I have written about kids’ books more than once for this blog, and my feeling has always been that eBooks are fine for grown-ups like me, where how it looks doesn’t really matter. But for kids, I still think that how it looks does matter. And while I have seen my share of them muck around with reading apps on the iPad, I think that there is still something special about bonding with a tiny child over a printed, paper book. And two book-ish encounters this past week have inspired me to start building up my paper library again, with favourite stories for the kids in my life.
The first was a visit with a special little friend in my life who is almost four years old. The only books I have seen him with so far have been media tie-in types (superheroes, Thomas the Train and so on) so when we were out together and I spotted a personal favourite from my New Zealand Days—Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Todd—I pounced and bought it for him. To my delight, he loved it. Over the course of our two-day visit, we read it about nine times.
But it wasn’t just words to him. The book, as a physical object, delighted him and it was so much fun to see him browse the pages. The inside cover had little portraits of all the dogs who are in the story, and he’d point to them and say their names. It was a conversation topic for us—which dog is your favourite? Which is the black one? The big one?
Then he would go to his favourite pages. On one page, the dog gets into a garbage can. The first time we read it, I stopped, pointed it out to him and said ‘uh oh, look what he’s doing!’ Every time he picked up the book after that, he would turn to that page, point at the picture and say uh oh! He loved going through all the pictures and retelling the story to me.
I’m not dissing the e-apps by any means, but I think that they need to be a part of a child’s book diet—the same way the media tie-ins can be a part—but not be the whole thing. We need to get kids reading all sorts of things, and there is room for all types of media. To me, there is something special about tucking them into bed with a stack of quality, non-junky, non-media books and having the story time. But of course, he can read the junky books and play the media games too.
My second books-in-the wild encounter involved an elderly lady and her young grandson who found themselves in line in front of me at the bookstore the other day. He had a stack of about 10 books on the cash desk, and he was worriedly asking his grandma if it was too much. “Oh sweetheart, it’s Grandma, of course it’s not too much!’ she assured him. Then she turned to me and said ‘I tell myself it’s okay because they’re books, you know?’ I assured her it was indeed okay, and added that I had a grandma like her. Her eyes welled up. ‘And is she still with you, dear?’ she asked me. I admitted she was not, but that it was okay, because she had been with me for a very long time, and the way she loved me changed my life. I have never forgotten her love, and I told this grandma that her little grandson would not forget it either. As I was leaving, she was wiping her eyes and asking him if there was anything else he wanted to add before she paid.
I’m sure that boy has an iPod Touch too—he looked about my nephew’s age, and his whole school is over-run with them. I am sure he will see his share of eBooks, of reading apps and phonics games and so on. But I am also sure that this boy will never forget—as I never did—the times he spent picking out books with his grandma. EBooks vs paper—for kids, anyway—is not an either/or proposition. There is room for both in any kid’s life.