Jeff Kinney, the American author who has sold over 150 million print copies of his Wimpy Kid series, was recently quoted as saying that screen time posed a problem for authors wanting to set their books in the real world.
“During the time I have been writing books, kids’ relationships with their electronic devices have changed dramatically,” he said. “It gets harder to write about childhood without mentioning phones and texting.”
Kinney goes on to say that children are losing the ability to hold a conversation because of their use of technology. But is this really true? Yes, the way that kids communicate with each other has changed; now they’re FaceTiming or Skyping after school rather than making calls from a phone box or a landline at home, having a parent stood over them tapping their watch – but does this mean that they’ve lost the art of conversation? It could be argued that in fact, they’re communicating more than ever, just in a different way. Kids use technology to extend, rather than replace, time conversing with friends, using various social channels, texts and instant messages to stay in the loop.
This is borne out by this year’s Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report which reveals that almost a quarter of 8-11s have a social media profile. Snapchat has increased in popularity; the number saying it is their main profile has doubled since 2016. Snapchat (and in particular Snapstreaks, where children send each other messages every day over consecutive days) is hugely popular, too.
But at the same time, kids aren’t turning their backs on books. While we are constantly led to believe that children are far keener to pick up a device than a book, recent figures reveal that sales of paper books are growing – and the shift is being driven by younger generations. For while digital technology has certainly had a profound effect on the traditional book publishing and retailing industries, it also given the book a new lease of life.
With this in mind, shouldn’t kids’ books be adapting to engage more with those that read them? While traditional fairy tales feature dragons, princesses, and trolls, how relevant are these to children today? Having long been criticised for reinforcing outdated stereotypes, and given the digital era in which we live, is it time for children’s literature to have a new focus? Is it time for technology be part of the story?
One of our clients, Advanced (a leading British software supplier), certainly believes so. It has recently launched a competition inviting young children to write a modern ‘FairITale’ – fairy tale stories with a technology twist. They were overwhelmed with the take up and enthused when picking the winning stories, which introduce such tales as Alice In DigiLand, The Duckling That Wanted To Tweet, Me And My Magic Smartwatch, and Sir Bastian And His Smartphone. These budding authors – representing the next generation – have successfully reimagined the classic fairy tale making it relevant for the digital era. Advanced has now published these in a book, which will be launched at a story telling session at The Mailbox on Thursday 14th December at 10.30am with the young authors in attendance. All proceeds of the book will be donated to The Prince’s Trust to help disadvantaged young people in the UK change their lives and get into work, education, training or volunteering – we’re part of the team helping to launch this book next week and hope it sells out as the perfect Christmas gift!
Contrary to initial expectations, the printed book is still surviving alongside e-books, and technology is not only helping publishers and retailers reach new audiences and find new ways to tell stories, but featuring in the books themselves. Bearing in mind the success of this project, perhaps we should stop predicting the emergence of an illiterate, story-less generation and instead start reimaging how technology can get more kids engaging with stories and words.
If you’re in favour of a modern tale and want to inspire your little ones this Christmas, you can pre- order your copy of FairITales for £9.99 here.