I'm a kid lit lover, raised on a steady diet of Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice, and progressing to the delights of Roald Dahl, Edward Eager, Natalie Babbitt and Tolkien. I've got bookcases full of my childhood favorites -- those dinosaur paper things with the hardcovers and that old-library smell.
But the Digital Revolution showed up one day and refused to leave, hanging around like the giant peach that appeared outside of James's house. I was not thrilled. I still haven't exactly snuggled up to a Kindle yet.
After trying to skirt around this phenomena about 700 times, I finally started asking: OK, Digital Revolution, if you really aren't leaving, then how exactly are you going to change the way we write, read, share and tell stories?
As a writer of middle grade and YA fiction, the most important thing to me is getting great stories to kids, regardless of how those stories are delivered. No matter what the technology, I think readers of all ages still want stories with compelling characters and an emotional tug. (And that's just for starters -- stories have to have an arc, great writing, surprising images, authentic dialogue, and that elusive thing called voice.)
Those of us who know how to write for kids need to join the technology conversation. Yes, many of us are traditionalists when it comes to books. Yes, we're worried that kids are reading less and gaming/texting/Facebooking/YouTubing more. But we need to be a part of this revolution, to make sure that the best literature is still reaching our children, and to see to it that the fundamentals of storytelling aren't getting lost amidst the bells and whistles.
I attend a lot of conferences for children's writers, and a few years ago, people were freaking out about the coming of the Kindle. Today, devices like these are more accepted. But many writers still go into a deer-in-the-headlights panic when the topic of new book platforms comes up. Many writers understandably fear that digital technologies portend doom for books and storytelling, either by providing whole new non-book forms of entertainment, or by radically changing books into something new and unrecognizable.
Where's it all headed? Are we going to see new kinds of storytelling? Story forms created for specific technologies? Would that be so weird? And for us traditionalists -- do we necessarily have to fear for the future of books and storytelling?
Maybe there are opportunities here. Honestly? I'm clueless. I barely know a Kindle from a sledgehammer. I know zip about gaming, interactive/enhanced ebooks, book apps, transmedia storytelling, and blah-blah-techie-jargony-blah-blah.
I would like to find out.
My first love will always be a good old-fashioned book. Nonetheless, I'm interested in how new technologies are changing kid lit and YA. Where are the opportunities for writers, storytellers and lovers of children's books in this new world?
So yeah. Let's not freak out here. Let's go check this out.
(Photo: "Antique Children's Books" by Sean Green.)