A few months ago I heard a spat between children’s author Terry Deary and Professor Susan Greenfield on the future of books. Terry angrily ranted that the book was already dead, and I know that a number of online bloggers stridently agree with him. Others wring their hands and are appalled at the idea of a generation reading only screens and chucking out piles of those fusty old book thingies that their parents used to collect.
People get very angry about it all. Really, properly angry.
My theory is that those who actively rail against books are in fact defending their beloved interlinked computer universe, the one they’ve often helped to build and spend a lot of time inhabiting.
The hand-wringing group, who foresee doom and ruin for the world if the book goes the way of the top hat stretcher and the crinoline stand, are usually people who were kids in a pre-internet age. They were taught to view books as semi-religious objects, with bookshops as places of worship.
No wonder both groups get so upset.
I believe that we, as authors, should join a different group with a very positive hands-on attitude.
Younger generations simply don’t have the same devotion to the book as a votive object, or to the bookshop/library as a temple, and why should they? But the book argument needn’t be lost, because change provides the opportunity for exciting creativity.
“A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes taking place in it,” said Herbert Spencer, and I think this definitely applies to the book. The choice of platforms offers an opportunity to combine books and online material to create exciting new products.
So how does all this relate to picture books? We already have apps in which picture books are read out loud and pictures change when children touch the screen. But I believe there could be more innovative computer/picture book mixes out there to discover, and I want publishers to call on us authors for ideas, not just on computer whizzes. I think we should get into the mix and offer our creativity.
As an author of both picture books and material for other age-groups, I very much want to bring my experience to the tablet. I don’t want apps simply created by teccies with no thought for the intricate, delicate, precious magic that happens between a child reading words joined with pictures. Nor do I want to stick my head in the sand, and pretend that the online world doesn’t exist.
I hope publishers will ask authors to help them with creative ideas for stretching their books to make wonderful new material online, and I for one would be delighted if they did.
We authors should start muscling in!