway, it talks about bloggers dropping dead from overwork. Most of us kid lit bloggers are nowhere near that level of ridiculousness, but I did have to make a decision early on to pace myself.
It’s easy to see how it can get away from you. Starting out, I got a little thrill each time my blog was mentioned by another blog, especially ones with lots of traffic. I obsessed over my metrics. I lost sleep to write. “They like me! I’m included! MUST-WRITE-MORE!”
My initial experience of blogging suddenly felt very much like high school. Who are the taste-makers? Who are people talking about? What do I want to say about what they’re saying? If I wasn’t writing, I felt compelled to read everything, just in case.
After a few weeks I suddenly thought “Wait a minute! I already went through high school. I am SO over it. Duh.” (Sound of forehead being slapped.) I still check out what’s being talked about, but now I appreciate that reading less insures that what I’m writing about is coming from an original and organic place.
Which brings me to my next point. I also recognized very early on that there are two types of blogs. Those that generate original content and those that serve as a clearinghouse by aggregating lots of interesting information from other blogs/cyberspace in one place, often with added commentary. Aggregating content seemed like a great way to generate traffic, but too much of a treadmill. I guarantee that those recently deceased bloggers in the NYT article were spending lots of time on that same treadmill.
So, original content it is. It suits my creative nature anyway.
I’m a marketer by profession. I know the rule that regular posting=more traffic. It’s true, if traffic is all you care about, and you actually have something relevant to say. It’s possible to bootstrap your way to industry fame through this technique.
But here’s what I care about: writing about whatever interests me, whenever it interests me. Writing about it in depth, and being realistic about everything I have to do. In short, going for authenticity and substance over popularity. (Again, like high school.)
So, I am unfurling the banner of the Idiosyncratic Blogger, and making my confession. I am an inconsistent poster. I may go for quite some time without saying a thing, and then I will post in a clump. I occasionally will apologize to you, my readers out of a sense of guilt. I may make excuses. I hereby give myself permission to have a life beyond this desk. I’m going deep, and I’m in it for the long haul. If nothing else, I promise to be authentic, even in my inadequacy.
Want to join the IB club? I’d love company! I give you permission to be imperfect too!
I’m about to cross the 100,000 hit mark here at pixie stix.
I don’t know 100,000 people, so I must be doing something right.
During my childhood, my (slightly eccentric) father had a ritual when his long suffering truck would hit a 100,000 mile odometer reading. (Several of his trucks have made this marker 2 or 3 times, as in 300K.) No matter where he was, he would stop the truck, get out, and circle the truck three times. Could be a busy four lane highway, or it could be a dusty back road. Then, without a word, he would keep driving.
I want to take a moment both to thank the many great people who have linked to me in praise of a post, or those that have been clearly passing the word.
If you were here with me, you would see me circling the desk three times.
Now let’s keep going.
At BEA recently, I was facilitating a panel on the Gen-Z reader, (as in Gen x, gen y, gen z), and one of the threads the conversation turned to was whether the publishing industry can use the music industry as an example for the future. In particular whether artists/authors will take control of the medium as they have in music, thereby cutting out the middle man. The panelists were not convinced that the model went that far, given all the complicated things that have to happen to make a book a book. I myself am pretty sure that we will see increasing examples of this, given that consumer control over pretty much everything is the wave of the future. I definitely think that the readers and authors of the future will be much more empowered and DIY about things.
It’s already happening.
And, the above handmade example aside, there are several examples on their site of books with fantastic art and photographic treatments. It’s possible to come up with a very credible product. Especially if you’re a second grader.
Yes, there have been self-publishing projects for kids in the past, but never have they been so kid-centered, user-friendly, or so interactive. Seriously, this is something an elementary kid could do pretty much on their own. Certainly, not every tikatok author will run their own publishing house in the future, but it’s not a far leap from here to web publishing, blogging, and all other manner of communication. I do think the youngsters of today will have a VERY different idea about communication when they hit adulthood.
As a mom, I think this is pretty cool.
What do you think?
Okay, this wins my award for best sideline of the year.
Developed by a mother of three, this is the ultimate in monster defense. The spray itself is made of English Roman Chamomile, High Altitude French Lavender and Italian Mandarin essential oils, but its psychological mojo comes from the empowering feeling kids get by running around their room at bedtime, spraying it anywhere and everywhere monsters lurk. Then, once all the meanies are vanquished, all that lovely calming fragrance will help youngsters sleep sweetly.
Extra bonus: parents of stinky children everywhere will rejoice at the added nasal benefits.
At $10.00 per bottle retail, it seems a small price to pay for a smooth bedtime. It’s unclear if she offers wholesale terms, but there is a volume discount. Order directly from the mom in question.
For those of us non-adopters who prefer our books the old fashioned way, the Italian design company Nobody&Co has made it so that we don’t even need to leave our comfy seat for our next read. This bibliochair chair holds nearly 16 1/2 linear feet of books, and comes in six different finishes and cushion covers so it’s basically a sit-alone library. My only concern? Where do you put your arms to rest?
Oh well, fashion hurts. Your reading corner never looked so mod.
Looking for a good recommendation?
Each year ABC produces a 20 page, full color consumer catalog packed with 240 of our picks for the top children’s books of the year.
The catalog alchemy begins with bookseller recommendations, and then is rounded out with an exhaustive review of critical picks, award winners, and small press gems that sometimes escape attention.
400,000 of this catalog are printed and distributed to consumers through ABC member stores in the fourth quarter, but as a member of the pixie stix faithful, you can print out a low-res version here, as well as a copy of the booklist by publisher.
If you like the list, you’ll *heart* your local independent children’s bookstore even more! Please consider buying these books locally, because investing in a relationship with your local independent children’s bookseller will pay off many times over in great recommendations in the years to come. Find your local independent bookstore at BookSense.
Of course, with nearly 18,000 children’s titles published every year, there are always many more worthy titles than we can include, so as a EXTRA BONUS here’s the pixie stix 2007 fav’s list, which includes the catalog titles and so much more.
Hello faithful readers.
As if I wasn’t taking on enough with a new baby this year, we’ve gone and moved from the picture postcard quaintness of New England…
to the picture postcard sunsets of Miami….
Sorry I’ve been lax with my postings, but I’ve had my hands full.
We’re almost set-up, so we’ll resume with our regularly scheduled program shortly.
Okay, this has nothing to do with books, other than being a brutal way to dispose of another electronic threat.
However, it made me laugh, and so I will share.
By the by, I have been on a little hiatus as I get this whole “Baby -vs- Life” thing worked out, but you will see regular postings starting next week. I have a backlog of reviews to share, and some ideas about a total overhaul of the book industry as we know it.
Stay tuned, peeps.