Making Endorsements Count

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 04, 2014 @ 01:39 PM

Every January, the American Library Association announces the winners of some of the biggest awards in children’s and young adult literature.  These awards are given for excellence in children’s books (John Newbery Award), illustration (Randolph Caldecott Award), young adult literature (Michael Printz Award), African-American children’s literature (Coretta Scott King Award), and much more.  But the way these awards operate in the children’s literature space suggest lessons that a broader group of marketers and content creators can tap into.american library association

In any category, it’s safe to assume that winning a major award increases sales. In the case of children’s literature, public libraries and schools see a medal on the cover as an endorsement of the author (for the unknowns) or as a reason to expand their collection of favorites.  These awards and honors serve as insurance policies on the product’s quality, and also convey secondary but critical information about age-appropriateness. In a 2004 study conducted by Gundry E. Rowe, in which he surveyed public and school librarians, he found that nearly all the librarians bought award winning titles without even looking at plot summaries.  In the extremely competitive marketplace for children’s books, winning an award can take a book from a few sales to hundreds of thousands.  Certainly, libraries and schools look for materials to buy in a different way than parents, but these expert buyers and children’s lit curators create the selection set for moms, dads, aunts and uncles, and children themselves. In other categories, award winners are often a searchable category on online websites. For example, includes their “yoyo picks” but also lets buyers sort by Dr. Toy’s endorsements. With so many options available, these awards feel like a soft exertion of authority which moms and dads welcome. 

In the children’s literature space, winning a major award propels authors to top status, signifying them as master craftsmen. An award can turn an unknown into a key player and force within a specific market. Long before Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1964) was a classic children’s book, it was a Caldecott Award winner in 1964.  The award gave Sendak, and his artwork, a boost in popularity.  Today, Sendak’s artwork is an important part of many children’s lives, and the image of Max and the Wild Things is a part of children’s culture. 

What lessons can we take from looking carefully at the ALA Awards?

  • Endorsement matter. Even for a cohort of moms that might not believe that there’s one source of expertise in any category, they seek out ways to distinguish quality products from simply popular one.
  • Remember to recognize the influencers. While understanding consumer preference is harder than ever in an age with so many property and content possibilities, remember that experts from unexpected places might be more influential than ever. Make sure you have a plan to connect with them.
  • While awards might, on the surface, say more about parent preferences than kids’ requests, they also suggest a glimpse at the marketplace. Even if kids are empowered to make their own choices, they are still limited to the subset of goods that adults allow them to access.

Tags: Education, book, free time, culture, youth media

Self-Publishing Teens: Raw Insight and Untapped Talent

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 @ 04:21 PM

Self-publishing isn’t new, but over the past few years, more and more writers have been publishing their work online (E. L. James’ 50 Shades of Gray was originally self-published and Hugh Howey’s Wool saga remains one of Amazon’s top-selling ebooks). 

Book AuthorIt’s no surprise that teens, who have grown up in a crowd-sourced, content-sharing culture, are now getting in on self-publishing.  If a teen is one of the 97% who have access to the Internet, he or she can freely publish and sell novels, poems, and short stories.  Recently, a teenage girl sold her Young Adult novel to Random House and the publisher plans to release more of her books in the future. 

Certainly, not all teens write, or even read for pleasure, so what makes self-publishing so relevant? First, these self-publishing sites and spaces, like Amazon Digital Services, provide a place where truly new ideas can be considered. Many of the hottest YA titles over the past few years were written by teenagers, making it clear that the world of self-publishing is a perfect place to find untapped talent and ideas.  Paying attention to the self-publishing world might provide you with a front row seat to the next batch of powerful youth properties.

While we wouldn’t advocate assuming that the teens who self-publish are “representative” of all teens, the titles that other teens gravitate towards will tell you something about the reads that resonate with this group. Without the intervention of editors and traditional booksellers, these self-published works reveal the kinds of stories and topics that truly interest teens and that might be currently missing from the market.  And teens not only write their own novels, but they design their own covers and market their work. How they package their stories suggests both how they perceive marketing, but also allows us to see an aesthetic that’s generated cultivated by teens themselves.  According to librarian Amy Pelman, the self-publishing trend not only shows a lot of potential in terms of sales, but it also allows teens to produce and read books without adults. 

Exploring the stories of self-publishing provides access to talented teenagers who are creative and innovative, whose ideas are fresh and unique, and who are producing material they can’t seem to find elsewhere.  These books, and the world they inhabit, provide insight into what teens currently like and what they are starting to think about for the future.

Tags: Education, book, Youth, Teens, trends, tweens

Empowering Kids to Fix the Environment: The Lingering Lesson of The Lorax

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Mar 09, 2012 @ 01:06 PM

It’s not news to his many fans that Dr. Seuss did not shy away from exploring the issues on his mind, and exposing the problems of his time, through books intended to talk to both children and to the parents who read to them. In books, like The Better Butter Battle and The Lorax, he exposes the “childishness” in the way that adults (presumably those in power) behave, using his tales to tell lessons about nuclear proliferation and environmental destruction (just to name two). With a film version of The Lorax entering theaters last week, many critics questioned its “agenda.” Its modern day villain, O’Hare, is not only more sinister than the Once-ler because he chooses financial gain over environmental sustainability, but mostly because he does so knowingly. While the Once-ler’s tale is one of youthful exuberance and entrepreneurialism gone awry, O’Hare is an adult who should have known better.Lorax Movie Poster

But  Dr. Seuss’ brilliance – and the resonance of this sophisticated story with small children – doesn’t stem from his cynicism. It doesn’t even come from kids’ natural inclination towards nature, which Richard Louv called “biophilia” in his groundbreaking work, Last Child in the Woods. Rather, the power of his message comes through in the final pages of his book, and in the action-packed chase scene of the film, catalyzed by one seemingly mysterious word: “unless.” This word, the Once-ler comes to understand as a heuristic for a “perfectly clear” call to action… “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

It’s with this word, and the meaning behind it, that the Once-ler shifts the source of agency from the old to the young. The book and film’s namesake sage, the Lorax, is not only “oldish,” but he also “spoke in a voice that was sharpish and bossy.” The film turns Ted’s grandmother (voiced, appropriately by Betty White) into a heroine who transcends granny stereotypes, but also serves as Ted’s bridge to a nature-filled past. Even the Once-ler is an aged, decrepit version of his once youthful, vibrant self. But with a drop of a Truffula Tree seed (the last one!) and the lyrical passing of the baton, the Once-ler tells Ted, and Seuss assures the child reader, that even if they don’t remember what has been lost, they can change the world.

Tags: kids, movies, book, movie, Youth, free time, reading, culture

Reading into eBooks for Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 @ 10:29 AM

As a once-upon-a-time English major, a paper and pen kind of girl, and a hoarder of books (which often necessitated storage units or piled up in precariously stacked book boxes during my apartment-dwelling years), I used to view the emergence of eBooks as a literary option for kids, tweens and teens with a sense of trepidation. My favorite moment of every day with my preschooler is that stretch of time before bed when we devour two, three or even four books with shared glee. But the latest findings from Pew Research, and early indicators from our own YouthBeat study (eBook ownership among youth households is up from 6% in 2010 to 15% in 2011; from 1% of youth owning the device on their own to 3%), suggest that the eBook is on the rise, and most likely, here to stay.

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the conference, “Children's Publishing Goes Digital.” Listening to industry experts reminded me of the many reasons why eReaders deserve a second look by suspicious parents, and serious consideration by companies and organizations seeking platform and promotional partners. Additionally, more and more educators have been studying the potential and the possibilities for eBooks among youth and specific sub-groups within this broad category. So here’s what gives this old school book ogler reason to rally behind this reading innovation:leapfrog ereader

  1. eReaders don’t fundamentally change books. A look at the list of highest selling eBooks suggests that a book is a book is a book. Dr. Seuss still sells, regardless of whether his rhymes are read in paper form or on a portable digital device. Content is still king, and a move to digital doesn’t mean that a great story doesn’t constitute the first hurdle for publication. As long as stories are still evaluated for their narrative quality, and not their cool quotient, it shouldn’t really matter how we read them. And if we can’t give up our paper products, I wonder if books have just become fetishes that we like to look at on our shelves? (Note: I write this in front of a very, very large bookshelf, populated by a lot of pretty lit).
  2. eReaders might bring in more readers. Reluctant, struggling readers, and readers with special needs can all benefit from the way in which eReaders reinvent the reading experience. Being able to hear a tricky word pronounced by touching it, or getting to play a game for finishing a chapter might seem like unnecessary supports or incentives, but from the perspective of kids who haven’t yet found reading to be rewarding (and the parents of those kids), eReaders might make the difference.
  3. eReaders make books more complex – not more superficial. For today’s digital natives, every experience – whether it’s watching a movie, playing a video game, or even hearing an idea in school – comes with the expectation that you can go deeper on your own. Why should books be any different? And doesn’t the desire to learn more about an author, or “hear” a song described in a book actually sung, or find a land you’re reading about on an actual map all speak to a need for a stronger connection with books – not a weaker one?
  4. eReaders make reading more cost effective and environmentally friendly. Yes, that first device costs a lot, but a download is much cheaper than a bestseller at cover price. And what about all that paper? Maybe eReaders will make it easier for this earth-conscious cohort to indulge in words without worrying about wasting more trees.

Perhaps the most important benefit of eReaders is that their mere existence has inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators to think carefully about reading! Books are no longer nostalgic baubles, but have once again become catalysts for changing the way we live.

Still, some caveats exist. Most researchers (and many speakers at the industry conference) affirmed that familiarity with old-fashioned books still serves as an important foundation for literacy. Infants benefit greatfully from the education that comes from sitting on a caregivers’ lap and learning that stories work sequentially, that pages turn in one direction, and that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Games and puzzles might be fun, but shouldn’t interrupt the carefully crafted flow that an author intends. And does the art work that often separates a good picture book from a great one always translate to a digital device?

And, of course, there are outstanding questions. Can a digital bookstore ever capture the magic of a physical one? (Check out this homage to the bricks and mortar bookstore that is making the rounds on YouTube). How does “discovery” happen in the digital world (a problem which many of the entrepreneurs at Children’s Publishing Goes Digital seem to be working on)?

But for now, we find ourselves inspired by eReaders’ possibilities more than pessimistic about what it might mean to reading.

Tags: youth research, book, Teens, tweens

The State of Youth Summer Reading

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 06, 2011 @ 10:16 AM

For many youth, summer is synonymous with swimming, summer camp and slacking off. But summer has also traditionally been a time when kids lounge around with a good book.

Many may ask, does this generation still care about reading?Youth Summer Reading

While youth may be more likely to fulfill their daily word count on a screen, today’s kids, tweens and teens acknowledge that reading matters. Not all kids have been bitten by the bookworm, but many still revel in getting the latest edition of their favorite series, and some of the most recent pop culture icons of the last decade have come, first, from books that the 6-18 set learned to love. Harry Potter and Twilight’s latest movie installments may have temporarily taken youth’s focus off of these properties’ pages, but there’s no questions that youth have made these tomes their generation’s own.

So what’s the state of summer reading right now?

First, we know that storefronts (virtual and actual) have replaced the local library in many communities when it comes to curating the tastes of summer readers. Moms and dads are as likely, if not more, to look to for ideas on what the young readers (enthusiastic and reluctant alike) might absorb on the beach or in the late summer light of their bedrooms this season. Book clubs have become commercial, with the reward of reading a set number yielding a free book at Barnes and Noble – not the potential to win a trophy for reading the most books in your town, or more modestly, a sticker and the approving smile of your librarian for meeting a literary quota.

Second, we know that more and more youth have hefty homework assignments over the summer. Teens take home Spanish primers, history assignments and math packets, along with reading lists that require reports and other forms of comprehension proof. Younger and younger, youth find that their summer selections are not their own, and teachers’ picks might not provide youth with the energizing effects they desire.


Finally, we know that more and more youth are taking hold of Kindles over crinkled pages, and Nooks over traditional novels. But it’s unlikely that paper will fade away for a while. The numbers are worth considering, but they’re still small. And with more youth titles being made available as downloads, we expect that more adults will buy these digital books to promote a love of reading in their homes.

It might be easy to assume that reading today is more commercial, obligatory and digitally disconnected from the past. And it might lead us to ask, is that such a bad thing? We can wax on poetic about the way summer reading used to look, but reading today looks like many other aspects of youth’s lives…It’s on demand. It’s an act of leisure that has been loaded with educational expectations (remember when TV was just entertainment?). And it’s in formats that are native to this cohort of kids, tweens and teens. We can continue to look for signs from the past that our kids and the kids in our lives are learning to love books, but to truly give them the credit they deserve, we may need to look (and listen) a bit differently than in the past.

Tags: research, book, Youth, school

Youth Methods: When is it okay to give kids, tweens and teens some homework?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 10, 2011 @ 12:06 PM

Books like "The Case Against Homework" (Crown, 2006) and "The Homework Myth" (Da Capo, 2007) have given a voice to a movement bubbling up in the homes and hallways of U.S. schools – parents are pushing back on teachers that assign too much homework. According to Duke University’s Harris Cooper, teachers should assign 10 minutes of homework a night per grade – i.e., a fifth grader should have 50 minutes of homework each night.  This "10-minute rule" has won the endorsement of the National PTA and the NEA, although parents all over the country continue to bemoan assignments that take their early elementary-schoolers in excess of one hour to research

So with kids already feeling the pinch and pressure of too much homework, and parents growing resentful about work that takes their children away from precious time with their families, why do many research designs include a “homework” or “pre-work” element?

Well, we think these assignments show up in proposals for many good reasons…

  • Pre-work can extend the life of your focus group or ethnography in a cost-effective way. While homework costs (facilities charge for distributing, mailing packets take postage and people power, and prepping a thoughtful assignment can take as much time as crafting a great guide), it’s also much more efficient than extending the time of your focus group or recruiting multiple cells of respondents to complete different tasks. Asking youth to write a story about an experience they have before they arrive will not only give them time to think and mentally prepare for participating, but will also preserve group time for getting to the “why” rather than watching them write.
  • For kids, tweens and teens, being “chosen” for a focus group can be a very big deal. We want them to know that their opinions really matter – and if we succeed in conveying this import to them, they might be a bit nervous. Not only do they have to answer questions “on the spot” but they often have to do so in front of a few strangers and their peers. Giving them an assignment can actually alleviate their fears and make them feel confident that they’ll have something to say right from the start.
  • Pre-placement is important to help you answer specific types of research questions.  Some types of “products” like TV shows, can’t be “authentically” researched without a little pre-placement. Seeing someone’s first reaction in a group might be useful, but will a preschooler love Dora as much the first time as she does on the fifth or sixth viewing? Sometimes replicating a real-life reaction means exposing kids to your product or concept more than once before you begin discussing it with them.
  • Kids, tweens and teens have great memories, but they might not have been paying attention to the minutiae that we would like them to be able to recall…Even a request as seemingly benign as “tell me what you ate for breakfast last week” can cause anxiety or at least a pause as kids, tweens and teens attempt to retrieve these mundane memories from among their more visceral ones (getting a hit in the big game, having a big laugh with their pals or getting a surprise pop quiz in social studies class). Homework that has youth keep track of a topic in the moment or rewind their weekly history in advance of meeting the moderator can make for a much more fruitful conversation and can avoid some of those “I don’t knows” or “I forgets” that are inevitably part of research with youth.

But before you pile on the prep work, consider the following:

  • Are you setting kids, tweens and teens up for success? Is the assignment doable in the time allotted? Is the assignment clear and concrete enough for them to complete it on their own? Despite great intentions, a homework assignment that rushes or confuses your respondent can do more damage than good…
  • Is pre-work feeling like homework? Are you setting a tone that’s right for your topic? If getting great feedback from youth means putting them in a playful mindset, make sure your assignment doesn’t feel – gasp – boring! The stakes are higher for homework in general, as it signals to youth what the conversation will be like and what they can expect from the research experience. Pre-work that feels too much like homework might inspire your respondents to find something else to do the evening of your groups or the day of your ethnography.
  • Finally, is your homework meaningful to your study? In the interest of adding value, or getting more bang for your research buck, it’s tempting to address a question in pre-work that only loosely relates to your overall study objectives. This approach might seem savvy, but it can raise roadblocks to getting to the heart of your real issue. Kids, tweens and teens (and adults!) want to help…Having them complete a media diary, for example, when your conversation is about all kinds of play might garner you responses that are more focused than authentic. When youth spend time on an assignment, only to find that there isn’t time to debrief on it in a group, they can feel slighted and unacknowledged. Payment doesn’t go as far as praise, and if you want kids to engage, show them that you want to see what they did in their pre-work assignments.

Tags: book, homework, research methods

Do parents praise too much?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 @ 11:56 AM

Chinese mother, Amy Chua has created fervor in the past week with articles and appearances (Today Show) that preview her book, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, on “the superiority of Chinese parenting” to be released this week. While she claims that her tough approach to parenting is grounded in love, she has received more than a little flack for some of her essential rules: kids don’t get to choose their extracurricular activities, all kids play violin and piano – and nothing else, no TV or computer and no playdates or slumber parties. Chua blames “the Western model” of parenting for creating kids who are coddled and tweens and teens who take their opportunities for granted.

But while Chua’s cringe-worthy claims about the superiority of one ethnicity’s parent-rearing approach might sound shockingly new, her critique of self-esteem obsessed moms and dads is not. Chua resurrects the debate on how to praise your kids and instill your tweens and teens with confidence without spoiling them. Almost once a year, it seems that parenting experts and media pundits question whether all kids should get trophies, whether you can have a birthday party without inviting everyone in your class (friends and foes alike) and whether you should tell your child they can do it all (or let them know what their limits are at an early age). Parenting Book

We admit that we think Chua has missed the mark on many fronts. In our opinion (and in the opinion of most developmental psychologists and parenting experts that we know), a parent’s “job” is not to simply impose appropriate passions on their children, but to scaffold them. Raising successful children can hardly be reduced to a simple formula, in large part because one of the most important things a parent can do for their child is help them figure out what they love, and what they excel at. Parents can promote a work ethic, a sense of personal responsibility and accountability, and even a moral code for their kids to follow. But Chua self-reports that her parenting style borders on bullying – including name-calling and doling out threats – over a subpar piano performance.

Perhaps what Chua doesn’t know is that excessive praising and verbally abusing one’s children aren’t the only paths to child achievement. Self-esteem might, in fact, instill children with a false sense of their abilities. Telling kids, tweens or teens that they are “the best,” that they’re great and that they have won, even when they haven’t, sets up youth for a false sense of entitlement and for a rude awakening that will surely come when they’re least equipped to handle it. But most psychologists believe that it’s critical for parents to promote self-efficacy – that is, a belief in one’s self-worth, a true and authentic sense of what they’re really good at and where their limits lie, and the confidence and resilience that will allow them to push themselves to be their best.

Chua’s simple rules for parenting have made headlines, but it shouldn’t be news that raising children requires more than a few simple rules. It’s easier to impose than to support, to insist than to allow for exploration, and to yell than to listen. And it’s much easier to see parents as either overtly strict or overly lenient. But we suggest that seeing parents as having the possibility to teach kids, tweens and teens to love themselves and importantly, to really know themselves – the great, the average and even the not so good – will give us a clearer view of today’s moms and dads and maybe make us feel more like partners to them than critics of them.   

Tags: Education, Gaming, parents, book, family, Youth, Amy Chua