I remember when a book was just that, a book. In my reading life as a child there were no spinoffs, no television shows or movies; advertising was not aimed at children and the sale of merchandise related to literature was rare if it existed at all. In truth children`s literature was sadly lacking in appeal and rarely offered formats other than the printed page. I remember reading a comic based on a tale I had read but my reading experience of literature stopped there. We can fast forward to the reading experience of a child in 2012.
I could not have imagined the extent of the opportunities for children to access their favourite books, series, and literary characters on the web. Booth (2011) notes “the importance of recognizing student choice and popular culture in the lives of our students” (p.22). My exploration clearly exemplifies the opportunity for and connections between popular culture and children’s literature. Oddly when students in my library were asked about their web experience with Geronimo Stilton many responded with shrugged shoulders and head shakes. This exploration began simply by using Google to search for ‘Geronimo Stilton’ leading to results including: the official Geronimo Stilton site, the Geronimo Stilton News site, the North American publisher site, Google images, Amazon booksellers and Wikipedia. I saved the links on Diigo and visited each site exploring further and attempting to organize the results in some sort of clear and deliberate manner. I needed a place to start and found on copies of both a paperback novel and a graphic novel, web site addresses for Scholastic Book and Papercutz graphic novel publishers, and the International Geronimo Stilton World site. This is where I would begin my experience in the expansive electronic world of Geronimo Stilton.
I was surprised that more of my student Stilton fans did not know about the web presence of this character but was not surprised when my niece led me to a few gems through her digital literacy expertise. She took me through Google images to online colouring sites, introduced me to Google translator for the Italian language pages of the Stilton site and reminded me of her passion for fanfiction.net. Revisiting Google Books after attending a professional development workshop featuring Google apps I located previews of a number of Geronimo Stilton titles as well as Kingdom of Fantasy and Thea Stilton spinoff titles. The opportunities are endless allowing readers to preview titles before buying or borrowing a book, and to experience online worlds full of information and story. O’Connell (2011) states that students “need a range of literature and information options, delivered to them via a variety of physical and virtual means, from books to all manner of media and digital objects, via a plethora of digital devices” (para.12) and the contemporary reading experience of a child fulfills this need.
Surprises and Reflections
I have witnessed the popularity of this series of books through the constant requests for copies at my library. My students may be older than the targeted audience but some have become fans of the television cartoons. The wide range of Geronimo Stilton merchandise available for purchase including: books, audio and e-books; soap bubbles, chocolate eggs and playsets with buildings and figures; DVD’s and video games surprised me. I was even more surprised that the merchandising of Geronimo Stilton has yet to reach the same extent in North America as it has in Europe. It seems in Europe Geronimo Stilton is so popular that “live” appearances are common, a Geronimo Stilton Musical has been staged and Geronimo Stilton is the centre of a public service campaign for internet safety. I wonder if North American readers might engage with this character based series in the same way?
I have always thought of libraries as being equalizers for students from environments lacking in literature but what if the internet also leads to recognition of the importance of literature by providing all readers with access to alternate forms which “bring children and books together” (Chambers, 1985, p. 11) encouraging readers to continue reading even when they are not at school. Access to web sites based on Geronimo Stilton books offers readers text in many formats, at any time, in any location with internet access, and with the increased use of mobile devices experiences are unlimited.
The ever-present availability of the internet requires that users be educated about the many aspects of consuming media, especially when targeted by children`s advertising. Geronimo Stilton fans search online for sites providing entertainment and information with no regard to source or authorship. Readers are then linked via search results to the sale of merchandise including television and book spinoffs, games, and toys connected with the selected popular literature. Being a wise consumer of merchandise and media is essential and the application of critical thinking skills related to popular culture depends on reading with an eye to analyzing and understanding point of view, audience, author motivation, manipulation and exploitation. Our role as teachers of media, of reading, and of thinking includes preparing students to question the culture of the internet and to become aware of more than the face of the product and interpret deeper messages. Student participation in this type of web search or experience can also lead to critical thinking that reflects an understanding of online authenticity, validity and usefulness as an authentic part of learning.
By encouraging and supporting our students in the exploration of literature I feel we are providing “the materials for motivation, differentiation, collaboration and connections necessary for 21st century learning” (O'Connell, 2012, para 10). The experiences of motivated children accessing popular literature and associated links online will undoubtedly lead to a greater understanding of the online environment and possibly extend to improved information literacy in classroom tasks. With teacher facilitators in the form of teacher librarians creating opportunities to explore and experience the internet through links to literature and information we are preparing our students for their future: a future that includes instant access to an increasing variety of sources of information and knowledge that we are obliged to teach students how to understand and use. I have always felt my role as an educator has been to teach my students how to think, not how to remember. Warlick also questions our role as educators when he asks, “Is it just what students can recall at the end of the year or the course? or is it what they can do and whom they will be 20 years later” (Warlick, 2012, para 8)?
Consolidating an understanding of the availability and of the vast array of sites linked to the Geronimo Stilton titles and using www.jogtheweb.com to present the results of my exploration has motivated me to introduce and share my children`s reading experience and this web 2.0 tool with staff and students at my school. I hope teachers will be interested in collaborating in the library to develop lessons using internet reading experiences or the sharing of connected links. The following are possible opportunities for use:
- Use jog the web as a model for an alternative to a book report
- Student research of a novel and demonstration of their personal reading experience
- Students can create jogs independently and write annotations to demonstrate synthesis and understanding of course content
- Create a jog for research and annotate websites with selection criteria
- Teachers create a jog to ask questions
- Create a jog to answer questions posed by the teacher
- Students make connections to and explore the effects of their reading
- Student created jogs in content areas will serve as a bibliography providing annotations reflecting authenticity or credibility
- Teacher created jogs provide links to appropriate sites for exploration of authenticity or understanding of content
- Teacher created literature jogs provide access to sources of background information
- Introduction of school-wide shared reading of a novel with links to student centred sites will encourage readers to explore literature beyond the text itself
- Investigation of popular culture and consumerism through links to sites and media
- Investigate the Geronimo Stilton jog and critically assess the sites
- Critical interpretation of the motivation for website creation and intended audience
Moving my library and my students and colleagues into the 21st century depends on the introduction of skills leading to increased understanding of digital and media literacy. My school library is a place where we can facilitate the learning of “the intricacies of media literacy in today's information-rich world” (McCrae, 2012, para 5). I am committed to this learning and will attempt to convince my peers of the value of expanding children’s reading experiences. My role as the teacher librarian is to open the doors daily to an “active place(s) where students go to create and consult with information experts” (Johnson, 2012, para 3). I feel the introduction of jogs and online reading experiences will enhance student learning and encourage authentic and productive learning through exploration.