Digital children’s literature – values and validation

The presence of the adult mediator / facilitator in children’s literature is without question. Children, whether they’re in the emergent literacy, pre-literate, or literate stages of their development, have one constant in their reading experience – that of the adult. The child does not come across texts which have not been tacitly approved or purchased by an elder adult individual.

That was, I think, until the internet and the development of digital literacies. I always think of a boy I know as an example of this sort of thing; he’s smart, quick, incredibly literate online and distinctly apathetic towards the physical format of the “book”. He is superbly literate but he’s found his own parameters of literacy – and these have been mainly online. Being a digital native, he’s developed his reading and decoding skills primarily through the internet.

I thought of him as I read this article. It’s an interesting piece which discusses the work of several academics and how they created an assessment tool for digital texts. This terminology covers e-books, apps, and other online books.

What strikes me as interesting about this research, is the air of attempting to legitimize a de-regulated space. I like their statement that: “Currently, publishing in digital spaces emphasizes producers, rather than consumers”. It feels solid and references the paradigmatic shift towards self-publishing and indie publishing which has both characterised and catalysed the publishing market over the past few years.

What I didn’t like as much is the section where they discuss the rationale behind this research:

“Traditionally, publishers of children’s literature have played the role of selecting quality stories, editing and drafting and supporting children’s authors through the process to create children’s books. This function does not exist in the digital space, so we set out to develop a tool for exploring the quality and value of content provided in a digital book, while also addressing issues of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.”

I read this and immediately thought: “HMM”

I don’t feel comfortable with this because  it starts to place the onus of reading upon the adult. The adult is choosing this book, not the child.  Another area which disturbed me is the concept of a book having “quality” spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I’d be interested to see how a more avant-garde text (something like this) would thrive under these criteria.

Whilst I accept the necessity to make care-givers and adults confident in discussing books with their wards (which can be done in so many different ways), I am ridiculously uncomfortable with the suggestion of giving them an implicit list of tick box criteria in doing so.

Being a strong reader involves developing a critical faculty of your own. You decide what you read and why. It’s about confidence, it’s about developing your decoding strategies, and it’s about learning about your language. Your mother tongue is something that should serve you, instead of you serving it. Learn the conventions for your language but then don’t be afraid to break them. Shakespeare invented words so why can’t you?

And then I thought of this boy I know, this boy who would throw a fit if I gave him an “appropriate” book. He’s capable of making decisions about texts and language that fascinate me. He makes up imaginary words for things and gives his speech regularity in  syntax and structure. He can discuss at length the complicated familial structures of Yoshi, Mario and Luigi. This boy, might I add, is seven.

Digital texts don’t need assessing. Digital texts are already being read by digital natives who can assess and judge information spectacularly quickly. They’re more than capable of judging a good / bad book – because they’re doing it already.

We just need to step back and let them work.

I note with some approval though that the authors of the original piece state that they’d like their article to not be an end-point in this discussion and that it will spark conversation. I hope that they accept this response in the spirit of such a statement.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this issue! Does quality matter? Should we care about mediating texts? Does this worry you? Could you care less?

(And, as will now become a tradition on this blog for whenever I go off on one, here’s a cute Pikachu Gif as a reward for reading this far 😉 )

App – Jailbreak the Patriarchy

I have been looking at Google Chrome Apps recently with a lot of interest and I’ve come across some excellent things. Jailbreak The Patriarchy is very simple and it’s curiously addictive as The Mary Sue discovered. What it does is swap every gendered word on a website for the opposite. An example of this would be – He sat down and picked up his beer changing into She sat down and picked up her beer.

It’s actually particularly revealing if you hit something like a news story as you can see how the language is structured in order to create an impact. Gendering language is something we all do instinctively. It’s something I do as a writer and it’s something I do as a reader. I really recommend this app as it’s genuinely eye-opening stuff.