Can Social Literature Compete with Social Media?

Commentary by Christopher John Farley

This morning, author Kate DiCamillo announced on her Facebook page that she will serve as the new national ambassador for young people’s literature. Her induction into the post, which is supported by the Library of Congress and other organizations,  is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Washington, D.C.

The post, which is filled every two years, is meant to promote literature for children during an age in which it is under assault from all sorts of digital entertainment, including social media and video games.
But can an ambassador really help get your child to read?
“The whole thing is pretty intimidating; but it is also deeply, deeply gratifying, because for the next two years, I will get to go around the country talking about what matters to me, and what matters to me is this: people connecting through stories,” DiCamillo said on her Facebook page.
According to DiCamillo’s publicist, her platform in the post–yes, she has a platform–is the theme “stories connect us.” DiCamillo, the author of the bestseller “Because of Winn-Dixie” and the new “Flora & Ulysses,” plans to travel the country promoting shared reading experiences, like community reading projects where kids in cities and towns all read the same book.
Video games used to be more like books–essentially solitary experiences which involved people separating themselves from groups. But social media is, by definition of course, social, and video games have become much more so:  kids chat online or via headsets with friends as they play, and if you’re not on Xbox Live playing Call of Duty and NBA 2K14, you’re not part of the community or the conversation.
According to Scholastic’s latest Kids & Family Reading Report, about half of parents (49%) feel their children do not spend enough time reading books for fun, while the overwhelming majority of parents think that their children spend too much time playing video games or visiting social networking sites.
Parents have probably felt that their kids aren’t reading enough even before the first video game was invented. But today they’re feeling that feeling more. The percentage of parents who say their child does not spend enough time reading for fun has risen since 2010 across all age groups of children (36% in 2010 to 49% in 2012).
I recently wrote a fantasy novel called “Game World,” and part of my motivation was to create a book that would engage younger readers by tackling themes and subjects that they care about, including video games and social media. I wanted it to be the kind of book that kids and parents could read together and have something meaningful and fun to discuss.
Reading can be more of a social experience, if friends and family are brought into the process. When my 11-year-old son started a two-person summer book club with a friend not long ago, he was much more engaged in the reading process than when he was reading alone. And according to the Scholastic report, having reading role-model parents or a large book collection at home has a greater impact on kids’ reading frequency than household income does.
DiCamillo is likely to be a terrific ambassador for young people’s literature. The problem is, once children’s literature needs an ambassador, there’s already a problem.
Parents need to make sure that children’s literature doesn’t seem like a far-away place that requires an ambassador to relate to. Children’s literature should take kids to other countries and other worlds, but the reading experience shouldn’t feel like something distant. If kids don’t feel like they’re already living in the land of literature, if they don’t feel as if books are an intimate part of their lives, things have gone horribly wrong.
Social literature can be more powerful than social media and social gaming. If parents read books with kids, encourage them to start book clubs, select  books that tackle issues kids care about, and maybe turn off the screens around the house now and again, reading can be made into a more social and more relevant experience in kids’ lives.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

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