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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Ereader Day

Did you all see this: Scholastic surveyed 2000 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 about reading ebooks, and found out two key things (only one of which is highlighted in the article): kids are eager to read book on digital devices, and for two thirds of those surveyed, doing so did not make them any less interested in print books. The survey was seen as encouraging in that it suggests books can easily enter the digital jet stream — the flow of stuff kids are eager to use, share, and do on their digital devices. But there was also a level of caution — fear of kids getting too entranced with the digitisphere and some evidence that for kids 9-11, limits to their distraction time and a home that encourages reading matter.

As it happens, I am on a SLJ Virtual Summit panel today in which we will be talking about ebooks. The survey indicates that everything is moving quickly — as fast as families get digital devices and let kids use them, kids are taking to them, feeling comfortable with them, and settling in to read. So the ereading child is a given. Now of course there is the matter of access — some schools provide ipods to kids, some parents have the income to get them, some kids-cheap-partial version of a digital reader is, or surely soon will be, at Target and Toys r Us. But as I said up top, the survey also shows an overlap between print and digital, not a competition or replacement. This is especially important for libraries. For, as quickly as elibraries are made available and as robust as they may be, what libraries have now are acres of printed books. So what we need to think about, and study, and learn about, is this area of overlap. What does print do well, what does digital do well, how do we help kids navigate from one format to another. This is my passion — we don’t live in magic land, the world does not change in an eye blink. We live in libraries that have books. So now we have to experiment with mixing and matching, we have to test how to use one kind of book with another. We have to explore.

If any of you have stories to tell about kids using ebooks and print books — how the kids make their way from one to another, or select between them, or the genres that work well in one format or another — please tell. We can start figuring this out by learning from each other.


  1. Most of the kids I know don’t yet have dedicated e-readers, so most of the e-reading parents and teachers see right now is on computer screens. I feel that these are two different things entirely. When reading on the internet there is almost always a stream of peripheral information – ads, links, sometimes even moving pictures. I think concern over children not settling in to read one piece for any length of time is a very real issue. Some children (and adults) can handle these distractions and some can’t, or at least struggle with the distractions.
    An e-reader, on the other hand can be even less distracting than a paper book. It helps keep your place, the pages are a little smaller, turning the pages can be physically easier. The print size can be adjusted for ease and comfort and the contrast is excellent.
    Does this mean I don’t still love paper books? No way! A book can be a pleasure to handle and a work of art. But I would much prefer an e-book over a cheap paperback. I can’t wait for e-readers to reach the students in my school who could read more extended texts – if the print was a bit bigger, and the pages easier to handle. Some students, down the road will really benefit from e-readers, some will just like them, and some will experiment with them as a change of pace but still prefer paper books.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Liz: That is a very interesting distinction — between reading ebooks on computer screens and reading them within e-readers. I’ve heard from friends in adult book publishing that, as of now, the majority of book downloads are to computers not ereaders. Of course that is changing, but you do make an important point that we need to keep in mind — not only the formats but also the delivery systems are in flux and we have to keep track of all of these variables to make sense of the moment and to plan for the future.

  3. I don’t own an e-reader and don’t think my kids have read books on the computer (articles, yes, not books). But I have witnessed parents with pre-school age children do something interesting. Where I used to bring bulky board books to waiting rooms, restaurants, etc., to keep wiggly kids in their seats, parents today are pulling out their i-phones, bringing up picture books and handing the device to their little ones. The kids know how to “turn” the pages, etc. Of course, this only happens with folks who have the resources to buy iphones and purchase books on them, but it did make me wonder how it “normalizes” the e-reader experience for the very young ones.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    I have heard tell of similar things — apps on phones that, for example, offer kids the alphabet along with sounds and other fun stuff — so parent both keeps toddler happy and feels that the child is learning. Sure not available to all, yet, but interesting

  5. Nina Lindsay says:

    Marc, I was so excited to read that article because it shows exactly what I’ve been imagining…that “ebooks” will evolve *parallel* to books. I think that children’s lit has the power to revolutionize the ebook field, actually….I think that we’re going to see *original content* presented as “ebooks” for kids, rather than simply producing the same item in 2 formats. And I see that happening on handle-held devices, because they allow for the most intimate involvement.

    The accessibility is a HUGE issue for libraries. We have computers…but you have to reserve time on them, you can’t take them home, etc. Some libraries (one of ours in fact) is experimenting with laptops that you check out just for use in the library. It’s been problematic, but then so has been any new technology that we introduce. Theoretically, down the line, and given beaucoup bucks (is Apple listening?), we could do the same with handheld devices, and even make them available to take home. Of course, for this ever to be as available as books are, the market just has to do something about the price of these devices and cross-platform accessibility.

    What I would LOVE to hear is that there’d been a “playaway” kind of ereader…..

  6. Marc Aronson says:

    On the tech/cost side — somebody in Silicon Valley is surely working on this. But I too feel the real opportunity is to create new kinds of expression in e-dom that are different from books, or enhance books, or extend books, while we continue to also do what we know how to do — which is to write, illustrate, design, evaluate, share, and use books. As I’ve said all too often, movies are not filmed plays — and the realization that film had new and different potentials came very early. (see Hugo Cabret). So that is our horizon, to figure out what the new medium can do, how it can take us to the moon, not to stop doing the stuff we’ve been doing down on earth.