Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Fifth-Grade Aliens, Digital Storytelling, and Media Literacy
by Jon Scieszka
Never before have I tried to tell a story in the form the Spaceheadz series is told. In SPHDZ # 1 (S&S 2010), three aliens come to Earth and disguise themselves as:
• 1 fifth-grade boy
• 1 fifth-grade girl
• and 1 fifth-grade hamster.
On the first day of school in P.S. 858, the aliens recruit their also-new-to-Brooklyn classmate Michael K. to help them sign up 3.14 million (+1) people to save Earth with a giant Brainwave.
Oh—and the Spaceheadz have learned most of what they know about our planet from watching TV. They love advertising. And they believe everything advertising has to tell them. They really are Spaceheadz.
So, the unusual part of Spaceheadz is that the story is told through:
1. four heavily illustrated, crazily designed books
2. an interlocking digital world of websites, blogs, tweets, graphics, graffiti, ads, commercials, apps, music, art, and social media
3. readers/digital users become active participants in assembling and contributing to the story.
The extraterrestrials convince Michael K. to help them sign up those three million plus humans they want to join their ranks and the boy builds a website where the trio can count how many people have signed up.
Throughout the Spaceheadz books, all of the websites, blogs, and social media that are mentioned are real. The fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Halley, has a class website. The AAA (Anti-Alien Agency), a federal agency dedicated to catching aliens, has a website.
The Aspen Media Literacy Leadership Institute has defined media literacy as “The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms.” And this is exactly what the story of the Spaceheadz entices and challenges kids to do. Readers access the Spaceheadz story through the books and digital sites. They analyze what they find. They evaluate what to believe. And then—most importantly—they create their own ads, stories, and art. (See www.spaceheadz.com!)
It has been both fun and challenging to tell the Spaceheadz story across media. Print is a controlled, linear form of storytelling. As the author, I control the pace of the story by its position on the page. In contrast, digital storytelling is a whole different form; different parts of the story can be accessed at different times and in different ways.
My daughter, Casey Scieszka, and Steven Weinberg produced, maintained, and synchronized all of the Spaceheadz digital content—from the lunch-menu details on Mrs. Halley’s class website to Major Fluffy’s always-excited hamster “eeeeeks” on his blog. This story could not have been told without their efforts.
It’s important that 21st-century kids become not only literate, but media literate, too. To be able to engage kids in developing that essential skill in a goofy and entertaining (and Earth-saving) way is thrilling.
Save the World—Be Spaceheadz.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Jon Scieszka.
Hear John Scieszka speak about his name and the many ways people mispronounce it.