As bookstore owners, we often get asked about our opinion on what will become of the printed book with the current shift to e-readers, apps, and digital books. While it is impossible for us (or anyone else for that matter) to predict what the near future holds, we do have a couple of things we would like to talk about.
Our family is far from tech savvy and obviously still very much value the printed book. We love the way books look, feel and smell. We love to sit with our daughter and turn pages together. We love to see the books lined up on the bookshelf. Besides, don't we all spend too long in front of screens as it is? So for us, it will be a while before e-readers are a prominent fixture in our household. However, we can't deny the appeal and potential benefits that e-readers and apps offer. They are also here to stay, like it or not, so embracing the technology is necessary. However, there are a few things we worry about when it comes to children's picture books in the digital world:
1) With all the features and possibilities with apps for the iphone and ipad and whatnot, we worry that reading a book will become too much of a passive experience. Taking the printed page of a picture book and bringing it to "life" with animation is fun and entertaining, but is it taking away too much of the child's imagination in the process? Isn't it part of the thrill when reading a book to imagine what is happening rather than being shown? We admit interactivity has benefits, but we worry about the loss of engaging the imagination.
2) Having the electronic device read the text out loud is an intriguing option. Even more so when a child can interact with the words by touching them individually to hear them pronounced. These are exciting advancements that will go far in helping children learn to read. However, we fear the loss of reading together as a family. If your family is up to date with all the hardware and app store options, we plead with you to please, please, please still sit down with your children and read the ebook together. Handing a device to a child and pressing "play" might become too frequent of an occurrence in our busy lives. Our family cherishes the time spent together before bed reading and hope that everyone else does too. This time spent together is so important and will have life-long benefits.
3) We are big advocates of taking children into a bookstore or library and having them look at all the books on the shelves. Exploring what is available and discovering new characters and authors is exciting for children and we believe it's a necessary part of developing a love of reading. It's also a great opportunity for them to develop their decision making skills. Sure, they won't always pick the best book, but they will at least pick something that excites and interests them. What is the digital version of this? Is it perusing the app or ebook stores? We're not sure how well this will translate and hope that this doesn't result in the loss of this option for little ones.
Again, there are more questions than answers right now in the book industry and how things will progress is anyone's guess. All we can say is that things are changing and we just hope it's for the best.
Now go read a book with your kids...