For the digital generation who want to see the word bite/ punch line/sound bite of this post celebrating World Book Day you can transverse to the end of this post. There you will find two book choices for young adults and those of all ages who love well crafted fantasy stories. However, by doing so you may just prove my point; so why not just read on like those analogue people do……
The debate amongst child psychologists about the influence of the digital revolution and the internet on childhood development is certainly an active one. There are those that believe that excessive use of certain websites, such as those related to gaming and video, that require repetitive action, isolation and immersion not positive influences on a childs emergent personality. And others that believe that this behaviour improves spatial awareness, dexterity, improves imagination and actually improves social interaction because of the joined up web 2.0.
My feeling it simply depends on the influencers, influences, interfaces within a child’s environment and their initial socialisation. The values and culture supported by the extended kinship systems are central to the way and child behaves, their attitudes to authority, confidence, ability to interact. The disintegration of the church, means education and sport are two of the most central planks of outreach institutions and organisations have to reach a child that is struggling. And struggling comes in different guises: I personally believe confidence and sense of community through sport, knowledge and developing interests through education – and especially the written word through the escape it gives – can help address dissolute behaviour and help the challenged child to engage with life better.
But other children from better backgrounds have problems too, and obesity is not always a sign of a broken home it can be a sign of a very comfortable one. Whilst the media world predicates the media future is SiSoMo (sight, sound and motion) the reality is that a lot of internet access is still done from the lounge table and in the bedroom a fact that concerns health advisors and sports facilitator. Even those trying to promote the Olympics – within Germany and the USA – as a paradigm for healthy living and a progenitor for higher states of consciousness, mind and body aesthetics and principled ideals are challenged by the digital revolution. The Sports Journal’s concern is that the digital world often means a sedentary world for many teens: just check out Thesis 4 and full published paper here.
Thesis 4: As digital media disseminate the sedentary world, it is important to show young people again and again the usefulness of physical activity, to educate them about exercise, sports and
games and to give them the joy of sports competition in order to communicate fairness and mutual respect to themselves and to others. To move, play games and do sports so that it enriches the lives, that it contributes to well-being and satisfaction and that it provides a sense of achievement and happiness – this is a part of the Olympic education, especially in the world of digital media (Horn 2009).
So if there is a concern about the Olympics as the torch-bearer for behaviour adaption and reinforcement in its big year 2012;
then maybe we should be concerned about how the digital world can be used to address it – not just ensure interest in the events – and help people invest in its aspirations as well as it acclaim. And by the same token maybe we should be concerned about what kids are seeing and reading online and check they are training their minds to be interested, alert and enquiring and not simply happy to be “gut fed” information.
The written word, books read on tablet, phone or in format (yeah with a cover and being tactile) are a great point to start. Books and reading initially require effort and if children and teens aren’t encouraged to make it they will read very few books. The antithesis of this is the children and teens become wholly exposed to a short forming, aggregated, annotated, distilled, distributed world not one they discover for themselves. Clearly books are journeys of discovering and can be personal experiences that stay with people for the rest of their lives and whilst much of the critical material written about subjects and books is accurate and compelling a lot of it is not, and by definition what is there to be extracted is second-hand. Do we want children to experience second-hand anything if we can avoid it.
So where to begin? Well lets begin at the beginning: Harry Potter and The Philosophers stone. Bet you thought I was heading for the bible or an early learning book. For a lot of children aged 7 to 18, Harry and his adventures this is where literature begins. Known by all, Embraced by the many, love by nearly as many, read by comparatively few. The eight movies of the seven books mean that what could have been a great place to get children reading is suffering the attrition of multi media culture. the truth is the film delivers a template for the boy and much of its story line but not the first hand information. Many lovers of Harry Porter, and the films do not know the detail of the story and have a reduced view of the bigger picture. Sorry Hollywood the bigger picture is the book.
So is there a way of closing this knowledge gap? In all honesty if the children have seen the films the going will be tough, but there still could be a way on world book day of channelling the buzz and froth of Harry. I wrote on a previous world book day about the litigation surrounding Harry and JK Rowling’s inspirations for the books. I express my opinions in that post, but suffice it to say I think she owes a debt of gratitude to the culture of British books set in schools and other that have transported the reader to mystical worlds as much as any individual book such as “Willy the Wizard”. Although that said a few references do look very close.
And here is the rub. The strategy to get your children reading and to use the Harry Potter effect would be to help them discover similar books that have quality and depth. The perfect place is the hobbit, however the race is on to beat the film there too. Probably for speed you should read that too them. I know here say your “too time pressed”. The other JRR Tolkien’s, are a bit advanced and need a lengthy investment.
My suggestion for the first paces on this road, well the first two are the The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and the Wizard of Earthsea. by Ursula K Le Guin Both are tremendously well conceived and imagined and
seriously underrated. The fact the Weirdstone is not yet a major film is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is because so many people don’t approach it correctly because they are Harry Potter conditioned, and miss its depth as a unique work of fiction; as radio 4 did in its The Weirdstone of Brisingamen BBC Radio 4 broadcast in late 2011.¹
What is even stranger is the Weird Stone is omitted from the Wikipedia list of analogues and influences as they anticipate with remarkable clarity the later books and specifically the “death eaters”. The back story of the of Ursula K. Le Guin classic Wizard of Earthsea can be found at Wikipedia, a long with a lot of other great books. The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner is not the Weirdstone but is clever and with a plot synopsis that begins “Once again, it details the involvement of two children, Colin and Susan, with the world of myth and magic. This time the focus is on the potential of the older, wilder forms of magic and myth cycle to create both creative and destructive forces on the world.” you might find you, or your child, or both steaming straight on to the next book.
Happy World Book Day – I’m looking forward to a night under the covers with a good book. Maybe this one. Nostalgia!
¹Yes I know I gave a link to a radio play and the BBC have since removed the show. Well if we all complain they may put it back up. But only after we have all read the book!
Post dedicated to Peter who loves Weirdstone and inspired me to read it.