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Andrea Liedloff, "From Page to Screen" Final Essay

Page history last edited by Andrea Liedloff 9 years, 2 months ago

From Page to Screen:  Traditional Children’s Literature and its Newer, Flashier Digital Form


By Andrea Liedloff, from the "Ole's Grand Adventure" team


     “To re-imagine is to put the imagination to work reconstructing whatever it is we are re-imagining.  Reconstructing the world, this is the task.  Literature and children’s literature do this all the time. Literature does not so much reflect the world as it constructs possible worlds; it gives us models of possibility” (Wu xi).  The “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project is molded after children’s illustrated, pop-up style adventure books like “Letters from Felix” by Annette Langen and “Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown, where an eager child follows the adventure of a spunky character in their journey across different cultures and worlds.  In contrast to these traditional children books, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project is an online, multimedia web interface that converts the letters and pictures seen in the printed stories into videos, links, and sound.  However, the underlying concept remains in each literary form:  to create an exciting, engaging way for children to learn and participate with other cultures across the globe. 

            “Letters from Felix”, the primary inspiration behind the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, features a toy rabbit that gets lost in an airport and is separated from his owner, Sophie, but contacts her through a series of letters from different places he travels to across the world.  In the same way, the adorable kitten Olé travels the globe out of the Santa Barbara Airport by UC Santa Barbara, and instead of writing letters, he creates a series of blogs and a virtual map to reassure his Gaucho owner.

            Throughout the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, the three primary questions that Olé and his group members sought to answer during the course of the project were:  how are children’s stories transformed when they are converted into a digital form?  What is gained and what is lost in the literature when it is digitized? And, how will digitized literature affect the learning of the next generation of children?  Though, in the course of the project, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” group aimed primarily to digitize the literature in a captivating way for a young audience, for children ranging from 5 to 12 years of age, and to create a digital platform for them to interact, rather than to answer these questions in any great detail.  The “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, in this way, was wholly a creative work.  Therefore, it is the purpose of this paper, foremost to analyze the effectiveness of Olé’s digital, world adventures in relaying “Letters from Felix” in a new way, but secondly to tackle the many-headed monster of the Digital Age and its battle with the traditional hero, the printed page, and discern who is winning the war in the hearts of today’s children, for better or worse.

            Firstly, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, with its seven contributing members, follows Olé, a feisty kitty and alumnus of the prestigious University of California, Santa Barbara.  Olé, during the course of his adventures, visits influential cities and countries across the globe, from New York, New York to London, England, to Rome, Italy, to Lima, Peru to New Delhi, India to Dublin, Ireland to Tokyo, Japan.  Like the “Letters of Felix” book series, where children can pull out Felix the rabbit’s letters and stamps from envelopes in the story, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project recreated this idea, by creating printable passports and visa stamps for children to collect as they follow Olé’s journey.  Pictures in the “Letters of Felix” and “Flat Stanley” universes, in the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, become scrolling, clickable photos that link to pages that relate, like a picture of naan bread from India linking to an Indian cuisine blog or New Delhi restaurant critic.  Text explaining the cultural celebrations and dances in the printed literature becomes a YouTube video featuring Bollywood dancers and singers.  Rather than freely provided as in the printed book, the passport, stamps, and cultural information often had to be searched for in the blog interface, by clicking on the relevant links.

            Furthermore, “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, in addition to including the printable passports and stamps, goes beyond the printed “Letters from Felix” story by not only adding more information, but changing how the information is received.  By including HTML and certain “widgets”, or digital tools, on the WordPress site, as well as the MapBox interactive world map, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project also familiarizes children with coding and how to use and interact with different links, pictures, and videos on the internet.  By introducing children to multimedia web pages, especially young children, there is potential for them to flourish in the future with more complex interfaces and perhaps even gives them space and motivation to create their own.  Ideally, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project would propel the next generation of children, not only to enjoy and interact with literature and the cultures it introduces them to, but ultimately to encourage them to design their own stories and projects, whether the written word, or colored drawings, or their own blogs and web pages.

            As the project developed, and as videos, pictures, and sound were added to the text, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project encountered several hurdles, some the project successfully leaped over, while others caused it to stumble, affecting its overall impact as a children’s story.  With the proper resources, and the necessary funds, the WordPress site that the project primarily used could be stretched and manipulated more than is permitted in the free version.  Another prominent issue the project faced as a “Letters from Felix” type children’s story was exacting the audience, and thus the prose, that would be fitting for children ages 5 to 12.  But, how can a project like “Olé’s Grand Adventure” captivate and entertain children, from 5 to 12, at the same time, with the same words and visuals?  Unfortunately, because the exact age range of the audience was not determined, there are elements of the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, and the web of blogs and media within it, that are fitting for a ten-year-old, but that would completely fly over the heads of a five-year-old.  For example, words like “navigate”, “eateries”, “intriguing”, “undoubtedly”, and “ultimately”—which are certain “big words” that can be found by clicking through most of the blogs—are not too kid friendly. 

            Whereas the prose and style of the authors of “Letters from Felix” and “Flat Stanley” are consistent throughout their stories, there is no consistent writing style or webpage design in the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, because there are seven contributing writers and no clearly defined audience.  The differences between the web layouts and the writing style may keep children engaged with the work, however, the inconsistent styles may also distract and confuse the child, making the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project more like seven smaller projects rather than one unified one.  Where “Letters from Felix” and “Flat Stanley” are one story confined to a dozen or so pages and bound together, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” Project may resemble more books within a collection, with the same characters and themes, but manifested in different ways.

            To attempt to tackle the research aspect of the project, an instrumental resource for the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, “(Re)imagining the World: Children’s Literatures’ Response to Changing Times”, helped illuminate the value, as well as the potential danger, of converting printed children’s books into a digital media form readily available on laptops, smart phones, iPads and other tablets.  The idea behind the Olé project was to expand the imaginations of the children, by creating more clickable options for them and giving them the opportunity to explore different facets of the world wide web.  As Wu states in “(Re)imagining the World”, “Children’s literature around the globe constitutes a grand act of imagining; the books children read, the films they see, and the internet games they play participate in the recreation of the world by providing children with new ways of perceiving the world; they provide children with possible worlds and even impossible worlds.”  The “Olé’s Grand Adventure” is given an exciting opportunity to provide a space for children to imagine beyond just written words.

            In a way, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project includes all these forms of reading, watching, and playing into the web interface allowing for this “grand act of imagining” in the mind of the child.  In the case of “Olé’s Grand Adventure”, the project clearly represents a “grand act of imagining” because it re-imagines the concepts from the “Letters from Felix” and “Flat Stanley” type stories, and creates a new type of interaction for them.  Instead of taking out the letters and stamps written to them from their friend Felix and holding the book in their hands, the children have the chance to see the different cultures and pictures and sounds from the country, and instantly click different links to learn even more than they would from a short children’s story. Though, with so many ways of imagining and representing literature, it is difficult to say whether the child’s imagination is grown or stunted, because so much of the story is already laid out for him or her.  Also, because only select information for each country is presented, there is a natural bias to them—highlighting what the author/blogger sees as important, while ignoring other relevant, possibly not as palatable facts about the country for the sake of “positivity”.

            Interestingly, noting the global consciousness of the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project and the stories it is based on, another, slightly disturbing question must be answered.  Digitized literature may be readily accessible for the majority of well-to-do American children, and several other developed nations, but how about the children, many of them uneducated, across the world in some of the poorest countries?  Many of them do not even have access to books.  How does digitizing literature affect them, if only that the gap between the literate and illiterate children increases and becomes more obvious?  While technology is becoming more and more widespread, the privilege of reading literature, whether printed or digital, still rests with the educated and the affluent.  Though it is the hope of the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project to give children a global awareness and knowledge, there is something inherently dishonest in the web interface.  Clothing, food, holidays, and music are acceptable and fun aspects of culture that the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project aims to teach children.  Yet, although it is uncomfortable, is it appropriate to hide from a child the horrors present in these same cultures, like sex trafficking in India, severe starvation in Africa, and the persecution and oppression of communist dissenters in China and North Korea?  Although these are horrifying truths, they are nonetheless still true, and there exists, even within the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project and other children’s stories, a certain hesitation in exposing children to the difficult, scarring aspects of life.  As Wu asks sardonically, “After all, isn’t literature meant to provide a source of enjoyment, an escape from everyday concerns?” (Wu xii) Yet, it is this hesitation that scars more than the truth, because it allows 8 year-old Bengali girls sold into sex slavery to remain ignorant, while the youth in majority white suburbs throw temper tantrums because their parents won’t buy them the latest iPad or video game. 

            With this rather unsettling truth in mind, can digital literature bridge the gap and allow more children globally to be literate and to excel in their education?  Is “Olé’s Grand Adventure” a more effective way to captivate the minds of its young readers than its printed predecessors?  Or will this new literature, rather than reaching and educating more people, merely perpetuate the cycle of rich, mostly Caucasian children having more and more access to tools to help them learn, while historically oppressed groups become more and more illiterate and poor? If we want to ensure that every book is digitized and readily available online, will we also ensure that internet, tablets, and computers are also readily available to all peoples and languages and nations?  If this does not happen, then digitizing literature will have less of an impact than it is capable of, and as stated previously, the poorest and most illiterate children will still have no access to books or education.  If this does not happen, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project is useless and short-sighted, with a stunted reach and impact, which is especially ironic because the nature of the project is to expose children to cultures different than their own. 

            As stated in “(Re)imagining the World”, “Education too has the responsibility to introduce students to the world in its complexity, and in the process construct the next generation.  Education and children’s literature share a socializing agenda; both set out to draw young people into the future” (Wu xi).  It should be the goal to digitize literature, not only to expand the understanding of children and increase their excitement for learning, but also to give this same learning experience, not just to the rich and the privileged, but to those that perhaps need it most, the ostracized, the oppressed, and the unreached.  Thus, it should be the goal of the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, and even the “Letters from Felix” and “Flat Stanley” universes it is based on, to educate children, not just on superficial facts about food and clothing, but on the dirty, the covered, and the ignored aspects of culture, like poverty and overpopulation.  How can children’s literature effectively do this, while still being mindful of its largely innocent and ignorant audience?  There are no simple answers.  Ultimately then, perhaps the monster, the evil, is not in converting children’s literature into new and exciting digital forms, thus overtaking and invalidating the importance of the printed texts.  Perhaps the monster is, more sinisterly, the select few, who were “born in the right place at the right time to the right family” that are privileged enough to be educated, to have access to fun, interactive literature like the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, while the unfortunate in poor countries will continue to be oppressed and illiterate.

            Above all, as Wu says in his e-book collection, “An escape to possible worlds does not free us from the imaginative responsibility of confronting the world as we know it or as it might be or even as it has been.  Our argument in this book is that the ability to entertain and provoke as well as educate, children’s literature serves an important role in contributing to intellectual and emotional well-being by offering imaginative, creative and cognitive ways of knowing that complement others” (Wu xii).  Digitized literature, and literature that is converted into online games and videos, is exciting and fun; however, it would be dishonest to assume that children everywhere will be able to learn and interact with literature in this way, if even at all.  Hopefully, the “Olé’s Grand Adventure” project, and others like it, will stimulate the young minds it reaches to learn more about world cultures and to provide meaningful and necessary remedies to these issues, rather than to ignore them.



Works Cited

Brown, Jeff. Flat Stanley.Harper & Row. London, England. 1964.

Langen, Annette. Letters from Felix. Abbeville Press Incorporated. 1994.

Wu, Yan. (Re)imagining the World: Children's Literature's Response to Changing Times. Berlin; New York: Springer. 2013.     

Barriga, Brianna; Brodney, Michelle; Liedloff, Andrea; Park, Tiffany; Oorloff, Kelley; Thompson, Asha; Vera, Nathalie; Olé’s Grand Adventure. Mapbox & WordPress. 2013. https://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/mbrodney.g9ao88k9/page.html?secure=1#2/-22.9/21.4.





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