Picture Books, Novels, and Nonfiction To Foster Digital Citizenship

These titles jump-start important conversations about online conduct, safety, and ethics.

 

Teaching students about digital citizenship does not have to be independent from your work as a literacy champion. Plenty of titles can help you do both. Here are some of my favorites that bring digital citizenship lessons into your classroom or library.
 

Picture Books

Picture books are an excellent way to introduce digital citizenship to the youngest readers, but they can also be helpful reminders to our older students and useful for family conversations about technology habits and expectations.

Blackout by John Rocco is a beautiful picture book about a hot night in the city when the power goes out and a family has to keep busy without their devices. They connect with one another and neighbors in an evening of fun, and when the lights come back on, the family happily keeps the phones off and plays a board game. This title is excellent for discussions balancing screen time. Use this story as the launch for your next Screen-Free Week.

Once Upon a Time Online by David Bedford and illustrated by Rosie Reeve is a must for your remixed fairy-tales lessons. When a laptop shows up in fairy-tale land, all of our favorite characters learn about the thrill of online shopping, making tons of purchasesuntil Cinderella ends up with a huge bill. Luckily, her fairy godmother steps in to make the bill disappear and teach the characters a few important lessons about shopping online without permission. As an extension, students may enjoy writing their own fairy tale remix to teach a beloved character about another aspect of Internet safety or digital citizenship.

Nerdy Birdy Tweets by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies is about Nerdy Birdy and his best friend Vulture. One day, Nerdy Birdy joins Tweetster and starts making friends around the globe. Vulture is sad that Nerdy Birdy seems to be having more fun with his Tweetster buddies than with him. This story is great to share with upper elementary and middle school students who may be feeling anxiety as some peers gain access to devices and social networks. It’s an important reminder that tech can help us connect with people around the world, but we must also protect and value connections with those right in front of us.

Goodnight Selfie by Scott Menchin and illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby follows an energetic little girl the day she is given her brother’s hand-me-down cell phone. She discovers a love of selfies and take dozens of pictures of herself in a variety of poses, showing  many aspects of her personality. This book is a great way to start conversations with young people about the choices we make when we portray ourselves online. Who do we want to show to the world? What might we not see when we look at other people’s online personas? Is it important to share a true version of ourselves, or are should some parts of our personalities and lives remain private?

Webster’s Manners by Hannah Whaley is one of four great books featuring an adorable spider named Webster who’s learning the ropes as a digital citizen. In this title, Webster gets lectured by his dad with rules about when and where it’s acceptable to use a device. The story takes an unexpected turn when Webster starts pointing out that his dad frequently doesn’t follow the same rules. An excellent book for family nights or to kick off conversations about classroom technology expectations. It can help facilitate dialogue about which tech rules are good for all users and when or why some rules may not apply to adults.

Troll Stinks by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross is about two billy goats who get ahold of the Farmer’s cell phone. They start playing games and taking selfies but eventually find contact information for a troll. Their grandpa always told them trolls were mean, so the goats start sending the troll hateful messages. The goats are in for a big surprise and an important lesson when they meet the troll on the receiving end of their hurtful comments. This books serves as a gentle reminder that words carry weighteven when delivered through a screen.
 

Novels

Classic and contemporary novels can have fascinating story while launching some interesting digital citizenship conversations. 

1984 by George Orwell is a landmark dystopian novel about the dangers of totalitarianism in a world that is governed by propaganda, surveillance, and censorship. English and Social Studies teachers can pair a reading of this novel with key digital ethics questions including How consumer trends such as DNA testing kits, in-home virtual assistants, and wearable devices be invading people’s privacy? How do companies profit from our personal data? Should companies such as Apple and Amazon be required to turn over personal data to government agencies and law enforcement?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is about a futuristic American society where books are banned and burned. The characters wrestle with the theme of knowledge vs. ignorance in a society where censorship limits access to information. By pairing this with nonfiction articles about net neutrality, the digital divide, and Internet filtering regulations, teachers can help students see how Bradbury’s themes are still relevant in an era where information is literally at our fingertips.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline rose to popularity again this year with the release of the movie adaptation. The story follows Wade into a hyper-realistic virtual reality game where most people spend their time escaping from a physical world that is overpopulated, underemployed, and all around dismal. As Wade competes in a competition for fame and fortune within the game, he must face questions about identity, appearance, various versions of reality, and the role of large corporations in online experiences. Readers will enjoy connecting with Wade’s experiences and sharing their reflections on society’s dependence on technology, corporations fighting for and profiting from our attention, and the delicate balance between who we are online and who we are offline.
 

Nonfiction

Sometimes the best way to help students learn about digital citizenship is through direct instruction. Three titles that top my list this year are perfect for tweens, teens, and adult alike.

A Smart Girl’s Guide: Digital World by Carrie Anton is part of the “American Girl Smart Girls” series. This title does a fantastic job presenting all of the wonderful opportunities that technology can offerfrom connecting with friends to researching topics that interest us. At the same time, the book gives advice for navigating the Internet safely and responsibly, dealing with digital drama, all with a balanced perspective. The built-in quizzes will help readers test their newfound smarts.

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self is a fun read by author and researcher Manoush Zomorodi. In 2015, Zomorodi led her podcast listeners through a device detox with a series of challenges. The book couples neuroscience research with personal stories from her listeners to help readers understand how constant connection to our devices can hinder creative thinking. Zomorodi challenges us to embrace opportunities to let your minds wander in this book that’s all about striking a perfect balance in our relationship with technology. Families or classrooms might feel compelled to recreate Manoush’s detox challenge and reflect on their results.

Legacy vs. Likes by Mike Smith challenges students and adults to think about the time we spend chasing attention online versus the effort and energy we could be spending building and leaving a legacy in the world. The book couples personal stories from the author with research on the social media habits of leaders, influencers, and followers. Readers will enjoy reflecting on their personal habits, passions, and goals through the thought-provoking questions Smith asks at the end of each chapter and will feel motivated to make journal entries right in the pages of the book.


Kristen Mattson is a high school library media specialist and adjunct professor at the University of Illinois.

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