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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Cat in the Kindle: How E-books Are Affecting Young Readers


There's now an entire generation of readers who've never known a print-only world. But that doesn't mean they don't know books.   ♦ 
“Books are like stairs and e-books are like escalators. Both are good, but they're also different and are for different purposes, and escalators are never going to replace stairs.”
   My sister Carolyn, who works in the children’s section of Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, explained this to me when I asked her thoughts on e-books infringing on the market for children’s books. As someone who has loved reading since an early age, I was rightfully apprehensive when considering how e-books are changing the literary world for the youngest age group. I was anxious about how Kindles and Nooks and other online reading devices are changing the way that people experience books; especially children, who have never lived in a world without e-readers. But Carolyn’s simple analogy reassured me, and also made me ponder how e-books alter the reading experience for children, and what positives and negatives they offer to a person who is learning about the world of literature.


Children’s e-books: The many advantages

Even though they might not have the same palpable, tactile features as a physical picture book, children’s e-books are interactive in ways that print books cannot be. Inventive online features and graphics can make a typical children’s story come to life for the reader. According to eBook Architects, a company that used to create e-book files, there are several advantages to reading a children’s story on an e-book rather than a print version. Their website lists the features that a Kindle can offer to a child’s reading experience. These include full-page zoom, single-page view, orientation rotation, embedded media, animations and interactivity, and narration overlays. These interactive qualities make e-books seem almost preferable to a typical print book. Since children often have such short attention spans, it’s fair to assume that these additions to a typical story would draw them more into a narrative and further develop their desire to read.
    In addition to these features, e-books also allow children to access a broader scope of stories. Since publishers can publish more books online than in print, children can find a wide range of stories that can be more inclusive and creative than the typical story that’s sold in a bookstore. Children can also purchase more books online since they are cheaper and easier to access, and therefore can increase the amount of stories that are available. As a kid who loved to get lost in a story, I think having this much access would’ve excited me as a child and further developed my love of reading, and I think the same sentiment can be applied to many children today.


The digital downsides(?)

While there are several positives to having a child read an e-book, there are also some consequences of e-readers on a child’s reading abilities. While most people feel a sort of nostalgia towards print versions of children’s stories, there are other reasons besides sentimentality as to why online books may not be as good for the children reading them. For one thing, while the interactive features of e-books have the potential to engage young readers and make them more excited about a book, they also can easily distract the child and take their attention away from the story they’re reading. In a study conducted at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York, researchers compared the comprehension that children had towards an e-book compared to a physical copy of a story and found that children reading enhanced e-books “recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story." So while e-books might be more engaging, they don’t seem to have the same educational qualities as a print book.
  This study epitomizes the fear I have for e-books and their effects on the youngest reading age group. For children who are growing up without ever knowing a world without the Internet, it’s unnerving to think of how this technology could alter the way that an entire generation reads stories. And, as it turns out, many parents feel the same way. According to a Scholastic Reading Report, 68 percent of parents prefer their children to read print books rather than their electronic counterparts. Most of this apprehension is likely due to the effects that a large amount of screen time could have on a child, but a good amount of the anxiety can be attributed the same nostalgia that I have regarding print books. People can’t help but worry about change, especially when it could have a negative effect on their children.


More options, more readers

Overall, I think my sister’s optimism about the permanence of physical children’s books in the literary marketplace is reasonable. As a person who interacts with children who are enthusiastic about stories, I trust that Carolyn has a solid perspective about how a lot of children feel about reading. She explained to me that as long as a child is reading, no matter what format it is, it’s beneficial in that it gives them a chance to fall in love with books.
   For those of us who nostalgically look back on the days when our parents would read us Goodnight, Moon or The Cat in the Hat before bedtime, it’s hard to accept that children don’t live in the same world that we did when we were their age. However, as long as they can still get lost in the worlds of stories, then it doesn’t matter what format they lose themselves in. Some children may take the stairs while others take the escalator, but what truly matters is that they all reach the same destination.
  • About the Author
    Annie Eyre is a freshman Creative Writing major at Miami University. Her favorite activities include writing, FaceTiming her dogs, and watching TV shows for hours on end.

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