On this episode of Serendipity in Social Media: When Eight Cousins Biblioteca Reviews (@bibliotecharev) started following Trendsetter on Twitter a few months back, I checked out their website and was simultaneously tickled and impressed. The eight cousins in question range in age from 2 to 12, and with the help of their parents maintain a website on which they record thoughts and recommendations on the books they read (and a few movies they watch). In my opinion, their project’s an energetic and entertaining answer to the questions both of Why book reviews? and How book reviews? for the next generation of readers, writers, and reviewers.
Speaking of answers, those that the family of Eight Cousins kindly took time to give to Trendsetter’s questions are more fun than you can shake a stick at, as you can read for yourself below. Because these young folk have whole digital lifetimes ahead of them, their parents have (wisely) elected to keep their identities confidential, but their ages are listed below, and their review profiles are linked so you read samples of each one’s work.
Trendsetter: Where did the idea of a family-wide review site come from?
Parent #1: As the kids got older, they began to spend a lot of time talking about their favourite books and movies. They were developing very distinct, and refined, preferences — quite in contrast to our own TV-generation, where a more narrow pop-culture dictated what we were exposed to. They’re a very international bunch, but can access many of the same books anywhere. One of us parents was already running a literary blog where kids created accounts and posted reviews. The main thing that triggered this new, cousins-only blog was realising that it could be a socially-motivated group effort with a kids-only identity. Reviewing seemed a constructive way to practice social and public communication (the blog doubles as a record of progress made). As an online ‘network of cousins’ it would also enable them to use the internet to work together and keep in touch across the globe.
Minmi paravertebrata (Age 10): My dad made a website where people can make an account and post anything, and then my aunt made a website for reviews, but I’m not sure if she copied my dad’s idea or not…
Trendsetter: What was your first thought when you were asked to write book reviews along with your cousins?
Maiasaura peeblesorum (Age 7): I first thought of which book I was going to do.
Bellusaurus sui (Age 8 ): I thought, “Wow how fun now I’m writing reviews on a blog and could get free books for it! As well this could really help me become a writer when I grow up.”
Trendsetter: How do you decide which books to review?
Bambiraptor feinbergi (Age 8 ): The books that are so funny and fun.
Minmi paravertebrata (Age 10): I choose the books that I like very much, because it is easier for me to review books that I have a lot of things to say about, and I also choose the books that I don’t like that much, so then people who like the same types of stuff that I like will know that it isn’t very good and they’ll know not to read it.
Iguanodon bernissartensis (Age 12): I just chose either my favourite books, or my worst books, because I like saying books are rubbish.
Maiasaura peeblesorum (Age 7): I was reading the book in bed, and that’s how I got the idea, but, it’s not my favourite book.
Agustinia ligabuei (Age 5): I pick good books.
Bellusaurus sui (Age 8 ): I choose books that make me think about the world and give me good ideas.
Trendsetter: Do publishers send you their books to review?
Parent 1: Two publishers have sent books, and a newspaper has as well. The kids are located internationally and there are several addresses they can receive books at in different countries.
Trendsetter: Who puts your reviews up on the blog? Do you do other things to help the blog run?
Parent 1: In the beginning, some families had limited internet access, so we set it up where the kids or their parents sent me text files which I cut and pasted into the blog. Sometimes the kids also write or edit directly on the blog. The kids chose how the blog would look and provided their own art. None of the cousins are old enough for their own Google and Blogger accounts yet so this needs to be managed by parents.
Parent 2: Generally the blog is managed by the adults, I think, but the children could be given opportunities to help if they show interest in that.
Bambiraptor feinbergi (Age 8 ): My dad?
Bellusaurus sui (Age 8 ): The children write the reviews and the adults put them up.
Trendsetter: Would you ever want to read books just on computer screen? Or do you want to keep paper books? Why?
Parent 1: Some of the parents have Kindles for themselves to use, but they are also used in family situations. For example, they are used for reading aloud to kids when the book is not available. In particular Kindles are used in cases where cousins are residing in locations where the books are not available. The kids use the Kindle themselves rarely… Younger kids’ paper books are particularly multi-sensory (e.g., pop-up, tactile, audio recordings). But also some older kids’ books (e.g., “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, “Monster Calls”) seem to purposely place illustrations to produce a unique multimodal visuomotor experience, which would be diminished in ebooks. Finally, the kids attend book signings to meet their favourite authors and illustrators, and are building a treasured collection of paper books from those.
Parent 2: I really dislike reading anything more than a paragraph on a screen. It is unnatural for me, uncomfortable, and gives me a headache. I love being able to pick up a book, or select one physically from a shelf, turn the pages or flick through it, and I think most children feel the same.
Bambiraptor feinbergi (Age 8 ): I like to read on paper books because if I read on the computer my eyes will hurt.
Minmi paravertebrata (Age 10): Well, I’m not sure, it depends if it costs you to read it on the computer.
Iguanodon bernissartensis (Age 12): Keep them on paper, because it’s a waste of electricity.
Maiasaura peeblesorum (Age 7): I don’t mind. I will only read it on the computer if it’s in big writing and it’s not a really long story. I wouldn’t like it if there were no more paper books.
Agustinia ligabuei (Age 5): Both. I prefer paper because there is a lot of writing, and some books have lots of pictures AND writing.
Bellusaurus sui (Age 8 ): I would not want to read books on a computer screen. I like reading paper books because you can take them into bed but I read my dad’s Kindle in emergencies.
Trendsetter: What would you tell people who don’t think book reviews are important?
Minmi paravertebrata and Iguanodon bernissartensis (Ages 10 and 12): They are useful for people who want to find out about a book before they buy it or read it.
Bambiraptor feinbergi (Age 8 ): I will say it is fun to do reviews
Agustinia ligabuei (Age 5): You SHOULD read books and write about them.
Bellusaurus sui (Age 8 ): I would tell them, “Well I’d like to know how many books you’ve read that you’ve actually liked and would give four or more stars. Then I would know what books to look for.”