Should children read ebooks?

November 21, 2011

Today’s New York Times  points out that most  plugged in, etext-only adults still prefer physical print books for their children.  (For Their Children, Many E-book Fans Insist on Paper) The reasons vary: ebooks and ereaders are expensive, offer poorer selections, can’t convey illustrations well. There’s also a great deal of affection for the tactile, physical experience of sharing  books with a child, difficult to replicate with a Kindle.

But do physical books for children have any actual advanatge over  ebooks?

Junko Yokota, a professor and director of the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books (and former EPL board member), thinks the answer is yes, because 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.

Not yet, anyway. Children’s ebooks tend to use multimedia more than those for adults. They may include animations, “bouncing ball” effects to guide young readers from word to word, or even recordings of a parent’s voice. Do these special effects help or hinder children’s reading?

Julie Hume, a reading specialist in Missouri, decided to set up her own experiment, comparing the results of 24 3rd-5th graders who struggled with reading. Half spent their reading enrichment time at a computer working with the Tumblebooks  ebook program, the others received traditional intervention from a teacher with paper books.

Last November, three months after starting the project, the average fluency rate for the Tumblebook group was 23 percentage points higher than that of the control group. By January, all the children in the ebook program had achieved enough fluency to be integrated back into their regular classrooms. It took the control group two months longer. (See, Are Ebooks Any Good? )

Clearly, ebooks can help engage reluctant readers, yet the tactile experience of turning pages and sharing a book with an adult can’t be ignored either. Neither Yokota nor Hume sees this as an either/or choice, but stress that different books work better in different formats, and that parents and teachers need to choose what works best for their child at a given point in his or her development.

Lesley W.


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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