Storytime Goes Digital - Should We Be Afraid?

Filed under: In The News, Books for Kids


Could e-readers mean an end for printed books for kids? Credit: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images


Apple added a slew of children's titles to its iBookstore this week.

Peachy. Like kids don't spend enough time glaring at screens, right?

Between TVs, computers, cell phones and other high-tech gizmos and gadgets, kids spend at least eight hours a day in a digitized universe, according to a study released in January 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Is offering "Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Hide!" electronically yet another sign of the death of print and the decay of civilization in general?

Maybe not. An author who specializes in telling children about the past tells ParentDish the future may not be as bleak as it seems.

Staton Rabin has written such children's books as "Betsy and the Emperor" about the age of Napoleon and "The Curse of the Romanovs" about the Russian Revolution. Both of those books are available electronically on Kindle.

"I'm happy about that," Rabin tells ParentDish. "As a children's book author, I see pros and cons to using e-readers for children's picture books. The positive, of course, is that anything that makes reading more accessible for children is a good thing."

However, she adds, we still lose something by abandoning traditional books.

"I think that most parents and librarians would say that there's an interactive quality to reading a picture book with a young child that can't easily be duplicated (at least not yet) using an e-reader," Rabin tells ParentDish. "It would be a little harder, I would imagine, to have this shared experience of reading a book -- with a child sitting on a parent's lap, turning the 'pages' together and making discoveries together -- using an e-reading device."

The technology for reading elaborately illustrated books electronically is growing, the Christian Science Monitor reports, first with the iPad and now with Nook Color.

Among the children's books making their debut at iBookstore this week are the "Olivia" picture books, "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and "When Dinosaurs Came With Everything" by Elise Broach and David Small.

The New York Times reports that prominent publishers such as Simon & Schuster (which publishes Rabin's books) are itching to delve further into the potentially lucrative children's market.

Jon Anderson, publisher of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, tells The Times the company's efforts used to be stymied because the books were in color. Not so anymore, he says.

"It finally gives us the opportunity to have our picture books join the e-book revolution," Anderson tells The Times. "It gives us a great opportunity to monetize our content in a way that we previously haven't been able to."

By early 2011, he tells The Times, his company hopes to release picture e-books at the same time as the print versions.

But is it art?

The brave new world of electronic publishing may make children's authors and illustrators uneasy, but reality is what it is.

"Don't get me wrong, I love books, and I love the tactile, low-tech experience of sharing a book with a child," Jennifer E. Morris, a children's books author, writes on her blog. "But let's face it. How cool would it be to have your child's whole library of books available to you when you go to Grandma's house for the weekend or in the car?"

Rabin agrees.

"E-readers are here to stay and are a very positive force in spreading the joy of reading," she tells ParentDish. "The ideal situation, I think, would be for children to have access to 'real' books, and to virtual ones."

All that said, there is something undeniably romantic about ink on paper.

"A book is a more tactile and sensory experience than a machine," Rabin says. "Books even have a nice smell."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.