Snuggling in bed with a dog eared copy of Nancy Drew and a flashlight
Tapping away at a laptop keyboard.
At first blush these images don’t seem to have much in common.
Readers don’t “waste” their time on computers- they’re too busy reading “real” books. And as one author recently told me (with great consternation and authority!) middle grade kids aren’t on Facebook.
Kids are on Facebook. Millions and millions and millions of kids. Earlier this month the School Library Journal published an article called Navigating Facebook: A Guide For Parents. If you write for kids, teach, or work in a library you need to read this article, whether you’re a parent or not. The article quotes a 2010 study that found 37% of 10-12 year olds have Facebook accounts.
And kids are no casual occasional users. In its study Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8 to 10 year olds spend an average of 45 minutes a day on the internet. By age 10 to 14 they are up an entire hour, online an average of 1 hour 45 minutes every single day. Kids 8-10 have a total media exposure of 7:51 each day. By age 10-14 it rises to a whopping 11:53 every single day. It makes me wonder how they have time to go to school!
What are we adults who care passionately about children, learning, and reading to do? One thing I believe we must do is take our heads out of the sand (kids ARE there, no matter whether we like it or not) and we must use Facebook as a reading resource rather than let it fester as forbidden fruit.
If you’re a parent or teacher (or concerned adult) struggling with kids and the internet there are great resources to help you foster safe internet use:
Connect Safely has great, realistic articles about kids, teens, and the internet.
Common Sense Media is a powerhouse in the world of children and the media. Their site has thoughtful age defined articles on just about every issue involving kids, the internet, the media, and the world we face today.
Once parents, teachers, librarians and yes even kids are on Facebook there are some engaging sites that promote reading and learning.
Middle grade focused movies based on books have elaborate sites-
Take a look at sites for the Judy Moody Movie, Diary of A Wimpy Kid movie, and the Percy Jackson movie. If connecting kids to movies on Facebook is a good idea why not use Facebook to connect kids to books?
But the books that inspired some of these books also have great pages. Over 384,000 people like the Percy Jackson page. Is this page “bad” for kids or does it promote reading? I think pages like this invite kids to consider themselves part of a community of readers. In my opinion there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact I think this is the only way to insure reading remains relevant to kids who live on the computer.
Some publishers have gone above and beyond to offer fantastic resources that enhance reading. One standout is Scholastic. They have dedicated pages for all of Scholastic, for teachers, for the Arthur Levine imprint (which has published many excellent middle grade titles including Harry Potter), and even a page dedicated to parents and that’s just the beginning. Want some ideas for some great extracurricular science projects- or even science activities teachers can try in school? Go to Scholastic’s Magic School Bus page. To me this is the internet’s highest and best use- connecting books to kids in real time, giving something extra, enhancing a reader’s experience. Why is this any better or even different from a traditional website? I’m not suggesting a Facebook page should replace a website. I do think an active Facebook page can be more immediate and interactive and by appearing as Top News Facebook posts can get more direct attention than an item lost in a website.
Some of the most exciting Facebook pages are linked to middle grade authors themselves (although they may be set up by that author’s publisher.) Kate DiCamillo’s official page offers links, videos, interviews and extras on her page. https://www.facebook.com/KateDiCamillo On March 3 she posted about where her stories come from- kids want to know these things. Hearing directly from Kate can make many kids more excited about reading her books- and other middle grade books, too. Kate is meeting her readers where they gather. Her message isn’t just safe for young people. It’s compelling. Connecting with Kate- maybe not one on one but one on 4000+ will make her fans life long readers. Not just for her books. For all books.
You don’t have to be a Newbery award winner to get into the act. My own Facebook page has given me the chance to speak directly to teachers, librarians, scout troop leaders, and moms all over the country. I offer free activity kit downloads as well as videos and daily updates. This month we’re celebrating women’s history month. It really does feel like a party on my page with dozens of commenters cheering each other every morning with I SOAR badges and tributes. Last week I added a button for scheduling Skype visits automatically, built right into my page. A couple of clicks and any class, book club, or scout troop can talk to me about researching and writing a middle grade book.
The page doesn’t target children and I intentionally keep the conversation grown up centered (okay if you were 9 it might seem a tad boring.) People who “like” my page are almost uniformly women over 30. Moms. Scout Troop Leaders. Teachers. Librarians.
I don’t know that my Facebook page has “sold” books. I do know I’ve made lots of friends, “met” many readers, and promoted ideas like empowering girls and reading for your life that make a difference to me.
What do you think about middle graders and Facebook? Have you run across “kid-reader appropriate” content there? Are your children or students on Facebook?
After attending a webinar on authors and Facebook, Tami Lewis Brown has become a social media convert. She’s dedicated a Facebook page to middle grade readers and her biography SOAR, ELINOR! and has Facebook plans for her middle grade novel, THE MAP OF ME, coming to bookstores this August.