Sunshine Smile Publications is delighted to share a fantastic guest post by Jeff Norton, author of the new Metawars series.
Pages of Wonder
By Jeff Norton
What a delightful surprise to see Danny Boyle’s enthralling opening ceremonies feature the heroes and villains of children’s literature! Kid-lit is too often the quiet corner of the global entertainment industrial complex, and I know I’m not alone in reveling the celebration of work in front of an audience estimated to be a billion people. From classic Peter Pan to modern classic Harry Potter, the Straight On ‘Til Morning sequence marked a magnificent acknowledgement of the lasting legacy of children’s literature. Everyone who works in the space should be proud, and I for one am unashamedly optimistic.
We’re living through a golden age in children’s literature.
Young readers today are spoiled for choice, with the classics available in physical and digital forms, and a new generation of authors spinning tall tales across the age spectrum. The writing in children’s books is at an all-time high, offering bold ideas, confident writing, and fully realised story worlds. Picture books (of which I presently consume a lot with my two-year-old) are bursting with colour and imagination. Series fiction, the gateway drug to lifelong reading, is on solid creative ground, and middle grade fiction (where my new action-thriller book METAWARS will sit) offers an exciting explosion of characters and stories. In the UK, we’ve finally found our footing with YA (young adult), offering teenagers an amazing array of bold writing featuring relatable emotional arcs and stories so compelling they often ‘cross over’ to adult audiences.
Of course, all of us must be vigilant against slipping literacy rates in urban areas, the growing class divide in reading, and the challenges facing parents and educators about getting boys into books. Even among the challenges, there are reasons to celebrate. Grassroots initiatives like the London Evening Standard’s sustained ‘Get London Reading’ campaign, the Usborne Foundation’s monsterific ‘Teach Your Monster to Read’ literacy game, and East London’s amazing ‘Ministry of Stories’ all demonstrate the commitment that adults have to get and keep kids reading.
And we know that unlike in J. M. Barrie’s time, books (and theatre) aren’t the only media on offer for young people. Never before has there been so much media vying for a fixed number of hours in the day. Books compete with playtime, sports, television, video games, and the internet.
But perhaps these ‘competing’ media need not be the boogeymen. The conceptual rise of ‘transmedia’ (a fancy word that I have chosen to mean storytelling across different media) means that we can spark reading from non-book media. Moshi Monsters is an online virtual world, but it engenders such loyalty that its books occupy chart positions. Kindle Entertainment’s new television take on The Famous Five (in development) will generate a new audience for Enid Blyton’s books. And when Jon Scieszka’s rollicking Trucktown picture books rev onto television (currently in development with Nelvana), the show will ignite a generation of truck-loving toddlers to devour the books. The availability of social media and YouTube make creating transmedia content much more accessible for all of us. At home, I’ll sometimes load up Michael Rosen’s YouTube reading of ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ as a transition to me reading the book, not a substitution. For METAWARS, Orchard Books are launching a massive online transmedia campaign, allowing fans to go deeper into the story world but also deploying a clever competition to lure new readers into the franchise.
Within the industry, it’s understandable to worry about the future; about retailer consolidation, threats from digital platforms, and the very real challenges facing independent booksellers. But for a moment, let us bask in the glory of the global recognition of the power of children’s literature. The art form is at its highest ever level, and that’s something worth celebrating.
Second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning.
Jeff Norton is the author of METAWARS: FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE (Orchard Books). He is also a filmmaker and the founder of Awesome, a creative incubator. He lives in London with his wife, young son, and a lot of books. The METAWARS transmedia experience launches at www.metawarsbooks.com, sign up now.