E-Readers: Replacement or Complement for Traditional Books?

We all know that the e in e-reader stands for electronic, but for some it might mean educational, entertaining, or even eek! E-reader use is definitely becoming more popular among kids according to this news story. On the other hand, a school in Silicon Valley does not allow technology in the classroom and also discourages it at home.

Curious about how others feel about this hot topic, I asked a half dozen questions to a dozen or so of my friends and associates. A compilation of their answers follows. In order to respect privacy, only first names are used for respondents who are not members of  the From The Mixed Up Files blog.

photo courtesy of Sheri Goad

(Photo courtesy of Sheri Goad)

1. Do your children have access to or own their own e-reader?  The number of children with personal e-readers tallied just over half of those who shared a device with other family members. One respondent’s family did not use e-readers at all.

2. What do your children primarily use the device for?  Pleasure reading was the most common use for e-readers, schoolwork was a close second, and game playing came in third.

3. What do you think are the major pros/cons of e-readers?  The respondents cited portability, space saving capability, and easy accessibility to reading material as the most common pros of owning e-readers.

 Milli explained that the issue of space was the primary reason she bought her eleven-year-old son an e-reader. Her book-loving son was running out of room to store his growing collection. Milli states, “I do think he has more access to books because he is able to browse them on his own and is not dependent on me to take him to the library or store.”

Laurie Schneider, a Mixed Up Files member and mom to an e-reading thirteen-year-old girl, says, “It’s great if you’re reading a series book and finish a volume late at night. A few clicks and you can be onto the next volume.”

Ester, mom of three, says, “A really big plus to the e-reader is that with all the apps available, it makes it easy to download books to your computer, iPhone, or Kindle. Therefore, you can always have your books available. While one child reads on the Kindle, the other can read on your computer or phone.

Another Mixed Up Files member, Sayantani DasGupta, who does not currently own an e-reader, states, “E-readers cross my mind every time we travel because our luggage is always so weighed down by books.

Keri, mom to one son,  says that she likes the fact that e-readers are “green,” and that books cost less. However, she also points out that “new authors and titles will be harder to find.” Like Sayantani, Keri points out the portability of an e-reader. Her son, an only child, reads most while traveling to visit his father. “Books offer great company,” Keri says. “He uses his imagination more.”

Another common con sited was breakability.  According to Laurie’s daughter, “If you drop it, it breaks!” On the other hand, Keri states that her “typical boy” is prone to losing or damaging stuff, but “that doesn’t happen with an e-reader.” Apparently, damage control varies per kid, but the cost and fragile nature of e-readers are definitely points to consider.

A variety of drawbacks to e-reader use were also noted. Jan, mom to a twelve year old daughter, says her daughter “misses the ability to tell how far along she is in the book. With the Nook, there is no warning that the end is coming.”

Both Amanda, mom to Marijke, and Doreen, mom to Jack, listed lack of Internet filtering as a shortcoming for e-readers. Doreen wishes that there were a color version of an e-reader without internet access.

Although a few parents listed the cool factor as a plus, Sayantani thinks it could also be a minus. She states concerns about “privilege and consumer culture,”  and feels that an e-reader may be “one more expensive thing to own and measure your wealth/privilege by with another child.

When asked to list the disadvantages of e-readers, Sheri, mom to three sons, says “They aren’t real books.You can’t put the pages in your fingers, or decorate your book shelves. If your battery dies you are out of luck. You can’t pass along a book to a friend, and it is certainly not the same when you are reading them to a group of kids.

4. Do you think e-readers will replace traditional books? How do you feel about that? The general consensus among the group was that traditional books would indeed survive. However, the opinions as to why varied greatly, and some respondents brought up some unique issues.

Amanda says, “I don’t think they (e-readers) will completely replace traditional books because the reading experience is different, and some stories just need to be read in a traditional manner.

Kim, mom to Brandon age ten, says, “We still love books in print. Nothing can replace the smell and feel of a book. There will always be a place for them, although I do think with ebook players going down in price, more and more kids will be using them.”

Jan thinks that traditional books will last because, “With a normal book, I can own it, give it away, sell it at a used booked store, turn it into a work of art if I want to. With an e-book, I can read it. Period. And if any licensing issues pop up, the bookstore can ‘take it back,’ something they don’t really have the option of doing with a book on my bookshelf.

Deb Marshall, a Mixed Up Files member, answered the questions based on her work with a book club for eight to twelve year olds. “These kids are a generation comfortable with technology but still hooked into hard copy books. They love being able to hold the real book. I think that’s great. They can experience the best of both worlds.

Laurie, who grew up near three paper mills has mixed feelings about the prospect of e-readers replacing traditional books. “I know what mills do the environment. On the other hand, I’m a book person. I love the look, feel, and even the smell of books. As a teenager, I imagined myself wandering among the book people with Montag at the end of FARENHEIT 451.

Sheri believes that traditional books will survive. “E-readers offer a great convenience, but let’s face it; they aren’t books. Kids enjoy going to a bookstore and looking through the shelves until the right book jumps off the shelf and demands to go home. E-readers have a place, but I don’t think it’s a “replace.”

5.  If your child has any particular learning disabilities or special needs, do you find that the e-reader holds an advantage  over traditional books? 

Kim replies that e-books help her son because “he can make the font larger and also listen to the books.” Jan also mentions that it’s easier to “isolate focus” by making the font larger.

Doreen’s son likes being able to “look up a word at the touch of a button, instead of skipping it, looking it up in a real dictionary, or asking someone what it means.” However, Doreen feels Jack may also be distracted by other features of the e-readers such as “playing games, searching for and adding apps, and seeing what other things it can do.

On the other hand, Amanda finds that when her daughter, Marijke reads a traditional book, “she fidgets with the corners of the pages and reads out loud. When she reads from the Kindle, she reads silently, doesn’t fidget as much, and seems more focused.”

“I have two children with dyslexia,” explains Ester. “For them, I think our e-reader is an advantage. Our e-reader has a text to speech button which allows them to follow along as the e-reader reads the text on the page. It is something I usually do not encourage, but it’s nice to know it is available if they ned it. It allows them to listen to the pronunciation of words that they may be struggling with.”

Joanne Prushing  Johnson, an occupational therapist and Mixed Up Files member, works with students on the autism spectrum. She hopes that e-books will become “interactive and encourage children to research ideas that the books they are reading inspire, learn strategies to better analyze text for information or concepts like them, and keep reluctant readers motivated to turn the page.”   

6. Do you have any other comments about children and e-readers you would like to share?

Marie, mom to two girls, states that her children only use her Kindle for vocabulary work. She’d consider allowing them to read from it; however, she also states, “I really don’t want to skip the experience of bookstores, libraries, and research at this age. I feel those are some essential steps. I am thinking of my experience as a bookkeeper. If the computer went down, I would have to be able to go to paper and record transactions to keep the business going. I am thinking the same concept for the girls. What if these electronic resources were not available? I want them to have the know-how first, and then they can indulge in electronic efficiency.

Milli adds, “I think that e-readers are great, but it is also nice to be able to hold and smell the pages of a real book. For the love of reading is developed more from example set by parents and time set aside by parents to share a story. All children love to get attention from their parents and what better way to do than with a story.”

Joanne says, “I think it is normal to feel nostalgic about traditional books, and I think there will be a need for them for many years. But I also think that it is possible that as much as many worry that technology will decrease reading, it could also open a lot of doors for people who don’t relate to reading or who struggle with reading. Although screen time could be viewed as a passive activity, it could also become more interactive than books for kids who find reading boring or hard.”

You may be wondering what my take on e-readers is, and honestly, I don’t know. But after reading all the responses I received to my questions, I must say I’m leaning more toward purchasing one than I had in the past. I’ve resisted purchasing an e-reader, partly because of the cost and partly because I didn’t want to contribute to a trend that could signal the demise of books. However, from the responses here, you can see that several die hard e-reader users are not predicting the death of the ink and paper book any time soon.

I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this post. The answers were excellent and certainly got me to thinking. Readers, what would your answers to these six questions be? Let us know in the comment section below.

Lill Pluta has had numerous short pieces published in the magazine and educational markets, as well as one picture book and a series of board books. She also once won a rather hefty prize for writing a poem about mustard. She is currently living her dream, writing middle grade novels with a magical twist, in a beach town where she resides with her husband, two sons, and trio of cats.

Lill Pluta