The New York Times tells us that more and more young people are self-publishing their fiction and sharing it with the world:
http://tinyurl.com/6u7tany, and the online magazine Publishing Perspectives has taken this up as a cause: http://tinyurl.com/774ty55. I see nothing wrong for the child in playing at being an author — just as kids play dressup with adult clothes, or play NBA superstar when they shoot baskets in the driveway. All are fun, all build skills (writing, storytelling, dribbling and shooting) all let young people try out who they might be, or make fun of what they see in adults. I see two problems, though, in the (very) young writer self-publishing fad. First, it can (or an eager parent can) put pressure on a library. I have already heard from librarians who are pressed to acquire self-published works by local authors. What will happen when a PTA mom or pushy Dad insist limited funds and shelf-space be devoted to their child’s work?
To put it a different way — there is one value for the child is the discipline, effort, and pride involved in creating a book — similar perhaps to what it requires to put on a class play. But it is another to treat the result of that work as enduring art. The school may charge for the class play, but it does not expect the library to house the DVD. The second question — which is not a criticism but an opportunity — is why the examples cited are always fiction? The book of facts — the Weird But True — compilations of images and neat oddball details of speeds, age, size, diet of various animals are very popular. Why not turn kids in the library loose and challenge them to create their own local Weird But True info about where they live — illustrated with photos or drawings or maps. Storytelling is a skill, and one you learn by being derivative — you copy in order to master. Doubtless most children’s self-published fiction is that kind of necessarily imitative skill-building. But creating something like a book of facts is a research, editing, and publishing project that a bright, motivated team of middle schoolers could do — and the library could have fun with. Create a contest for the best ones? Or make it an annual, the 2012 Weird and Wild Our Hometown, and display those. Let us know if you try it.