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Why the Web Won’t Kill Books

Why the Web Won’t Kill Books

Ira Wolfman

Are you worried about the death of print? Are you concerned about the disappearance of newspapers, magazines, books … even, maybe, literature?

Who’s not worried? Over the past decade, the digital world has captured children’s attention and affection like perhaps no other invention ever. Kids’ time spent on other activities—reading, playing sports, watching TV—has been dropping. And remember that Apple guru Steve Jobs (in)famously told us that “No one reads today.”

Well, I’m here with good news: It’s possible to excite kids about literature….online! My creative team has found ways to drive students to texts—by whetting their appetite with exciting literary web experiences. Let me tell you how we’ve done it—and what we’ve learned that can help you use the web that way, too.

Since 2006, Weekly Reader’s literary magazine, READ, has been developing ‘electronic issues’—websites devoted to the works of a single author. Using music, animation, sound effects, interactivity, and imagination, we’ve produced digital adventures around William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, the 14th century meets the 21st!). In November, we’ll launch a Mark Twain site.

Our sites feature original music videos (a rap MacBeth!), interactive analyses (‘How to Read the Raven Without Going Stark, Raving Mad!’) and musical timelines (“A Walk with Will”). We also took students on an animated journey with Chaucer’s pilgrims, explaining medieval music, food, clothing, and religion. I think these subscriber-only sites are terrific, but don’t take my word for it; check out the Poe site—for free—at www.weeklyreader.com/greatauthors.

Although these web sites are usually restricted to our subscribers, the insights we’ve come up with are, I think, valuable to everyone. Here are three tips that grew out of our experiences with Ed, Will, and Geoff…online.

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Weekly Reader's Great Author site showcases Edgar Allan Poe, the poet, in an interactive format students will love.

1. A taste of good literature will drive students to the text. We offered an interactive analysis (with flying birds!) of a portion of “The Raven.” Teachers responded enthusiastically; one gushed, “What a great way to get the kids involved with poetry. This site really inspired my students to read ‘The Raven’ as a whole.” Our MacBeth rap worked brilliantly in this regard, too. You can sample it (and find links to other cool Shakespeare web stuff) here.

2. Challenging readers to reinterpret a story inspires their creativity. We asked students to wish Edgar Allan Poe a happy 200th birthday in words or images. Within weeks, we received dozens of greeting cards, animations, and live-action films. We’re trying it again with Mark Twain. Find that riverboat challenge here.

3. Teaching about an author’s life gives students insights into his or her art. We did a lively timeline about the Bard. One teacher said it enriched her students’ budding theatrical careers: “They said it was easier for them to act out Shakespeare, now that they knew more about him!”

So, will the web bring about the death of books? Methinks not! Future volumes may be printed or online, on e-readers or on…who knows what? Whatever happens, my money’s on books to continue exciting students for generations to come. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know: iwolfman@weeklyreader.com


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