man reading on grassFrom GalleyCat comes this depressing survey, from a group called Reading is Fundamental, and Macy’s. They surveyed 1,000 parents and found that only 17% of them feel that reading is a top priority this summer.

I am not sure what to make of it. The sample size is pretty small for this one, and the survey does also point out that parents who do make reading a priority are more likely to have kids who read. But it stuck in my mind because I had read only yesterday a thought-provoking question on Ask Metafilter that struck close to home on this very issue. The questioner remembered growing up in a houseful of books and really treasuring the experience of reading. But now they buy ebooks primarily, and they were struggling with the convenience factor of not having to store all that paper, versus the desire to have lots of books around for their kids. From the question:

“I would love for my (future) children to get the same gift of this deep connection to books. Can that same sense of magic and discovery really be recreated in a house with few permanent books? This article seems to suggest that if I want smart kids, I should buy lots of books, but the kinds of factors that produce smart kids are hard to separate completely from a tendency to buy books, so I remain skeptical that this is causative. I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue (and if this all a lost cause in the age of ubiquitous electronic devices, I’m willing to hear that too).”

The admittedly anecdotal answers, from an admittedly even smaller sample size, confirm my own instinctive feeling on this. You have to buy the paper ones for your littles, clutter be damned. I’m okay with that; our kids will have their own rooms, their own shelves, their own places to keep their treasures. There will be room for the books they love, and money to transition them to e-devices when they hit the chapter book stage.

But this person’s question was about more than that. It was about creating in kids the feeling that Mom or Dad value reading. Will they be able to understand that when I am sitting there with the Kindle on my lap, that I am reading books? Will they be able to see how much time I spend on books, if there is no paper talisman to represent it? I think we’re still early enough in this tech game that we don’t know the answers. I do know that I would love my kids no matter what their interests might be—but that if I had the option to choose, I would dearly love to have a child who loves books. I would love to share my childhood favourites with them. I would love to read together, as a family, in that sacred bedtime ritual my own parents started with me. And, although my Kindle works for me, I do worry that it might not work for promoting the love of books in a kid the way a shelf full of paper would.