March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Selecting Apps for Babies; Is ‘Part-Time Indian’ Appropriate for Sixth Grade? | Feedback


 The trouble I have with Rachel Payne’s “Are Learning Apps Good for Babies” and with portions of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s (CCFC) complaint is that they dismiss all apps in a way they would never dismiss books because they assume that a parent is exploring a book with a child but absent (physically or mentally) when the child is interacting with an app. The mistake is in thinking of an app in the first place as “a little screen time distraction so mom can squeeze in a shower.”

Rather than condemning them, we need to educate parents and caregivers (and librarians!) on how to choose great, age-appropriate apps as well as on how to explore them together with their children, just as we educate them on how a developmentally appropriate board book for a one-year-old looks different from one for a three-year-old.

The blanket statement that “Educational apps…do not take into account how babies learn” goes too far. We simply need to find and recommend the ones that do—and make it clear to parents why we’re recommending them, so they can evaluate future ones on their own. Yes, “[b]abies learn through interaction, touching, feeling, grabbing, moving, and doing the same thing over and over again.” There are, as the saying goes, apps for that. You can find a good selection of free ones, with screenshots, links, and descriptions, in my slide deck (, “Apps & Babies: Keeping Our Heads (and our iPads).” While stressing that apps cannot replace board books and developmentally appropriate physical toys, librarians need to know how to do more than broadly dismiss them. I’m preparing a presentation for parents at my library ( that addresses the importance of exploring apps with children, ties a handful of free iPad apps directly to the ECRR2 (Every Child Ready to Read) framework, and suggests ways to extend the apps into “non-app” time. For me, this is the kind of practical and useful information early literacy-focused librarians can and should be sharing with their patrons. (The opinions here are my own.)

—Emily Lloyd, Associate Librarian Hennepin County Library Minneapolis, MN

The Author Replies:

I think it’s great librarians are debating this topic and I appreciate Emily Lloyd’s comments. Emily and I agree that parents should engage with babies when they use apps. Where we disagree is whether librarians, app developers, or others can make educational claims about baby apps. While more study is needed on interactive technologies, the current research does not support that babies can learn from a screen. From what I’ve seen, apps don’t provide the multi-sensory, 3D experiences babies need to learn. The better apps do tap into a baby’s interest in cause-and-effect and repetition, but the tactile experience is relatively the same and you can’t put an iPhone in your mouth. Also, parents interact less when they give their child a digital device because the app is doing it for them and the conversation (from what the research shows) is more about the technology than the content. As kids pass two years, the research proves they can learn more from screens, and I am interested in how librarians are integrating apps into their practice.

I agree with Emily that many parents are downloading apps for convenience’s sake and they can be a lifesaver on crowded airplanes and elsewhere. And I think it is fine to recommend baby apps for entertainment (I am grateful for Emily’s recommendations), but I would do so with one caveat. I would let parents know what the concerns are about screen time, what the research says (or doesn’t say) about what apps can teach babies, and the educational claims that have not been proven. Then, parents can make informed decisions about what is right for their babies. Personally, I was cautious about screen use when my son was a baby. I was able to make an informed choice. That is what I wish for all families.

—Rachel Payne, Coordinator, Early Childhood Services, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

I think that librarians have a number of choices in response to the growing use of mobile media and apps. It seems to me that our first consideration is appreciating what we know about the children we serve—and we know that most of these children spend far more time with screens than the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. Many are viewing adult-directed content and live in environments with a great deal of background television. These conditions stand to harm child development—in my state it seems to be showing in kindergarten readiness assessments (only 60% are “ready”). How do we respond to this reality? According to what children and families need, libraries can assist by offering screen-free environments and encouraging a variety of activities that are healthy options. They can also help provide balance to screen use and educate parents about screen use. Libraries have the opportunity to be more relevant and more appreciated than ever in the current environment. I am afraid, though, that we could fail children if we succumb to the hope and the hype surrounding app use. This is a mistake we can easily avoid if we simply follow the research.

—Kathy Kleckner, Children’s Librarian, Robert Trail Library, Rosemount, MN

Ebook Directory Correction

Due to an error, EBSCO Publishing was not included in “SLJ’s School Ebook Market Directory” (Sept., p. 34). The entry for EBSCO, also featured in an updated version of the directory at our Digital Shift website (, is as follows:


Last year, EBSCO added 23,000 ebooks for children and YA to its collection of more than 460,000 ebook titles. The company also announced separate K–8 and high school subscription collections, both compiled with Common Core standards in mind.

EBSCO’s K–8 collection of 7,000-plus titles features subject areas including science and technology (31.5 percent), language and literature/fiction (22 percent), history (12 percent), geography and recreation (9 percent), and education (6 percent). The high school collection contains nearly 6,500 titles in language and literature/fiction (33 percent), history (15 percent), science and technology (10 percent), and education (7.6 percent). In addition, many high schools subscribe to EBSCO’s ebook academic collection, with nearly 120,000 titles.

All titles can be downloaded and accessed anywhere with devices including computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones and other Apple iOS devices, Nooks, Sony eReader Touch devices, and mobile devices using such apps as Bluefire Reader, Aldiko, or Txtr for Android and iOS.

Pricing varies by school and district. All titles are available for unlimited simultaneous use. In addition to the subscription collections—offered as an annual, renewable license—unlimited perpetual licenses are available for all titles.

In addition, the magazine entry for Rosen Publishing incorrectly stated that the publisher’s ebook titles were available for lending on a limited simultaneous use model. All Rosen ebooks are available for unlimited simultaneous use.


PartTimeIndian JacketPBThis is in response to “Alexie’s True Diary Removed from NYC School’s Summer Reading List” (Extra Helping, 8/6/13). Since when does “request[ing] an alternative assignment” and “removing a . . . book from a required reading list” equal censorship? Did the assigning teacher(s) or librarian(s) read the entire book before they decided to require it of every 11-and 12-year-old boy and girl in their class? I am a librarian in a K–8 school and joyfully recommend Alexie’s book to some of our 7th and 8th grade students, but, having read the book cover-to-cover, I don’t consider it a “good fit” for every middle school student, let alone every 6th grader. This isn’t about censorship, it’s about common sense.

—Lynn Van Auken, Teacher Librarian, Oak Bluffs School, MA

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.