Are We Still Talking About This?

Josie Leavitt -- April 17th, 2014

Earlier this month, there was an blog post on the New York Times site about the negative effect that e-books can have on young readers’ (not fluent middle grade or older readers, but emerging readers) ability to understand what they’re reading. Really? This is news? Am I the only who is not shocked to hear this?

Take a four-year-old and give him an e-book and watch what happens. He “reads” it like a game, with buttons to press, new noises to make, etc. While he might be enjoying himself, he’s not reading, he’s playing — and these are two distinctly different and very important activities. Learning how to read requires a bit of hard work and concentration. “It seems that the very ‘richness’ of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply,” says Anne Murphy Paul from the MotherLode blog in the Times. Kids are having time focusing on all the bells and whistles but are missing the story. Of course they are. They’re kids.

Take that same boy, and this is not a scientifically proven thing, just 18 years of selling books to children, and give him the same book as a physical book and he will be engaged. He will try to predict, he will point out things he knows, and those things won’t wiggle or squeak when he touches them. He will make up his own noises for them. Maybe he’ll just run his little finger over the drawing to see if it feels like something. Maybe he’ll let his imagination wander and wonder. He will get ready to turn the page when he feels like it. The paper will have a texture and a smell. And if he grows up to be a reader, he will surreptitiously sniff every book he buys for the rest of his life.

Reading as a tactile event. How the pages turn is important, especially with picture books. Learning the right way to turn the page is a huge skill for young readers. I used to love turning the pages when my mom would read to me. Almost all books feel different from one another. As a reader, you develop a relationship with the book. How does it feel when you’re reading it? Are the pages shiny, sometimes too shiny, and you have to angle it a different way from the light. This is important for little minds to grasp. There is so much subtlety with reading a book that is lost with an e-reader.

So, give the kids back their books and let them learn to love to reading.