Paper books and kids

monsterattheendofthisbookPatrick Rhone makes a great point regarding ereaders, paper books and kids. He and his wife want to demonstrate their love of reading to their daughter. The couple owns a lot of ebooks, but staring at an electronic display is no clear queue that mom/dad are reading a book:

“The books we actually read, the majority of any reading we do, are mostly on screens now… [but] we could be doing anything on the screen. And she knows it. She knows the Internet is sometimes on that screen. She knows that movies are sometimes on that screen. She knows that games and music are on that screen..How is she to pick up the physical cues that Mommy and Daddy read a lot of books?”

That’s a great point. So, Patrick is going to make an effort to read more paper books, so his daughter can see mom and dad reading. Well done.

Now, excuse me while I switch into Curmudgeon Mode.

I don’t like electronic kids books. At all.

I worked as a teacher from 1994-2000. Back then, “interactive books” were popular. Some featured a strip of sound effects buttons that were to be pressed as the story was read. I despised those books because the students treated them as toys that just happened to have books attached. Some even pulled the buttons off, disregarded the book and walked about making random sound effects.

Living Books by Brøderbund were also popular back then. They shipped on CD and featured read-along animations based on popular titles like Arthur and Dr. Seuss. I still have that damn Just Grandma and Me memorized, right down to Little Critter’s inflection. The problem with Living Books was that nearly every object did something; click a crab to make it snap its claws or click a bus to hear its engine rumble. They were toys masquerading as books.

The “book as toy” phenomenon migrated to the iPad with digital children’s books. I’ve purchased a few for my own children (ages 7 and 9) and found the experience disappointing. Instead of listening to the story, my kids only want to “see what it does,” randomly tapping, swiping and flicking every image. When they find an interactive element, they go nuts — swiping, tapping or flicking it repeatedly. At that point, we aren’t reading. We’re playing a video game.

I know there are several decent interactive books for adults available, and that’s fine. But ebooks for kids that “do stuff?” No, thank you. My daughter loves the Harry Potter series. We do play around on Pottermore, but despite the fantastic ebooks available, we read of Harry’s adventures in paper exclusively.