September 21, 2017

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For Next Book, Jeff Baron Crowdsources 2,000 Kids’ Opinions

Author Jeff Baron Photo by Michael Rafelson

Author Jeff Baron has employed some serious crowdsourcing to create his forthcoming book, Electro-Pup.

He’s been sharing chapters, cover designs, and illustrations with approximately 2,000 second- through fifth graders at 11 schools in five states—and soliciting their opinions. The first in a series, the book is about a boy named Luke and his dog, Mojo. After chewing through an electrical cord, the dog receives an electric shock—and gains the ability to read human minds.

Over the past year, Baron has been gauging how the story, plot, and characters resonate with kids. Visiting with students, in-person (watch a video) and via Skype, he was able “to observe the way the story worked for my audience,” says Baron, who is also the author of the “Sean Rosen” books (Greenwillow). [Electro-Pup is] a funny book, so I got to hone the material by performing it…the way stand-up comedians do.”

Teachers and school librarians also weighed in, telling him where this book series fits in with what they teach and what students like to read. At one school visit in New York City, Baron decided that the word “stupid” was not appropriate to use in his book. After saying the word, giggles spread through his audience, and he later discovered that the word is deemed inappropriate by the school.

Christine Barr, library director at Fabyan Elementary School in the Geneva (IL) School District, and Meredith Carlson, library director at nearby Williamsburg Elementary School, said they enjoy involving students in the author’s process and showing them what goes into creating and publishing a book. Carlson has hosted visits from several authors, but she says she finds Baron’s approach different.

There was “a sense of ownership that was exciting to witness,” she says. “[The students] knew without a doubt that their opinions mattered and that someone was listening.”

Barr and Carlson also organized readings of the completed work at their schools. Over two weeks, they read the first 20 chapters to students. Then Baron paid a virtual visit to each school library and read the final chapters.

After reading the story’s conclusion, in which Mojo uses his new power to help Luke’s dad solve a big problem, Fabyan’s students asked for more. They also asked about the cover and illustrations Baron decided to use.

“It meant so much to the students to offer their suggestions, and they felt empowered to know that their ideas mattered,” said Barr. “From an educator standpoint, Jeff’s presentation is fun, yet educational.”

The publication date for the Electro-Pup series has not yet been announced.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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