NYT piece on the primacy of print for children, even for Kindle-reading parents


I had a bit of a dust-up in Brazil with a well-known Argentinian writer, Alberto Manguel, who is the strongest possible advocate of print over digital reading.

My views have also been contrasted with those of Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo another strong defender of the primacy of print.

These are just two of many, many instances when I, or others of us at Nosy Crow, have defended digital, as opposed to print, reading for children.

So we were interested to see this article in the New York Times last weekend which suggests that adults who have discarded print in favour of their Kindles or Nooks still prefer traditional print books for their children.

We don’t see the choice between digital and print reading as an either/or scenario. Instead, we think that some reading experiences suit the page, while others are right for digital devices.

We aren’t very interested in creating digital reading experiences that are simply squashing an existing illustrated book onto a phone or a tablet.

Like some of the parents in the article, we agree that there is something special about paper – the touch and feel of it, the heft and three-dimensionality of it, and the size of the page – that means that reading a picture book, or a pop-up book, a lift-the-flap or a touch-and-feel book is a great experience. And there are many print picture books, pop-up books, lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books in our existing and forthcoming book publishing plans

But we are also very aware that children spend increasing amounts of time using screens. We would like some of the time that they spend using those screens to be reading time. But that means, I think, that the reading experience we offer on screen needs to be as multimedia and interactive as the gaming experiences they will encounter in the same space.

What we want to avoid is creating disappointing screen-based reading experiences for children whose expectations of the interactivity of a screen-based device are formed very early, as the maker of this video showing a French baby who seems to think that a magazine is a broken iPad suggests. (The guy who posted the video was a Skype guest at Dust or Magic and he said that his child does not mistake children’s books for broken iPads.)

I take our responsibility as people with decades – in my case 25 years – of experience of telling stories on paper very seriously. I think that we should be bringing that experience – and adapting it and building on it too, of course, as we learn new skills and bring new skills, such as games devising and programming skills into publishing – to screen-based story-telling. If we don’t create really engaging reading experiences for children who will spend increasing amounts of their leisure time on screen, I think we are failing them.

And it’s that wish to create really engaging, multimedia, interactive iPad experiences that are also, crucially, reading experiences, that is behind apps such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.

But what do you think?


4 Responses to “NYT piece on the primacy of print for children, even for Kindle-reading parents”

  • I agree with you completely Kate. It’s a pity that such a large percentage of book apps are just what you are describing -print books on a screen. As I have always thought, if discoverability improved in the iBookstore, these could be simply iBooks (or Android/Amazon). It’s precisely what the iPad can offer, that print can’t, that is so attractive to occupy kid’s time with reading and storytime, instead of just passively watching TV, or You Tube videos. I was also offended by the slanted view of writers who obviously had not even experienced what they were “reporting about”. Read my reply to these in:
    Curating Book App Mom

  • As a writer (or a content-creator, as we are sometimes now called …brr), the breadth of formats I now have available to tell a story is breathtaking. I agree that it’s not an either/or situation but an increase of choice. And it’s frankly exciting for someone like me … format is a fun challenge in this digital world. I’m even tempted to try my hand at the Japanese cell phone text novel.

  • Excellent points, Kate!

    I think these posts by NYT et. al. reflect a ‘mood’ culturally … fears about the sacred print experience, etc. But I don’t think they are accurate, nor are they framing the dialogue very well. It just isn’t as good a sound bite to say that parents find digital books enchanting some of the time … but still like print books, too.

    We have stacks of picture books in our house and no fewer since the iPad. We simply read more now. And that time comes from time that used to be spent watching TV or movies. Having digital picture books that strive to make reading engaging as well as educational may mean that kids in the future will spend less time with passive media. That’s the remarkable thing, to me, and it seems like it’s being overlooked in the rush to debate print vs digital.

  • Interesting post Kate. The iPad is a big hit in our house with users ranging from 2-40. I cannot imagine life without it. We have not yet landed in any big way in the world of story book apps for kids as to be honest, and possibly naive with it, I remember the sound of reading as quiet when as a girl- when I fell into far away lands that only I could vision – and want my children to absolutely fall in love with this unfettered and soundless way of imagining too. To foster the ability for my older children to be able to be contemplative sans sound while acting as the immediate designer, illustrator and imaginer of each page they read is primary in my choice to provide books over screen books/applications.

    I can see that digital books will eventually be in demand by kids and love the interactive element they provide in provoking creative choices from the reader. (Our 3rd edition of BIG Kids Magazine will bravely house the theme of ‘games’ and gaming at the 8yrold ‘senior’ editor’s request!, and will include our first ever digital reviews compiled by the BIG kid editors).

    There is so much ‘noise’ in a child’s world, and reading books/magazines can offer a place of quiet thought and response in a private sphere.

    And yes, I guess I could just turn the sound off ;)

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