My vision for the future of children’s literature is influenced by three experiences:
- Myself as an avid reader of a variety of fiction and non fiction
- My experience as a primary school teacher
- My experience as a parent
For myself as an avid reader, I find it hard to comprehend a world where narrative does not exist in both hard copy and electronic form. There are people who believed that television heralded the end of print, yet that was not the end result. There are people who believe that the Information age heralds an end to print publications of books. While there is evidence of significant growth in the ebook market, most people I speak to of my generation or above, still love the feel of a solid book in their hands. That is not to say we don’t embrace the digital book revolution. I own a kindle, and I love being able to download a book at a moments notice. I still love a real book though and will continue to both buy and read printed materials.
I have not had much to do with digital narratives other than the static ebook versions of printed materials, and after reading Madej’s ‘Towards digital narrative for children: from education to entertainment, a historical perspective.” (2003), I realize that I have more research to do in this area. Noting that this paper was written ten years ago, it will be interesting to explore whether much progress has been made in making digital narrative of a higher quality with more complex narrative, rather than just action and games.
As a primary school teacher since the early 90’s, I have witnessed the impact that digital technologies have had on our children. As Prensky (2001) defines, they are digital natives, who instinctively know how to navigate and interact with 21st century literacies. I know that for most of my students, using a smart device, a tablet, a lap top, a PC is preferable to other forms of communication. And yet! The moment in the classroom that they always clamoured for, demanded on a daily basis and would bemoan the conclusion of, was the reading of the class text, out loud by me to them. We used a variety of digital narrative experiences throughout the curriculum, but this was THE one narrative experience they desired. I believe that today’s children enjoy print media as much as previous generations, despite their relationship with digital technologies. I believe that children today desire good quality narrative experiences as much as previous generations. So I used this opportunity to share good quality children’s books that they were unfamiliar with, to broaden their knowledge and experience of narrative; to build exciting, adventurous, thrilling, emotional narrative experiences based on words and imagination beyond the visual. Based on my experience, it worked and if we can keep it working for our younger students, they will hopefully carry that with them as they grow.
As a parent of two small children, I cringe when they get to choose their own books to buy (as they did at the school book fair on Friday) and we come home with Barbie Mariposa and two Lalaloopsy books. But as I believe in giving them the opportunity to choose, those books are now on the bookshelves and have been read far to many times in the past 48 hours! However, in saying this, a couple of books that I consider non-literature, are well out classed by the volume of better quality books that are read to my children over and over and over again. Reading Barone’s discussion on a brief history of children’s literature, (2011, pg 8-15), I was delighted to realize that we have so many of the narratives she mentioned.
Narratives that I love to read to my children, that are lovingly located on their bookshelves and made the journey from Australia to Canada with us when we moved. Books my children love and woe betide the tired mother who tries to cut nightly storytime down to just 2 or 3 beloved books! My children demand their storytime, and delight in being read familiar and unfamiliar books. My children, who love TV and smart devices as much as the next kid, also love narrative and the delight and excitement when I announce that I have new books is more than they show for any toy that comes into the house. So, although Barbie and Lalaloopsy came home with is on Friday, I know that the narrative experiences I provide my children on a nightly basis is creating a sound narrative future for them, where they will (eventually) choose narrative texts beyond the scope of TV characters.
And I know I must be doing something right, when faced with no television, I find them tucked away in bed together, reading.
And who doesn’t love a 2 year old who weeps because she didn’t get to go to the library when I took Miss 4?
So, the future of children’s literature? Totally in our hands! As the educators and parents of children today, it is our responsibility to share and promote children’s literature whether it be in print or digital form. We must not sit back and accept the dominance of internet gaming and digital storytelling as the prime literary experience for our children. We need to share with them the depth and variety that can be found in narrative when read and bring to them world’s created with words, not just pictures.
Barone, D. M. (2011). A brief history of children's literature. Children's literature in the classroom : engaging lifelong readers (pp. 8-19). New York: Guilford Press.
Madej, K. (2003). Towards digital narrative for children: from education to entertainment, a historical perspective. ACM Computers and Entertainment, Vol. 1, No. 1, . doi: 10.1145/950566.950585
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon (MCB University Press) 9 (5)