Using Blackboard Posts to Reach Beyond the Book
This week, courtesy of an online YA lit class, Patty Campbell and I have been meeting with librarians to talk about War Is, the anthology we co-edited. By coincidence, today I met with teachers of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who will be working with me, again digitally, to look for traces of the original John Henry in the records of the black community of Elizabeth, New Jersey (fyi, the historian Scott Nelson found that the real John Henry was a prisoner who hailed from Elizabeth which we described in Ain’t Nothing But a Man). Facing one way, we can open up a book to the adults who buy it and share it. Facing the other way, we can invite young people to extend the process of discovery described in a book to new investigations. The printed book is in the middle — it is the carefully edited and designed product, but now it is a touchstone, not an end. And what makes that possible is the ease of connection that comes from Blackboard, Whiteboard, Skype — all those digital tools.
Over at CCBC they have been talking about tweets and blogs that fiction authors create for the characters in their books. That is a fun way of extending a book — your hero, your villain, your supernatural creature can speak, in character, to his/her/its fans. In nonfiction, though, we authors are not being ventriloquists. We are not speaking through our inventions. Instead we have new ways to engage adults and young readers in the process of discovery that resulted in our books.
Authors, editors, librarians — have you been doing this, speaking by blackboard or Skype? How is it going? What works? What doesn’t work? What could make the experience better? Let us know? Instead of (or along with) the author reading, radio tour, blog tour we should have the author extended — the author reaching out, and being reached out to, through digital means.