In our technology-laden society, young children seem more at ease flipping through the pages of a book by swiping the screen of an iPad than leafing through pages. But does that mean the days of sharing the pleasure of a storybook are over? Not quite yet, it seems.
According to a recent study by Booknet Canada, children of all ages (including teens) are reading more physical copies of books than e-books. As someone who has been reviewing kids’ books for 15 years, I believe there is still an important place for the printed word in the lives of children.
First and foremost, books bring joy and help create great childhood memories. They also allow for better contact with artwork and text and as stand-alone pieces without any other distractions attached, they help convey to children that a story is an enduring creation of art to be enjoyed and admired.
Here are some books that will help children understand that books are not quite antiques yet, and may even inspire them to put away their gadgets for an afternoon of quiet reading.
The Incredible Book Eating Boy ($9.99, HarperCollins)
by Oliver Jeffers – Ages 3-6
This clever book is a play on the expression to “devour books,” when someone reads at a voracious pace. The character in this book literally eats the books before him. While at the table one day, he eats a letter by accident, and then a word, and eventually the entire book. What he discovers is that he becomes smarter with each one he eats. As a consequence, he begins to eat as many as he can so he can become the smartest person in the world. He reaches a point of over-saturation, however, where all the information gets jumbled in his mind because he is eating the books too quickly. As a remedy, he finds that reading a book can have as much of an impact, even if it may take a little longer to get through. Jeffers has done a fantastic job bringing to life the idea that children today are no longer used to being around books and eating one can seem as natural as reading one. It is also a reflection of our fast-paced society and the tendency to want everything quickly. The illustrations are done on the pages of old books, revealing the aesthetic and wonder that books carry with them through time. Children will love this silly and whimsical book, which will surely tempt them to feast on more!
It’s a Book ($15.99, Roaring Brook Press)
by Lane Smith – Ages 4-7
The topic of this simple, yet funny book is the increasing obsolescence of books among children. When a large ape is attempting to quietly read a book, he is constantly being disturbed by a little donkey who doesn’t know what a book is. At first the ape is persuaded to share his book with the donkey, but when the donkey expresses his disappointment that it doesn’t have any computer-like features, the ape grows increasingly frustrated with his techie companion. Author and illustrator Lane Smith is clearly a lover of books, and reveals their beautiful simplicity through the barrage of questions that come from the donkey. “Does it blog, can you scroll, can it be charged, why are there so many words?” asks the donkey unrelentingly. The little donkey’s behaviour captures the short attention span that has become a consequence of the media bombardment we are faced with through technology. The text used for the dialogue also reflects the computer versus book dichotomy, with the donkey’s dialogue written in a computer-processing like font, whereas the ape’s is in a traditional printing font. At the end, the ape takes back his book and makes a sly, play-on-words comment to the donkey, which should come with a small discretionary note for parents. The ape reflects what many of us are likely thinking; that children will come to appreciate what books can truly offer by exercising the mind and allowing time for reflection.
Goodnight iPad ($17, Blue Rider Press)
by Ann Droyd –Ages 5-8
Many children have grown up with the classic picture book Goodnight Moon as their favourite bedtime story. Author Ann Droyd has taken this beloved classic to make a parody that reflects the 21st century. There are “Goodnights” for the iPad, Facebook, the LCD TV and more. It clearly brings to life the clutter of noise created by all the technology that we have brought into our lives and have become increasingly dependent on – to the point where sleeping can even be difficult due to message notifications, buzzing lights from screens and sound effects of video games. The grandmother in the book simply wants peace, and throws all the gadgets out the window. Droyd has managed to make the parody light-hearted and funny, poking fun at our technological saturation but without ever falling into cynicism. Children and parents familiar with Goodnight Moon will have a great time making comparisons with the original. It will inspire children to put all their gadgets to bed, so that they can enjoy their books, and their sleep, in peace!