March 28, 2011

Why I (Still) Love Print Books

Coming fresh from the TOC Bologna conference on children’s digital publishing, the concept of “what is a book” is dominating my mind. It was clear, from the commentary & discussions, that apps are creating a buzz. What isn’t clear, is why I feel so uncomfortable listening to technology directions I’m supposed to be advocating. After all, aren’t I “Little Miss App”?

Apparently… not.

Every so often it’s important to fine-tune one’s own critical thinking skills. For me, Bologna was that time. Over the past two years I’ve purposefully exposed myself to hundreds of apps and app developers. I’ve seen and tried apps of all shapes and sizes, from big budgets and little budgets, made by people from over 30 countries worldwide. And now, as apps for kids are about to launch and go mainstream, I’m starting to feel reservations about how the benefits are being marketed.

When I hear phrases like “interactive reading” or “children can entertain themselves over and over again (and isn’t that great)”, I feel like things are about to go astray. Books - traditional, dog-eared, children’s books with ragged paper covers worn to the binding, are perfection. Apps, which can be lovely digital creations with lots of potential, still need to be validated before making claims in the areas of reading and literacy. Call it a game, call it an app, call it an eLearning experience, but please – be careful before you label it a “book”. Books take up my living room shelf space. Books clutter my bedside table. Books calm my children down when they are wound up. Books compose the fabric of my family life, with rhythm and words, page after printed page, from left to right.

My iPad…my iPad is (just) a tool! It has educational potential IF it has content that meets specific learning objectives.

My intention by voicing these passions is not to underestimate the talent emerging in the digital space, but rather, to emphasize that we need to be careful with the foundations of literacy. As a mom who is witnessing literacy lightbulbs lighting inside her kindergartener’s head, I’m wary of claims that state “the more interactive the better” in reference to books. Is it really reading if we choose the "read to me" or "auto-play" rather than "read by myself" option on the app? As measured by which child development expert?

Next time we say “digital media is educational”, let’s be more specific. Before I get too excited about seeing more apps, I want to know which teachers were on the beta team. I want to know who is validating the claim that these apps are indeed “educational”. I want to know which ages are most appropriate. I want to know how and why certain elements of interactivity are valuable to a child’s development. General catch phrases aren’t going to get us anywhere, and general buzzwords aren’t going to educate our kids.

Conscious choices, critical thinking, and tested content – let’s start there, you know, before we go overboard.


MaggieB said...

I think of the iPad as just the "bookcase" while the eBook apps are the books. Just like any children's book they are always best shared with others but I do feel they are the wave of the future, and welcome them with open arms.

I have many on my iPad for my 2-yr old granddaughter, and she experiences them both with and without me... but the experience is the main thing. If iPads & eBooks encourage children to read and learn I say the more power to them.

I still enjoy curling up in an area of our home we call the "book nook" but sometimes that book is paper and now, sometimes its an eBook... the content is the same and both enrich my life.

Don't be too quick to stay in the present, it will quickly will become the past.

Jitka Adeleke said...

Look at you, you are there too, ha? Are you actually in Bologna? I love that city but I've never been to the fair. Enjoy and send more reports from there our way! J.

catb said...

Thanks for an important post. It's been something that has been in my mind for a while. My son and I are addicted to our weekly library treks, and although I used to see the iPad as the opportunity to have a portable library, I've found that with a good ol' fashion book, Sal can hunker down quietly and escape for a bit. On the iPad, he sometimes gets so distracted trying to find all the hidden easter eggs that each page has or can't read all the funky fonts that are being used. Not saying there aren't some great ones out there, just that I think it's an important reminder and we heart books too :)

Rosemary Sanford said...

Like your viewpoint on this. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Let's Go Chipper loves books. We began with printed books, evolved into apps, but always include the opportunity to receive a book when you download. After a weekend of being "Mary Poppins" all over the Bay Area, reading to children excited to touch a book and giggle along - I will never give up that tactile experience and the opportunity to have a child speak directly to me instead of a screen! Apps are just a new page in the story. Carry on Lil Miss App, you are amazing.

Karen R said...

I believe both traditional books and digital books play a very important role for kids' literacy.

As an author who has published both, I believe the most important component is story.

I believe that story is more important than the medium it's presented on.

Each format gives kids different ways to interact with story.

What I love about book apps is that my son, who's not a keen reader, can engage with story with or without me. He actually chooses book apps over game apps which is very exciting for me.

I completely understand what you are saying about the claims to "educational." Not all books are educational, nor are all apps.

Hope Bologna was great for you. I went in 2009 and it was an incredible experience for this kids book lover!

Keep up the posts! And I'm grateful for the work you do with MWA.


Paris hotel said...

Thanks for an important post, i Like your viewpoint.

Lorraine Akemann said...

@Karen, I disagree. If you say that the most important component is the story, then that means we can throw movies into the mix, which is one of the mediums that can deliver a story. Taking in a story can be done via traditional books, audio, apps, movies, or a grandmothers voice at bedtime. But my points are particularly centered on the constructions of literacy, of on LEARNING TO READ. I just want to be extra certain, as a parent, that I understand how interactive media impacts LEARNING TO READ before I call it a "book". This is because I trust that "books" help children learn to read, but I do not know that about apps, yet.

Amy Simmons said...

I have to agree sometimes I just need the book. Not an ebook or an app. There's a great new children's book called, It's a book. It's very funny and points out how great a book can be in all its simplicity. You should check it out.

Thanks for sharing.