Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

The digital vs. print debate: Children’s books



Can you remember what it was like to read before the distractions of technology? Last night I tried to escape the world—and technology—to read a book I bought last month. I got into my pajamas, made some chamomile tea, wrapped my favorite afghan around me, and curled up on the sofa. Bliss.

I had turned off the TV, and put my cell phone in the other room. Alas, about six minutes into the book, I heard a ding from my cell, announcing that it was my turn on Words with Friends. I had forgotten to turn down the volume on my phone. Deep heaving sigh. 

It seems close to impossible nowadays to recapture what it felt like to read as a child: no stress, worries, or interruptions. Let’s face it, as marvelous as technology is, it can sometimes be a wee bit obnoxious. Or maybe it’s not technology’s fault. Maybe it’s us. As adults, we constantly feel the need to check our phones and email, fearful that we might miss something important. We never have time, or make time, to sit down and just read a book without all the bells and whistles.

However, for our children’s sake, we must make time to read to them.  And according to this article from the New York Times, many parents seem to understand the need for children to experience reading on a very basic level—with print books. Oddly enough, these parents are the very ones who are never without their phones, Kindles, or iPads.

Regardless of the double standard, kudos to them. Personally, I think that children need to experience reading print books when they’re young so they can learn something as simple as how to turn a page. And I don’t know if you’ve tried to turn book pages on an iPad, but honey, it ain’t easy. But there’s also a special connection when reading a print book to your child.

In the NYT article, one mother said this about reading with her little girl:

“It’s intimacy, the intimacy of reading and touching the world. It’s the wonderment of her reaching for a page with me.”

You lose that intimacy when reading on an iPad or Kindle.

Plus, kids + sticky fingers + tendency to spit up = not ereader friendly. Just a thought.

The statistics of children’s ebooks sold seem to support the claim that many parents are still fans of print books. Right now, ebooks directed at children “represent less than 5 percent of total annual sales of children’s books, several publishers estimated, compared with more than 25 percent in some categories of adult books,” the same New York Times article relates. I think those numbers will definitely change once some of the kinks with ebook illustrations and animations are worked out.

Digital books are our children’s future. Absolutely. But parents need to introduce their children to print books while they’re young, and point out the advantages and disadvantages of both formats.

Yes, ebooks for children are flashy and exciting, and the interactive features add that extra oomph that most print books can’t.  But with print books, children can learn how the pages feel beneath their fingertips, or how good a new book smells. Both formats have their place in children’s lives, but I think print books should come first.

What do you think? Should print books remain an integral part of childhood, or should children immediately be given ereaders?

2 comments on “The digital vs. print debate: Children’s books

  1. Erica Hartnett
    December 11, 2011

    I agree, Molly. I think it’s so important to be introduced to both, especially since I think digital and print can coexist. Technology is great on many levels–it makes us fantastically productive and efficient, but it also makes us fantastically lazy. In addition to the feel of a printed book, I think reading is so important to developing a child’s imagination, and I’d hate to see an overproduced ebook do that for us, too!

  2. Pingback: “I think they were called books…” « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2011 by in Culture, Industry Research, Opinion and tagged , , .

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