Can you imagine publishing a book before age 11?
On a website developed by MIT alums, hundreds of elementary school students have done just that. Using tools at Tikatok.com, these kids have written and illustrated their own books, which are available in paperback or hardback for anyone to buy.
Creators Orit Zuckerman ’06, Neal Grigsby ’07, and Sharon Kan designed Tikatok to be an outlet for the creativity of young children. The vision of the business, said Grigsby, is to become a media company built on creations by kids.
The site, which went public in March 2008, lets users make books from scratch or use open-ended templates. Children can also mail their drawings to Tikatok headquarters and see them online the next day. When they’re all done, Tikatok sells the finished product for about $15-20.
“It’s not like any other website,” said sixth-grader Jaime Cortina, “you can actually have [the book] in your hand — reading it.”
“All their friends at school were really impressed,” said Jaime’s mother Karen. Both Jaime and her younger sister Hailey own printed copies of the books they created using Tikatok. As Jaime recalled the name of her first book, The Stubborn Turkey, a smile appeared on her mother’s face.
Over 500 books have been uploaded so far, and the average age of a contributor is nine years old. “Younger kids write more easily,” Grigsby said. “Older kids take longer because they want to be meticulous about it.”
Children can also look at and buy books written by other users, or write a book together with friends they meet on the site.
“I was skeptical about it … but kids were reading other kid’s books,” Grigsby said. Now the team is working to create a “participatory culture,” he said. “We connect with authors that we feel get us,” Grigsby said.
When the team realized that children were interested in each other’s books, they arranged to put a selection of the children works the Boston Public Library.
“The big thing is to see these books next to adult books,” says Zuckerman. The library chooses the books to publish, and the books will become available for children to check out.
For kids feeling daunted by the idea of writing a whole story, Grigsby developed interactive templates. The child chooses the character and setting, and an entire book is laid out for them, with starter sentences on each page and hints on how to flesh out the tale. This system is supposed to stimulate, not hamper, the creative process.
“We didn’t shoot for prompts you’d get at school, but superheroes and princesses and pirates,” Grigsby said.
The Cortina sisters were enthusiastic. You can “use more imagination, because you can draw too,” said Hailey. At school, “they usually say draw what this sentence means to you, or something like that,” reflected Jaime.
The creators have been adding features to the website, including the option to “friend” other people who create content on the site and teacher tools that allow a whole classroom to collaborate using a private forum.
And though getting a bound book in the mail is part of Tikatok’s charm, the team is also currently working on adding video and music.
When asked what she would like to add to the website, Jamie Cortina didn’t need to blink. “Music,” she said with fervor, “definitely music.”
“Or animation, so the pictures could move,” added Hailey.