November 22, 2011
As I continue to post entries on this year’s outstanding children’s titles, I digress a moment, drawing attention to an article in yesterday’s New York Times. The piece by Matt Richtel and Julie Bosman is very much consonant with the spirit of this blog. Print books, the Times reporters point out, may constitute an increasingly beleaguered cultural commodity, as the market for easily downloadable and transportable e-books surges.
Yet, not so, Richtel and Bosman demonstrate, in the world of children’s books. In that domain, print titles command the territory. The fact that books for young readers are bucking the trend does not surprise me. For children engaged in the tactile experience of perusing a book, turning the pages, lingering over an image, the immersion conferred by a print book—as opposed to an e-reader or tablet—simply cannot be duplicated. And for grown-ups reading to children, the benefits are similarly ineffable yet genuine. The act of sitting with a child and together altering the pace, paging through pictures and words together, offers a shared understanding of the world and a cohesive, memorable experience.
Some neuroscientific research on the development of the brain in young children suggests that exposure to technology—television and hand-held devices in particular—may actively impede the fostering of focus and sustained attention. But a great deal more than that is lost—the earliest, deepest connection to books as an arena where empathy and imagination, laughter and suspense, creativity and aspiration, illumine the days of children and the grown-ups who share books with them.
It’s heartening to learn that even the most passionate of e-reader devotees are insisting that, when it comes to their children, a book one can hold and meditate on together, page by page, sentence by sentence, image by image, offers an incomparable introduction to the world of reading.
Even so, I do think that it’s important to add a caveat here: publishers are producing some e-books of exceptional quality, some with transfixing interactive features. For anyone enduring a stint in an airport with restive children, the e-reader could be a lifesaver. Perhaps a new paradigm will emerge: books on the paper in the main, but e-books, an essential back-up, also at the ready on the tablet.