Paper or plastic?
The familiar grocery store check-out lane question could as easily apply to buying books these days. Will it be the paper volume or the hi-tech iPad/Kindle/Nook/e-book reader?
While more and more adults (myself included) have been foregoing print books for e-ones, people still prefer to have their children read real, actual, paper-paged books. For children under the age of 8, sales of e-book titles have stayed at less than 5 percent of annual sales. In contrast, e-books account for more than 25 percent of sales in some categories of books for adults.
Parents gladly embrace a “digital double standard,” saying they’re all for downloading e-books onto their phones and e-readers while making sure their children have the experience of turning pages to learn letters, shapes, colors.
That is the case in the home of Ari Wallach, a tech-obsessed New York entrepreneur who helps companies update their technology. He himself reads on Kindle, iPad and iPhone, but the room of his twin girls is packed with only print books.
“I know I’m a Luddite on this, but there’s something very personal about a book and not one of one thousand files on an iPad, something that’s connected and emotional, something I grew up with and that I want them to grow up with,” he said.
“I recognize that when they are my age, it’ll be difficult to find a ‘dead-tree book,’ ” he added. “That being said, I feel that learning with books is as important a rite of passage as learning to eat with utensils and being potty-trained.”
Brightly-hued picture e-books equipped with sounds and music and animations can be downloaded onto iPads and their ilk, but these also hold distractions like games and apps for doodling, drawing with stars, making music and more. Indeed, Junko Yokota, a professor and director of the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books at National Louis University in Chicago, thinks that something gets lost in the “translation” of a picture book to a digital format:
…the shape and size of the book are often part of the reading experience. Wider pages might be used to convey broad landscapes, or a taller format might be chosen for stories about skyscrapers.
Size and shape “become part of the emotional experience, the intellectual experience. There’s a lot you can’t standardize and stick into an electronic format,” said Ms. Yokota, who has lectured on how to decide when a child’s book is best suited for digital or print format.
After all, generations of children have paged through the pages of books while it’s only children born quite recently who have been reading — using — e-books.
No one can deny the marvels of the bells and whistles offered by e-books. It’s a fine thing to be able to have dozens of titles — a mini library — downloaded on your iPad; far easier, and lighter, to carry around one e-book reader than several books.
Nonetheless, I was reminded about why print books are priceless on reading about a recently discovered manuscript by Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
The magazine is tiny, “half the size of a credit card,” Gabriel Heaton, deputy director of books and manuscripts at Sothebys, tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer, and designed to be the right size for the Bronte children’s toy soldiers. Its 19 pages are crammed with more than 4,000 words — short stories, news, even advertisements — discernible only by magnifying glass.
The pages are roughly hewn and much-handled. It’s “what makes it such an evocative object,” Heaton says. “You can almost see her there with her little scissors.”
And on these little pages, the Brontes spun such dreams, each conjuring up entire kingdoms. Charlotte’s fantasy city featured immense palaces and awesome, towering buildings. It was presided over by the Duke of Wellington and his two sons — the heroes of the story.
The tiny hand-printed book could fetch up to $315,000 to $475,000 at the auction house Sotheby’s. One of the stories in the book — written when Brontë was some 14 years old — indeed hints at the “madwoman in the attic” of Jane Eyre.The story contains a “powerful evocation of madness” in which a man imprisons his enemy in the attic and is driven insane by his guilt.
The tiny book literally bears the mark of Brontë, whose name appears on the title page and who must have herself cut the pages and turned them, often. Anyone holding the little book is holding the very object that Brontë herself did.
E-readers are great and perhaps you’re planning to purchase one for a holiday present or have one down on your wish list. But should children start reading print books before “graduating” to the e-book kind? Does it make a difference whether a child reads a book in e-format or in a traditional one, with pages to turn, fold, wrinkle, smooth, pour over? Is the “digital double standard” one with real, with concrete, benefits?
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