On most Saturday mornings, you can find me in a dance studio teaching ballet. The kids I’m lucky enough to spend my time with are a lovely, energetic group of girls aged 2 to 6. Like most kids their age and countless other older kids at heart, the smash hit Frozen has ruled their universe for the past few months. At least one of the girls comes to each class with Elsa-inspired braids, and they all request that I play “Do You Want To Build a Snowman” at least once every half hour. It’s safe to say their love of Disney’s latest flick is bordering on obsession.
Within that obsession, though, I’ve noticed a pattern. Whenever I ask whom the girls’ favourite character is, the answer is unanimous: Elsa, the older of the two sisters, with the magic power to control ice and snow. At first I was baffled – with all the other hilarious characters (Olaf and Sven, anyone?), why was Elsa the automatic first choice? And what does this mean for the new variety of female role models kids are looking to these days?
When I first watched Frozen in December, I assumed that Anna would be the more popular of the two sisters. She’s an undeniably imperfect character, but that’s what makes her so likeable. There’s an approachable and familiar quality to her: she’s awkward, a bit clumsy, and relentlessly optimistic (sometimes to her own detriment, as in the case of her blind trust of the surprise villain, Hans). I figured her accessibility would win kids over, encouraging them to believe that it’s okay to be imperfect. Still, Elsa seems to be the crowd favourite.
“I want to make my own car and race it down the street!”
A typical request from kids nowadays. But those dreams can now come true. Well sort of.
I recently discovered a new interactive app called Crankamacallit, a digital storytelling experience enabling kids to build an imaginary vehicle in an inventors’ workshop. The story lets kids proceed in a step-by-step process to create a vehicle with the guidance of a narrated voice.
This app lets kids explore their inner inventive state, providing tools such as: a drawing widget, mechanical sounds, unique illustrations, rotational objects with panoramic views- all incorporated to make the experience more “realistic” and enjoyable.
With exposure to subjects such as engineering and automotive education, I wondered what it would mean for kids in this generation. Does this mean kids are now smarter in this generation than in the past? They can now learn the importance of mechanics and building in a virtual world, a skill that would be useful as they apply their knowledge and creativity growing up.
I was able to read comics growing up because of my brother’s fascination with super heroes; however, they were never my main source of reading material. For some young minds, comics might be the only thing they choose to read and all things considered, comics can be a great source of intellectual stimulation. Not all comics can be classified as good reading material and the Archie Comics are more offensive than educational.
In the issue I read, the teenagers of the comics are reduced to a series of obtuse stereotypes. Archie, at times, leads Veronica and Betty to believe he’s interested in both girls and both girls are reduced to tantrums over Archie’s affections. Reggie has a menacing undertone directed to his female classmates and Moose Mason resorts to violence when he sees his girlfriend talking with a male classmate. There are no direct resolutions to these instances, the conclusions only address the broader narrative and ignore these behaviours.
This brings us to the problem of representation in media. Children, young adults, and teenagers are all more complex than the Archie Comic’s representation. The reality of a teenager’s life may very well include instances of violence, jealousy, misplaced affections, and general immaturity. But that is not the entirety of a teenager’s emotional or intellectual capacity and it is unfair and harmful to ignore the complexities of a young adulthood in a comic created for young adults.
Reading is an integral part of development and considering the overwhelming amount of material available it is essential we scrutinize the content geared towards younger readers. I do understand that Archie comics cannot focus solely on the difficulties of life as a teenager. But teenagers shouldn’t be the punch line of every joke; they deserve to be taken seriously, even in a comic.
Harlem Shake. Grumpy Cat. Nyan Cat. Psy. Cinnamon Challenge. What do all of these things have in common? They all have millions of views on YouTube. They have also all been featured on the popular YouTube series, “Kids React.” In the series, created by sibling duo Benny and Rafi Fine of Fine Brother Productions, a panel of kids aged five to 14 are shown watching viral YouTube videos. Afterwards, the Fine brothers ask them questions about the videos, starting with “What did you just watch?”
React videos have been an Internet fad since before the Fine Bros started making them. The appeal comes from witnessing someone’s genuine first impression to a video clip, meme, .gif, or anything, really. Benny and Rafi have gone on to produce “Teens React,” “Elders React” and “YouTubers React,” but “Kids React” is special for its focus on a generation that has grown up with YouTube. As Michael Sullivan pointed out in the 2011 Variety Youth Impact Report, it would be easy to turn “Kids React” into a sort of “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” but Benny and Rafi sidestep this trap simply because it’s not the point of the show.
In our increasingly digital age, where the prevalence of mobile devices, laptops, and ultimately, the World Wide Web itself has us spending an average of 12 hours per day in front of screens across platforms, how do we get children to collectively take on more active and informed roles as they engage with new media? Perhaps that lies in encouraging constructive and creative behaviour with new media’s most fundamental element, code, at an earlier age.
It was only six months ago that the national curriculum was revised to put a much larger emphasis on programming, with students learning to code and create programs from as early as five years old all the way through to the European equivalent of middle school. That might sound like a bit too much to ask from such young students, and I’m sure the stigma of coding as a dry and indecipherable subject doesn’t help too much on that front either.
But coding isn’t sitting in front of a computer, rapidly slamming keys down as you stare straight ahead at walls of green symbols – whether it’s devising a function or building a layout, those sequences are more akin to notes on a piano and strokes on a canvas.
The Harry Potter novels have now sold over 450 million copies worldwide and been translated into 72 languages. J.K. Rowling has generated huge popular appeal for her books across the generations in an unprecedented fashion: she was the first children’s author to be voted the BA Author of the Year, and also to win the British Book Awards Author of the Year.
—From Bloomsbury Publishing
Her bio says it all. J.K. Rowling is one of the most successful female authors of this generation. Those ideas scrawled on napkins in cafes have made a bigger impact than I’m sure she ever imagined. From 1997 to 2007, she wrote seven of the most influential books of the past quarter century.
Since then, Warner Bros. Studios has completed the Harry Potter film franchise, each movie topping the box office upon release. In addition, part of the revenue generated from the books and the films went towards the construction of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Theme Parks in Florida. The support from fans over the years has lead to these wonderful projects. So, what’s next?
Introducing Pottermore. Originally intended to be a store where the Harry Potter ebooks and audio books could be purchased, this website is going beyond the e-retailer, and has emerged into an immersive virtual world. It takes advantage of the world wide web by giving the user a chance to explore at their leisure, and to purchase the books easily with the click of a button.
Pottermore is a good way to introduce the next generation of potential fans to the expansive Harry Potter universe. Now with a website focused on interactive reading, the adventure begins with the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Remember the days when classic Disney movies were in 2D and shown in theatres? It seemed like just yesterday I was sobbing during The Lion King in theatres for the first time. Well times have changed and Disney has brought magic into the air! Don’t believe me? Introducing Disney Animated, an app which allows users to explore the world and stories Disney has showcased for many decades — all within the touch of an iPad.
Disney Animated is a fusion of Disney Interactive, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Touch Press to create an interactive storytelling experience. This app has many programs and features including a collection of classic Disney movies with their images and information — crossing many generations, from Snow White and Seven Dwarfs in 1937 to present-day feature Frozen in 2013 — adults and kids can relive their favourite Disney classic. This app allows users to witness the visual development, music component, and character designs from each clip from their favourite classic film.
In December, I wrote about kids’ cookbooks, which got me thinking about how I cook.
I love cookbooks, but when dinnertime rolls around, I’m much more likely to open up my laptop than to pull a book off my shelf. The Internet is a great starting point when you’ve got a specific question about how to do something:
- How to peel a butternut squash?
- How to cook brown rice?
- How to tell when your cake is done?
Kids today have grown up taking Google and YouTube for granted as sources of information and entertainment. With this in mind, I set out to discover the cooking resources available online for kids. I was looking for videos and websites directed at kids, not just their parents, and for clear instructions and engaging content. Here is what I found:
This cartoon series, produced by Disney Spain, is the best online cooking show for kids that I found.
Telmo and Tula are a brother-sister pair of young chefs. The siblings make a recipe in each episode – ranging from crêpes to tuna sandwiches.
What makes this show so engaging is its humour and likeable characters. Telmo is the pesky little brother who puts pepper on everything he eats. Tula is the pragmatic older sister who makes up songs about cooking.
The siblings do all of the cooking until a heat source or knife is required. That’s when they call, “Grownup!” and a silent, but comical parent figure shuffles into the kitchen to do their bidding.
Moshi Monsters Magazine sits at complicated intersection of advertising and creative engagement for children
Moshi Monsters are customizable creatures that children can raise and play with at moshimonsters.com.
The Moshi brand includes a very popular video game, a magazine, and a web game(s). The magazine, Moshi Monsters Magazine, includes comics, puzzles, pull-out posters and project how-to’s. The magazine clearly dictates the overlap of the different platforms where Moshi Monsters are available.
The inside front cover, inside back cover, and back cover — which are a magazine’s most expensive advertising spaces — all feature an advertisement of the Moshi Monsters universe. If this would still be considered advertising, these ads alone would net the highest income from advertising.
It draws a complicated question of what point we have to consider for a publication like Moshi Monsters Magazine: At what point does aggressive and immersive advertising dwarf educational development and playtime?
On Christmas morning in 2010, I unwrapped a set of books by an author I’d never heard of: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins.
“They’re the next big thing,” my mother assured me, seeing the skeptical look on my face. I wasn’t a huge science fiction fan, so Collins’ stories were foreign territory for me. Still, in spite of my doubts, I gave The Hunger Games a try. Within weeks I’d zoomed through all three books and was raving about them to my friends. Not long after, the rest of the world followed suit.
Now, the wildly successful series has been transformed into an even more successful movie franchise. Katniss Everdeen dolls are flying off the shelves of toy stores everywhere and fans can even buy their own golden Mockingjay pins. Something about a teen hero triumphing in a dystopian world has struck a chord with not only children and teens, but adult readers, too. And other young adult authors have taken note.
Every time I stop by a Chapters or Indigo, it seems another dystopian teen lit series has appeared out of thin air. However, with so many books vying to be “the next big thing”, as my mother put it, only a few are bound to have that It factor that grabs the attention of young readers. Here are my top two picks for the series that will join the ranks of The Hunger Games as the best of the best in young adult fiction.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
With the first instalment of the movie version of this series hitting theatres in March, Divergent is rapidly making the transition from indie fan favourite to mainstream success.
Roth tells the story of Tris, a teenager living in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is split into factions based on a highly advanced personality test.
After Tris receives irregular results for her test, her view of the world around her is forever changed. She is forced to question the conservative ideals she grew up with and embrace a new way of life in a different (and much more dangerous) faction.
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