Will E-Books Replace Children’s Books?
Kids and e-reading
Linda L. Esterson
The Frazier household in Reisterstown has a Nook, an iPad and a Kindle. All three are used for reading.
Karen Frazier, 37, reads electronic books (e-books) on her iPad every day. Her son, Jacob, 12, does the same on his Nook. He brings it to school every day and reads during his free time.
“Jacob puts everything on the Nook,” says his mom about the gift her son received from his grandfather. She also notes that Jacob, who is currently reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy, after finishing “Chronicles of Narnia,” seems to be reading more.
That’s true also for her nieces, Julia, 6, and Madilynne Unger, 4, who live with her. The girls received a Kindle Fire from their grandparents and read e-books on the device.
“I think it’s pretty incredible for kids,” Frazier says about the electronic readers. “It’s portable; you can take it anywhere. It holds your place and it defines words.”
Amazon sells more than 4.6 million e-books online, including more than 56,600 children’s e-books. The books are free to rent with a membership, or available for purchase for as little as 99 cents. There are classics like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and picture books including “The Ugly Duckling.” Public libraries have also followed suit, allowing members to “borrow” e-books available for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony e-Reader and even in Adobe PDF for reading on the computer.
Many picture e-books include animation, audio, and connections to dictionaries and encyclopedia, features that enable children easily to search for information without having to stop reading.
But some find that the e-book loses some of the benefits one gets from reading a traditional book, especially for children.
“They lose the sense of smell and touch and the tactile and sensory aspects, except auditory and visual, are gone,” says Nancy Braverman, media specialist for The Chatsworth School in Reisterstown. “There’s no fur, no texture.”
Because young children are very tactile in their learning, their ability to touch and feel is crucial, echoes Charles Village author and long-time bookseller Ariel Winter.
“It’s a different form, more of an adaptation than a book,” says Winter, 32, who is awaiting release of his first published children’s book, “One of a Kind,” and adult novel “The Twenty Year Death.” Both will be sold as e-books and in the traditional book format. “It’s a great form, but not a replacement for picture books.”
Winter’s 3-year-old daughter, Sophie, enjoys the sound effects and animation included with the books he loads on his iPad and iPhone for her, like “Green Eggs & Ham.” She enjoys the “read to you” option and the ability to touch a picture to make it move.
“It’s fine, but I don’t think it’s the same as a picture book,” he says, adding that he doesn’t believe technology will eliminate the traditional picture book.
In addition, detailed illustrations in picture books and those of historical art or medical drawings are limited on an electronic device, Winter notes.
“The pictures [on technology] are pretty good, but they won’t replace what requires heavy illustration, like art history or medical,” he says. “For academics and research purposes, having paper is still really crucial.”
Even toy manufacturers have an extensive menu of “kiddie” e-books. Book-like toys from Mattel, Fisher Price and Playskool and the Leapfrog and Tumble brands include audio and animation, which prove attractive to children. There are also waterproof covers for the Kindle and Nook, and teething cases for the iPhone, so they are protected in the water and from the youngest users who are not careful with their parents’ electronic devices.
“It still isn’t going to replace the experience of biting into a book,” Winter explains. “People are trying and doing interesting things but this will be yet another thing that sits alongside. Children’s picture books will last much longer in this digital world for that reason.”
Moveable parts, pop-ups, illustrations and the feel of a textured book cannot be replicated electronically.
Frazier, a substitute teacher currently at Chatsworth School, agrees that there will always be a need for books for younger children.
“I think textbooks and story books will go to the e-reader,” she says.
Her daughter, Alyssa, 8, still prefers the feel of a book in her hands. “But sensory books and buttons can’t be replaced. I think there will always be a need for them,” Frazier adds.
Winter explains that books provide benefits, like the ability to thumb through to different spots, more easily. Electronic devices require scrolling or searching, and sometimes an exact spot in a book is difficult to find that way, for adults and children alike.
“There’s something to say for holding a book in your hand,” says Braverman, who was resistant at first to the Kindle. “Being a librarian, I like the feel of books. You can’t curl up in front of a fireplace with an electronic device.”
Winter sees “the art of the book” making a resurgence, with specially-designed boxes and envelopes and more lavish, oddly shaped covers.
“Seeing interesting objects produces wonderful outcomes that the e-book can’t,” he says. “And I don’t see putting kids to bed with an iPad.”