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Holladay Journal

Former Utah First Lady’s books address internet safety at a time when more students are online

May 26, 2020 10:22AM ● By Julie Slama

While serving Utah, former Gov. Michael O. Leavitt shared his office with Faux Paw, who became the inspiration for his wife’s book series on youth internet safety. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Leavitt)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]nals.com

Right in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, former Utah First Lady Jackie Leavitt launched the sixth book in the Faux Paw series she has co-written — and said it’s a perfect time to do so.

“Children are at home as we practice social distancing to avoid the coronavirus, but they also are likely spending more time being connected on the internet through technology,” Leavitt said. “But we want the children to be safe online and understand the importance of guidelines while using the internet.”

Her series of adventures address internet safety with Faux Paw – a now 20-year-old orange polydactyl (six-toed) cat who used to reside in her husband’s office when Mike Leavitt was governor.

“Faux Paw was the perfect way to talk about internet safety with school children,” she said. “People would come to the office to see the cat even more than the governor. There was so much interest in the cat, that it just fit he would be the mascot or the star of the books.”

While the cat at one time had his own website, now the former First Lady said the books about Faux Paw the Techno Cat are available as a free online resource to parents on iKeepSafe.org under the family access tab. In addition, each elementary school throughout the state has two copies of each book in the series. 

“In each of the books, Faux Paw the Techno Cat addresses different issues and gets curious and into trouble, but he has good friends who help him understand how to be a good digital citizen. In this last book, “Faux Paw and the Unfortunate Upload-Digital Ethics for Kids,” he posts pictures of the band without permission and learns how important it is to treat others well to have their respect,” she said.

The books begin with Faux Paw learning firsthand about privacy online. In another book, he learns what to do if someone says something untrue with the help of former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush. The other books address balancing screen time as Faux Paw gets distracted playing online games, illegal downloading when he wants to get a new song, and making healthy media choices.

The series aren’t written on her own. After consulting with two child psychologists, Leavitt said she “wrote the nuts and bolts” of the stories. She credits co-author Sally S. Linford for making the stories “more fun and clever” as well as illustrator Adrian Ropp, who “was able to take a very difficult subject and add an element of fun and comfort to it.”

The books also come with internet resources, discussion questions and the newest, with catchy informative tunes to familiar melodies.

With precautions taken for COVID-19, this time with children at home can be a unique window that can be used for learning digital ethics and positive online skills, she said. 

“We know that many of our youth will have more access and be online during this time and with parents trying to teach and work at home, this is a free way to communicate how to be a good citizen online,” Leavitt said. 

Healthy living in a “connected world” does require these necessary skills and conversations, she said.

Seeing the need for those conversations in her own family inspired Leavitt to write about the issues surrounding being online. She also heard the need to address these concerns from other parents – including the last one from her daughter.

“In each of these books, there are different topics that can be looked at and talked with our children and youth and there are additional resources, such as ‘Be Internet Awesome,’ that can be accessed for free on the page,” Leavitt said. “It’s a fun way to get kids interested in talking about being safe online. They know so many things, but as parents, we need to make sure our children and teens do it safely.”

iKeepSafe originated in 2003 as an effort from the Leavitts, then grew as the First Spouses from other states joined. 

While Leavitt has written other books ranging on experiences such as hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and the tornado that uprooted 90 trees on the capitol lawn, she is dedicated to the cat who gives schoolchildren practical internet lessons.

“I enjoy writing,” said the former elementary school teacher. “It’s more compelling and necessary to write about online safety. It’s vital our parents and children know about it and are making healthy online choices.”

Once schools resume, Leavitt plans to read about Faux Paw’s latest adventure to school children and share with them internet safety rules she’ll pass out on bookmarks — and she may even be asked what is Faux Paw the Techno Cat’s next adventure.

“If there are new areas that we need to address, then I’ll write another,” Leavitt said. “There’s no set number, but we do the books as we need them to ensure the children’s, students’ safety online.”