E-Books or Paper Books: Which Is Best For Kids?

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.

From NPR:

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?

Related Care2 Coverage

Amazon Launches Digital “Lending Library”

Can a Bookstore Not Have Books?

The End of the Story: Borders To Close


Photo by remiforall

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Catherine A.
Catherine A.18 days ago

Awesome work! That is quite appreciated. I hope you’ll get more success. Sociology Ebooks

a             y m.
g d c.3 years ago


Lynne B.
Lynne B.3 years ago

Can't beat holding a book.

Nadine L.
Nadine L.3 years ago

Maybe I'm just another old bag (a paper one, please!) but I think that there's nothing more sensual than a book when it comes to reading. I'm presently testing reading on a tablet and it's true, it's quite interesting to be able to carry numerous books with you on such a light and handy device. But I can't smell the printing and paper perfume, I can't caress the pages texture... it seems like I'm missing the main part of the experience of reading. An old book has a history and holding this book in your hand is part of the reading experience. Depriving kids from this, is to my idea, is depriving him from this magic, from this tactile and olfactory feelings.

iii q.
g d c.3 years ago


Susan Lynch
Susan Lynch3 years ago

Just imagine trying to help a child experience The Velveteen Rabbit without paper pages!

Susan Lynch
Susan Lynch3 years ago

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lying around, reading a book and letting it take me to far-away ~ or fantasy ~ places. Can anyone imagine being a child with a beloved Dr. Seuss book and not being able to flip through the pages over and over again to look at the fantastic illustrations? I still have many of my childhood books: Yertle the Turtle; The Lonely Doll; Winnie The Pooh (a 6th birthday present from my great aunt) and many others. I have passed them on to my grandson. They are the greatest treasures of my childhood and he adores them.

Charlie Parkinson

My eldest brother and I have frequent debates about this. Yes, it really is handy to have that book which is so hard to find or can only be found in the library five counties away on google for a comparatively small fee....but honestly, in my opinion, nothing can compare to the feeling of that book in your hands, the way you can so easily become absorbed in the world of a good book that you no longer are even aware of the brief moments when you have to turn the page. This as opposed to the annoying click, scroll, adjust, back-up if you've gone too far process which believe me, can get really old really fast.

K s Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

gary c.
Gary C.3 years ago

Nothing like the feel and smell of a real book , new or old the anticipation of opening a book for the first time wondering what you may find within it's pages, stories or pictures is something special and should be passed on to our young...