When I first met Olivia Van Ledtje a.k.a. "theLivBit," we bonded immediately over our passion for sharks and our idol, the “shark lady” Eugenie Clark. It didn’t take me long to realize that this nine-year old has some special gifts, a BIG heart, and a whole lot of grit!
A year ago Liv started creating selfie videos, called LivBits, to share her favorite books as well as important messages about life. A few of my favorites include, “It’s better to love each other than judge each other” and “Never let anybody tell you who you are; never let anyone dull your shine.” Liv has already created over 75 videos, which she shares through her “mom-monitored” Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo accounts.
Now Liv is also presenting at conferences and schools. She is empowering kids and bringing together educators, students, and authors all over the world with her strong voice, energy, and positivity. She is an amazing role model for all of us—an example of how to use social media for good. I couldn't wait to chat with Liv about her journey and her dreams!
HL: Liv, thank you for showing the world that kids can teach us! What inspired you to start LivBits?
Liv: LivBits is a super special project that helps me share my thinking with the world. I started making my Bits as a way to deal with some tough things that were happening in school. I want to show kids that we can teach each other and we can use books to inspire our thinking. I think books can change the way people think about life. I know that happens to me. When I read fiction, I think about ways I can learn from the character’s challenges. When I read informational text, I love to read about people who make a difference in the world.
I started thinking about the idea of grit from reading books about strong women, especially women like Maria TallChief, Rachel Carson, and Eugenie Clark. Grit is a quality that makes you push through things that are hard. I’ve only been doing LivBits for one year, but I have learned that hard experiences can actually give your heart new things to consider. A lot of times, my Bits are about what’s going on in my heart, and making my Bits is a way to help my brain understand my heart better.
Recently I started blogging so that’s another part of my LivBit work. I am trying to share my ideas through my writing, and it’s not always easy, but I like what I have written so far. I try to take my ideas from Twitter and Instagram and blog about them so that my followers can see another side of my LivBit life. I’ve gotten some really encouraging feedback on my blog posts, and that makes me want to write more. I am learning how to be a better writer and thinker through my blog.
HL: I love that you find strength and role models in the books you read! It must be fun meeting some of your favorite authors and talking about their books.
Liv: I have lots of favorite authors, like Peter and Paul Reynolds and Susan Verde. I just love books that have powerful messages for my life and the things I love and for the world. Also, I like authors that know how powerful social media is and tweet to fans like me! It’s like the best day ever when an author tweets to me. The day that Mo Willems tweeted out about meeting me was one my BEST days ever! He said I was a force to be reckoned with! I will remember for my whole life that THE Mo Willems, the author of the first books I remember reading all by myself, took a minute to tweet to me.
My favorite fiction book is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson because it’s about strong girls and I like to use her words in a hashtag: #TougherStrongerFearless. When I am worried about something, I say those words over and over again in my head. Victoria was also the first author on Twitter that ever tweeted back to me. I will never, ever forget how much my heart exploded when I saw her tweet to me. It made me feel like my tweets mattered to the world.
My favorite nonfiction book is YOUR BOOK, Swimming with Sharks! I read a biography about Eugenie Clark and when I saw your book, I was so happy that her story was also put into pictures! I think more kids will be able to understand how amazing Eugenie is as a scientist and champion for sharks! If I could say one thing to Eugenie, I would say thank you for teaching people that sharks are important to the world and thank you for showing the world how powerful girls can be to science.
HL: Thanks, Liv! It’s been super fun connecting with you over our love for sharks and Eugenie Clark❤️ How does it feel to connect with people ALL OVER THE WORLD?
Liv: I use social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to share my LivBit work. Using social media has been a super powerful way for me to share my work. I have teachers all over the world who follow me, retweet me, and collaborate with me on LivBit projects. It’s like Twitter and Instagram are HUGE classrooms and my LivBit work is something that makes the class more joyful! I have such an amazing audience when I post online, and it makes me feel proud that people look forward to my posts and tweets.
HL: Many of your LivBits inspire us to never give up on our dreams. What is your big dream?
Liv: My biggest dream is to have a happy life! I hope that someday I can work with sharks and teach people about conservation and how important sharks are to the ocean. I want to work with people who are smart, love the ocean, and want to share their passions with others. I hope I can make a difference by traveling and learning and loving what I do. I hope little girls will say, “Liv makes learning fun, I want to be like her!”
I have two people who I want to be like when I grow up. One is a writer for teachers and she believes in kids so much. Her name is Kristin Ziemke. She helped me spread the word about LivBits around the world, and she also understands my crazy side and doesn’t mind it too much. The other is Dr. Lisa Hoopes at the Georgia Aquarium. She is an expert in fish nutrition and she spent time with me and inspired me to really focus on one thing about sharks that can make a difference. If I can be like Kristin and Lisa, I would be super happy in life!
HL: How did you become interested in sharks and why do you love them so much?
Liv: When I was in 2nd grade there was a big bin of books all the about the ocean. There was one book in there about sharks and it looked like a book that kids didn’t really like. I took the book for independent reading and I just dug right into it! One of the boys in my class told me that sharks were bad and I just knew that was not true. That book inspired me to want to read more and more about sharks. It’s kind of like sharks spoke to me. I went on a trip to the St. Louis Zoo and I got to actually touch and feed Bamboo and Nurse sharks. I also got to talk to the scientists about how they take care of them.
I just knew I needed to study and learn and be a voice for the sharks. I would look on my Twitter for places and people who were doing great things for sharks, and I would learn even more. A teacher my mom knows sent a book home with her all about Eugenie Clark and I read it in one night. It was an old book, but I didn’t care because it was such an awesome story about her work. I dream of being like Eugenie because she made a difference for the oceans AND for girls who want to be in science discovering important things.
On social media, I follow lots of scientists and organizations doing important work for sharks. I love being a member of the Gills Club because they do events to remind the world that girls can be fierce in science. OCEARCH is another organization who has made a huge difference in my learning. I follow their tagged sharks on Twitter, and I even have a favorite one, her name is Helen. Helen is a Great White shark and she has helped me grow my thinking about so many things. She helps keep me safe on Twitter by being part of my digital tribe. My tribe is a group of followers who will keep me safe if any goobers try to comment or retweet me in an unkind way. I feel so lucky that I have followers who believe in the LivBit message and work with me to keep my message going in positive ways and who are shark experts!
HL: What’s on the horizon for LivBits?
Liv: I have a lot of exciting things coming up for LivBits! I am traveling to California for the national ASCD conference where I get to share with teachers and principals about LivBits and using technology with kids. I am the kid keynote speaker this summer at Alan November’s conference Building Learning Communities (BLC17) in Boston and I get to stay at the PARK PLAZA HOTEL! LivBit takes over the Plaza! I am going to be doing some special writing assignments for a great organization, and you will be able to see those on a major website. Of course, I am looking forward to doing things with you for #TeamGenie! I hope that we can work together to share Eugenie’s mission to save sharks.
HL: I can’t wait for our #TeamGenie projects! Wow you are busy!! I don’t know how you have the time for anything else, but I heard you are also incredible at ballet??
Liv: I am a very serious student of ballet. I have two ballet intensives this summer. One at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago for three weeks and one in NYC at American Ballet Theater for two weeks. Sometimes when I watch sharks swim, I think about how graceful they are and get inspired! Ballet makes me feel strong and challenged in ways that grow my confidence. I hope that all my ballet training will make me the best SCUBA diver around because I can’t wait to go SWIMMING WITH SHARKS!