It’s been 20 years since Cache Valley native Jackie Leavitt wrote a book about a cartoon cat navigating through potential pitfalls in an increasingly digital world.
That book has evolved into a series, and the sixth installment was released earlier this month. The latest book is titled “Faux Paw and the Unfortunate Upload — Digital Ethics for Kids,” and, like the other five, is available free of charge online at ikeepsafe.org, under the resources link.
“Technology is fabulous, but we also have to be very involved with our children as they learn how to use it, that there is this element of safety and healthy ways of using of technology that we need to promote,” said Leavitt, whose husband, Mike, was the governor of Utah from 1993-2003.
The Faux Paw series was inspired by a real life cat that lived at the Utah Governor’s Mansion when Mike Leavitt was in office.
“There was so much interest in him that we thought this is a fun way to kick off an internet safety (campaign),” Jackie Leavitt said.
Each book in the series focuses on a different digital dilemma. All six of them can be found in narrated e-book form, and four of them also have animated videos. Leavitt is hopeful the books will serve as a fun learning tool that can help break up the monotony of being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time eliciting conversations between parents and their children.
“Particularly in this time when (parents) are homeschooling, it’s a boost, and they can say, ‘let’s look at this; we can listen to this e-narrated book,’” said Leavitt, a graduate of Utah State University. “And it has been an additional help for parents to teach online safety.”
The first book focuses on the importance of online privacy. In the process, “Faux Paw tells more than he should about where he is and his name, and what he does,” Leavitt said.
Meanwhile, the second book approaches how to handle cyberbulling, the third how to differentiate between real life and online video games, the fourth downloading information and music, and the fifth making healthy media choices.
When talking about the fifth installment of the series, which addresses pornography among other things, Leavitt said: “There are so many things out there that you have to talk with your children about ... and they’ll come across some things that aren’t the best media choices to make. And so the goal is to help the child (learn those skills) and we thought the books were a great conversation starter.”
In the latest book, Faux Paw learns a valuable lesson about the damage posting embarrassing videos of friends online can inflict. A potential issue like this is something the native of Newton hopes children and parents will discuss before it becomes a problem.
“I hope (these books) spark a conversation and it makes it not only obvious to the child — who the target audience is — but also the parent, that each one of these internet safety concerns needs to be discussed,” said Leavitt, whose siblings all currently live in Cache Valley. “Children are so quick to pick up technology, but there’s a gap there that needs to be filled, and that is talking about online safety.”
Leavitt first felt the need to address cyber safety among children when she was teaching elementary school in Cedar City. The book series, which has won some awards and was featured at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C., is a collective endeavor of a few people, including writer Sally Linford and illustrator Adrian Rott.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” Leavitt said.
In addition to the Faux Paw series, Leavitt is also the innovator of the iKeepSafe Coalition, which was founded in 2005. The organization’s mission statement reads: “The iKeepSafe mission is to provide a safe digital landscape for children, schools, and families by supporting the protection of student privacy, while advancing learning in a digital culture. To support this mission, we provide data privacy certifications to technology companies, educational resources to schools, and information to the community.”
Other free resources are available at the aforementioned website.