It was really interesting to read about the evolution of children’s literature – from its early beginnings as a spin-off from adult text, to moral codes through stories, to books of instruction – taming the savages, and finally entertainment. I summarize badly here but you get the drift.
It seems so obvious that as the focus on children as separate entities changed, so did the interest and desire to publish for children changed. The stark contrast in how we view children today compared to 50 years ago is stark. There seems to be a radical change from ‘seen and not heard’ to taking centre stage. Children seem to be in the driver’s seat a lot these days and it is only reasonable to expect that publishing is coming to meet the demand of parents wanting to provide wonderful, rich resources to enlighten and educate their children.
Children themselves who are highly connected and discerning consumers, are also making their priorities and requirements heard loud and clear too. In Sweden children are now key forces in the family choice of holiday, car and their place of schooling – there is a very book on this subject ‘How Children Took Power’ by David Eberhardt. I know from personal experience families who purchase cars based on the preferences shown by their children. Note the children do not pay for the car, but get to choose the type, specification and colour! So you can imagine the influence children have on what type of literature they want and will read!
The rapid expansion of technology and its ubiquitous nature fuels the connectivity of children with the wider world and makes their voice loud – let’s face it they have the time to ponder, upload and discuss perhaps more so than their parents, teachers and significant adult others. Tech democratises demand. Each voice on social media is as valid as another. This of course has wider implications for how we live our lives generally but for literature I think we will see a greater impact on children’s choices.
Firstly I think there will be a lot more young/younger authors publishing electronically. Kids love reading about themselves from their own perspectives. Have a look at Zoe Sugg – Girl Online. What a phenomena. She’s hardly 35, leapt through the vetting process at large publilshers and wise about marketing her ‘brand’ to the kids. She’s a fashion vlogger, blogger and now a writer. Her book is interesting, predictable and perfect for the tween who just wants to read something catchy, relevant and (wait for the phrase to make me seem ancient) hip.
Secondly I think the trend for highly imaginative and different texts will continue. ‘The Book with No Pictures’ is one example. Fascinating, imaginative and fun. Kids also want to ‘do’ things with the literature – they want to interact with it. I love reading ‘The Very Cranky Bear’ to my 4 year old but he loves the app – with swiping motion, sound effects, games and the ability to control the pace of the story – we read it together but in a different way.
Thirdly I wonder if the massive rise of visual media will detract from literature in a print form? Are we moving towards, or backwards to oral story telling – are the fairytales going to leap back off the page and return to the bedside in the form of a YouTube clip on an iPad? Time poor parents could perhaps record themselves, upload it and then when the children head to bed they could have that delayed transmission ready to go!
I am pretty sure however that the printed text isn’t going anywhere fast. The tactile nature of a book is important for littlies. They enjoy the process of holding them, turning the pages, following the text with their finger (and not inadvertently turning the page), feeling the paper and in some cases actually tasting the books. They are still an important sensory experience. You can also take a printed book to the beach, swimming pool and park without fear – try having the same blase attitude if it’s a Kindle or iPad as you watch your child bury it in the sand.
So there is change afoot. Evolving predilections of every generation provoke change. The driving forces, to sum up, are children with their loud consumer savvy voices, parents who wish to provide enlightenment and entertainment in equal doses and of course the inevitable economics – where the money goes – so do the producers of literature – whatever the form that might be.