Writing for Instagram-obsessed kids: Frye Fest authors share their secrets

Writing for Instagram-obsessed kids: Frye Fest authors share their secrets

Four Irish authors who are visiting New Brunswick classrooms this week as part of Moncton's Frye Festival say prying the eyeballs of youngsters away from Instagram and Snapchat and persuading them to read a novel is becoming a bigger challenge.

But it's a challenge they're up for.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Oisín McGann, Dave Rudden and Deidre Sullivan all write for children or young adults, and all agree crafting stories that will catch the attention of children and teens obsessed with social media is making them better storytellers.

Rudden's award-winning first novel, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, begins with the sentence, "Looking back, it had been a mistake to fill the orphanage with books," and he agonized over it.

"You never want to give them a reason to put down the book from the first line," Rudden told Information Morning Moncton.

Growing up, he was a extremely shy and books were his friends.

"It is a very noisy world and if you get kids early into reading, they have a sort of wall between them and some of the more stressful aspects," Rudden said. "And you're getting them at a point before the world becomes completely cacophonous.

"For me it's about trying to create stories that would mean as much for kids today as certain stories meant for me when I was younger."

'Antidote' to information overload

Sullivan, who is also a teacher, said creating those meaningful stories is not easy for people like her who didn't grow up with iPhones and tablets in their hands 24/7.

She believes it's important for authors to acknowledge that children read and write in different ways since the advent of social media.

"Children are writing more and they're editing because they're writing for an audience," she said.

"They're curating the narrative of their own life at the same time as they're living it — it's interesting and it's creative in many ways but it's also a lot of pressure. I'm very glad I came of age before social media."

McGann, who writes for all ages, calls stories "the antidote" for the overwhelming amount of information young people process every day.

"One of the biggest issues we're looking at today is reading stamina and the ability to think at length ... and also taking time to just enjoy some quiet, so I think books are the answer to that," he said.

"They're reading shorter but they're also reading a far wider range of formats, so the skills they need are different to those people our age would have needed growing up."

Fitzpatrick, a writer and illustrator of children's picture books, calls storytelling "an essential part of being human" that no child should miss out on.

"That thing of the parent reading to the child, giving them the words of the story while they read the pictures, it's the beginning of a lifelong journey."

Fitzpatrick said she understands social media is ever-present but warns parents not to allow it to be the only thing a child reads.

Rudden said he constantly reminds himself that not everyone has the same close relationship with books that he does.

"I hear about a lot of parents who are afraid to go into bookshelves — I don't think a bookshelf is intimidating, but a lot of people do," he said.

"And I think demystifying writing and demystifying reading and making it clear that if you reading motorcycle magazines, if you're reading blog posts, if you're reading anything, it's crucial and important."

'Don't be snobbish'

Sullivan said it's important that people like her, who grew up in homes filled with books, understand their privilege and find ways to share their love of reading with children, especially those who may be struggling.

"If you look at deciphering phonics and codes as a job or work, that's putting an awful lot of pressure on a child," she said.

It would be more motivating to say, "You can read anything — you can read Marvel comics, you can read picture books."

McGann said writers don't teach people to read, but it is their responsibility to give people a reason to want to read.

"I think one of the issues sometimes in school is that we rush children into formal reading so then when they find it tough, as so many will, they get a block and that's it — for the rest of their lives, reading is for other people. It's an academic thing they're not interested in."

Fitzpatrick said her best advice to parents is to read to their children and to encourage them to read whatever they want.

"Don't be snobbish about what the child is reading — let them read whatever they want to read and don't get caught up on, 'He should be reading this,' or "That's not old enough for him.' Just let them read for pleasure."​