Given the focus on ebooks these days, could old-fashioned print books provide a superior reading experience? Actually, yes—especially for young children whose literacy skills are just beginning to emerge. Here are eight reasons to keep recommending traditional books:
1. No need to make choices. Lacking hyperlinks, paper books enable total immersion in reading—no need to continually pause and ask, “Should I click on this?”
2. No distractions within the text. Research suggests that the visual and aural gimmicks and game-like features embedded in many kids’ ebooks draw young readers’ attention from the written words, diminishing their memory of what was read.
3. No Internet temptations. The only thing you can do with a paper book is read it, while with Web-enabled ereaders, the temptations of the Internet are a click away.
4. Imagination required. Without the bells and whistles of ebooks, young readers must mobilize their own imaginations to fill in the gaps left by authors and illustrators: what a character looks like, for example, or the sound an animal makes.
5. Satisfaction of the senses. The smooth feel of paper and the rich colors of illustrations are largely lost in ebook reproductions. The distinctiveness of the reading experience is reduced, as well—such as when an oversized picture book is squeezed down to the size of an ereader screen.
6. Literary attitudes. Children accustomed to using digital devices for fast-paced entertainment may approach an ereader with the same expectations, while a printed book comes with an entirely different set of associations: a quiet focus on words and stories.
7. Easy to share. A printed book lends itself to being shared by children and adults, while an ebook may not be shared quite so easily. Research suggests that parents reading ebooks with their children are less likely to stop and ask questions or make comments, and more likely to issue commands (“Swipe the page now,” “Don’t touch that button!”).
8. Strong selection. The number of quality children’s books published in paper still vastly outnumbers those available in a digital format. Research suggests that the ebooks selected most often by children and parents are more akin to movies than to books, and thus of dubious value in promoting emerging literacy.