"Choco Owen: He's covered in chocolate and wears Adidas. When I past (sic) the door just now he dashed out and gave me a big wet chocolate snog. He pretends to be Michael Owen and David Beckham." Ten-year-old Jamie of Leicester created Choco for the Monster Motel project at Kids on the Net, an astoundingly wide-ranging website of writing by and for children and teenagers.
Kids on the Net (http:kotn.ntu.ac.uk) is part of the trAce international online writing community, based at Nottingham Trent University. It offers hands-on, in-your-classroom workshops for primary and secondary teachers and pupils, teaching Internet skills and creating websites with pupils writing and graphics. The results can be seen onsite: for example, the pupils of Porchester junior school in Nottingham created the illustrated adventures of Jacob the Ant, a cycle of snake poems linked by reptilian adjectives, a family tree of list poetry, and a Monster Motel "annexe" (see their site at http:trace.ntu.ac.ukkotnporchesterindex.htm).
Net-savvy individuals can also visit KotN, entering the Kids' Castle to learn about medieval life, help Sir Dylan escape the dungeons, or add a recipe to enliven the cook's turnip-filled repertoire. They can cast a spell in the Spellbook, dream up a world trip using online research resources, post original stories, poems, reviews, news and their ideas on sport, computers and life.
If there's a flaw here, it's that of generosity. There are links to school websites throughout the UK, to dozens of curriculum resurce sites, and to a plethora of children's interest sites and net projects. There is a lot of useful stuff (and some real treasures, especially in the Special Things section), but beware of information overload. Enter this site with time on hand, or cast-iron determination to avoid distraction.
Expansion of the much-praised Stories from the Web (http:hosted.ukoln.ac.ukstories) has been geographical rather than virtual. This lively, well-designed site on writing and related activities, generated by and for the eight to 11-year-olds attending computer clubs at libraries in Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds, now has links (through the British Council) to new clubs in Delhi and Dhaka. There are also plans for nine more UK clubs.
For outlets for older writers, turn to KidStuff (www.kidstuff.org), a funky site run by three Surrey schoolgirls. Attitude and language (but not swearing) indicate a site by kids for kids - and kids who take it seriously, too. New writing is posted constantly, to be read and reviewed by KidStuff members, and not without acrimony (currently there is intense onsite debate on the practice of critical reviewing).
A new Commonwealth Institute virtual storytelling project, Dreaming Online, launches on June 1 at www.commonwealth.org.ukschoolsdreaming.htm. Key stage 2 pupils will be able to e-mail stories to four Aboriginal Australian storytellers, receive a response, publish their work on the site, and learn much about Aboriginal people and their traditional stories.