“Kids don’t read books anymore.”
How many times have you heard someone say those words in the last ten years? With phones, tablets, TVs, smartwatches, VR headsets, and Siri chatting away in the background, it can seem like an impossible task to entice a child to sit down and read a book for a few hours or even a few minutes.
But people have been lamenting the death of books ever since the “wireless radio” invaded our living rooms over a hundred years ago! TVs and laptops didn’t stop millions of children from reading the Harry Potter books or The Hunger Games. There are plenty of examples to look to in order to see that books aren’t dead and that technology doesn’t stop a kid from reaching for a good book.
Have things really changed for Generation Alpha? In this article, we’ll take a look at the dos and don’ts when it comes to writing a book for children born with technology.
When writing for Generation Alpha, it’s important to think about the medium the child will use to consume your book. Take a look at what’s out there. What books are popular? Just because you like reading paperbacks doesn't mean that's how kids are consuming stories.
It's worth considering all the mediums out there. There is, of course, traditional print. Maybe your book would be best as a hardback picture book, big enough to do the artwork justice. But there's also eReaders like the Kindle and other ebook readers and tablets. These are popular for books with illustrations as you can zoom in on the artwork which also looks great on HD screens.
Or maybe your kids' book would be best digested on a smartphone. Of course, the smaller screen will change some of the decisions you make. For example, if your children's book has pictures, you might not want them to be too large or detailed.
When it comes to choosing the medium for your children's book, one of the best things about writing for Generation Alpha is the variety and scale that comes with new technology. There are whole new ways of telling stories to children out there just waiting for creative imagination to do something new and original.
Maybe you want to incorporate virtual reality into your storytelling, or Google Maps (think Pokemon GO), or maybe Siri could help tell your story. Try to think about how you can use one of these new technologies to write a great book for children born with technology.
When you're writing a book for Generation Alpha, you also want to consider the format of your writing. In the past, people were used to reading long, multi-claused sentences. If you pick up a new kid's book, though, you'll often see more white space than text on the page.
There's no doubt that technology, the internet, and video games have changed how people read. We've seen a progressive shortening of sentences, as well as shorter paragraphs. Even in traditional books, you tend to have more white space, or pictures, than ever before.
If you're writing an ebook or a book to be consumed on a device, you have to decide whether or not to include pictures, just like with a traditional book. However, you can also include GIFs, video clips, and links to websites. We've never had these options before and you'll want to consider each carefully when you're writing your book for Generation Alpha.
Some things never change when it comes to writing books. For example, it’s always important to think about the language you use in your book. When it comes to writing for kids with technology, though, there are some particular problems concerning language that you'll have to think about.
Are you going to use “tech speak”? Are we going to see things like TTYL, g2g, or brb in your book? Are characters going to text and email each other? How are you going to represent digital messages on a page?
Another issue that arises from writing for kids with technology, especially rapidly-evolving technology, is that brand names and names of specific models tend to age very badly. If your character uses an iPod Touch, kids are going to think they were born in the Stone Age. If you're going to use words like iPhone, Siri, or Google, you'll want to think about how they'll look in 10 years.
Overusing the language of today can quickly date your book. So tread carefully when it comes to using trendy language, because one misstep will send your readers running for the hills.
It can be hard to keep up with the language of kids and their slang. Instead, you can try coming up with your language, brand names, and slang. Philip Reeve did a great job of this in Mortal Engines.
Remember what it was like when you were a kid.
Good books are timeless. Kids today can still enjoy a great book written a hundred years ago. This is probably because imagination never changes. While technology goes through endless iterations and upgrades, our feelings and emotions remain pretty much the same.
So when you're writing your kids' book, try to remember what fired you up as a child. What made you stay up reading all night under the covers? Perhaps going through your favourite books from childhood might help as well.
It's also a good idea to think about the great children’s authors out there like Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, J.K. Rowling, and Suzanne Collins and ask yourself what they all have in common. If all that’s not enough, use the Internet to find some handy tips on how to write a children’s book.