eBooks and Books: A Necessary Debate?

Over at Big Think, Scott McLeod blogged about the future of print and his top 21 eBooks for kids in honor of Children's Book Week.  I was initially struck by the irony of that because as many of us know, the debate between those who love eBooks and those who abhor them is quite contentious.  In fact, for some, an eBook is no book at all ... particularly when it comes to children's picture books.  Why?  Well, as McLeod points out, "the lines between electronic books, videos, animation, interactive games, and learning software are blurring" and they are doing so in a hurry.

His post, which features YouTube videos of his favorites definitely includes some books with gratuitous moving parts.  I was happy to see Beatrix Potter represented, but I wondered what the catchable leaves and berries add to the story -- and I couldn't help but feel that static illustrations and a parent's warm lap might do the story greater justice.

I guess it is only fair to confess at this point that I am not without biases when it comes to the eBook vs. Book debate.  I am one of those people who lament the day that books (the real ones with lots of paper pages, carefully illustrated images, and ink) go the way of eReaders.  I adore books ... the smell, the feel, the weight, the texture... you get the picture.

Not surprisingly then, it was with some glee that I opened The May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine* to see that they too were celebrating children's picture books -- the printed ones.  In the article, authors Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee took the high road and instead of "offering any opinions about whether it's an exciting, scary, sad, or wonderful time" in the print publishing industry, they simply wanted to sing the praises of picture books.

One thing that they appreciate about picture books is the way that they inspire/require "the young child [to be] an active viewer."  Instead of being "passively mesmerized" by animated images, children who read and are read to from picture books are "motivated to expand [the images they see] and interpret what perhaps came before and what perhaps will come later."  Johnston and Frazee point out that "If with a click, buzz, or beep, the image changes, moves, or spins -- as it can already do and certainly will continue to do in many dynamic new formats -- it becomes another kind of experience for the child.  A valid experience, yes, but not a picture-book experience."

Indeed, it is a different experience -- and, yes, I have to admit that it can be a valid one.  And therein arises a question that is tied to one of my other biases ...  how do we as parents define "valid" when it comes to the use of technology in the pursuit of education.  Is technology robbing children of their ability to focus, imagine, and expand their internal worlds?  Or can technology contribute meaningfully to the educational pursuits of our offspring?  Ironically, maybe one can answer "yes" to both of those questions and therefore the real answer is for parents and teachers to actively engage in bringing the best of both worlds to bare for our kids.  The past of printed books and the future of interactive books both have best practices to offer.  Perhaps that is why Johnston and Frazee were hesitant to say whether or not this was an exciting or terrible time in the history of the printed word.

I hope as the debate about eBooks and books continues, the question will shift from being about print vs. technology, to questions about what we should champion from each realm.

*Pages 10-16

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