I was excited when President Obama announced last week a new literacy initiative to make more e-books available through public libraries. I even wrote a column outlining some of the benefits of e-books for older kids. But let’s not stop the presses. Print books are still valuable. Here are three reasons why you should choose print over digital books, especially for younger children:
Learning How Books Work
Until they reach third or fourth grade, children should read only print books. Young children need to understand and internalize how books work. We’ve all seen those videos of toddlers tapping a magazine, trying to turn the page. That’s cute, but it’s also a little unsettling. It’s incredibly important that young children learn that books have a front and a back, a top and a bottom, that (English) readers move through books from left to right, that you turn pages to see what’s next. When toddlers chew on board books and preschoolers pretend to read, they are experimenting with and learning about books in an important and meaningful way.
Appreciating the Craft of the Picture Book
Picture books are a unique and wonderful art form – one that deserves to be appreciated as intended by the artist and designer. Picture books can be oriented vertically or horizontally; sometimes they are square. They have different trim sizes (the overall size of the book). Illustrations can be confined to a single page or spread across two pages. All these elements are part of the craft of the picture book and are carefully chosen to affect the reader in a certain way, much in the way different camera angles affect a movie watcher. When publishers experiment with book size in other formats, they do it most notably in picture books, from the diminutive Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak and Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter to the necessarily large Actual Size by Steve Jenkins. To truly appreciate books, children need and deserve to experience them in their true form.
Fostering Children’s Imaginations
Interactive e-books, so tempting for toddlers and preschoolers, may actually inhibit the cognitive and language development that we seek when reading to young children. Of course, kids are going to be eager to press buttons to hear sounds or watch animations, but all those bells and whistles inhibit kids’ imaginative and creative responses. They also detract from important parent-child conversations about what’s on the page and what’s happening in the story that are part of a rich read-aloud experience.
Is it okay for parents to load up their iPad with picture books for the occasional restaurant dinner or airplane ride? Or course! But the bulk of any young child’s library should be print books.
That leads me to another, slightly tangential point: It’s important for kids of all ages to see books around them. Bedrooms, living rooms, and classrooms brimming with books are one way we convey our love of books to children.
Kids will have plenty of time to read on myriad electronic devices. Let’s keep the magic of the printed book alive for our youngest readers.