Sharna Jackson on The Value of Listening to Kids

We chatted to Sharna Jackson about the extensive writing process and the value of listening to kids. Here are three key takeaways:

At KidsKnowBest, listening to kids is at the heart of everything we do. The same goes for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2020 Winner Sharna Jackson, who interacts and receives feedback from kids daily. Our CSO Peter Robinson spoke to Sharna for our industry series: The Inside Yak. Check out the highlights below for three reasons why all brands should listen and value the voice of kids:

The Unfiltered Honesty of Kids

Sharna interacts with kids almost every day, whether that be through fan letters she receives or doing school visits. They are engaged, opinionated, and are eager to share their ideas for possible sequels to her book or alternative endings. 

“One of the great things about kids is their lack of filter. They’ll tell you if they think something is not good and it’s such a privilege to have people giving you real talk. They don’t dress it up or spare your feelings”, Sharna says. Whether they like something or not, kids aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.

The same goes for brands targeting kids; they easily recognize inauthenticity. For example, Sharna discusses how digital brands are trying to incorporate social media into their platforms. Yet, “they could make a really great digital product without worrying about trying to add aspects of social media to their platform.” 

Brands break away from their values as they try to appeal to a larger audience. In turn, they lack authenticity. Kids know when brands are trying to force something, “children and young people smell inauthenticity a mile away, especially as the young ones are getting older, they’re so savvy.”

Rather than trying to appeal to young people by jumping on trends, harness what you already have and recognize what makes your brand unique. 

Making Room for Underrepresented Voices

The publishing world has transformed over the past few years. It’s making room for underrepresented voices and giving space to authors who tackle timely topics in a way that’s accessible for kids.

When we asked which stories kids liked best, 33% said adventure stories, closely followed by 27% voting for mysteries. 

In her award-winning book, High-Rise Mystery, Sharna subverts the conventions of a traditional murder mystery story and makes it relatable and fun for kids. “I love murder mystery stories, but a lot of them are not council estate their country estates, which is fine, but I thought, okay, ‘how can I kind of mix it up and make it interesting to kids?’”

Although reading habits may have shifted, thanks to up-and-coming authors, kids can see their stories articulated, and their feelings are given a lively, undefeated, authentic voice. “I’m really trying to reach kids who, you know, don’t necessarily see themselves represented in books or find reading boring.”

Kids and The Internet

Kids today are digital natives and are using the Internet in new and creative ways. Last year, TikTok made a push on educational content, and users now navigate to the app not only for entertainment but also for life hacks, news and educational information. “I love the way kids are using TikTok, specifically history TikTok and those niche uses for it where they’re educating me and others. I think it’s amazing,” Sharna says. 

Social media facilitates kids’ desires to campaign, collaborate and mobilise around platforms to talk about the issues and topics that matter to them. “I can’t wait for kids to ruin stuff in the best possible way and break things down on the Internet.” 

With the freedom that it brings, social media gives kids the autonomy to express themselves, experiment, and educate others. And we shouldn’t stop them. “Let them break things and put it together in more interesting ways.” With so much information readily available to them, kids are more engaged and informed than ever. Now it’s time for us to listen.

Listen to the episode here
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