Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Picture books go high-tech...some thoughts

I attended a conference about 10 years ago in which Harold Underdown spoke about i-Books. He told us how this would be the next big thing and that publishers would be shying away from paper-and-ink book publishing. Everyone in the room gasped and subsequently fell into an inevitable depression. However, picture books are still being published with paper, ink, and all of the traditional materials.

Yes, the economy and possibly the rise of iPads and Nooks capturing that interactive, cool, technologically advanced version of books has led to fewer picture books being printed. But they're still around and publishers are still buying new manuscripts.

So here are my random thoughts on this issue that could affect reading for kids and parents. An article from the New York Times features the color Nook's e-reader.

Recently, I was able to view a children's book on my friend's Nook. It was cool. The colors were vibrant and the story still endearing. I also had a chance to look at the interactive elements of a children's book on an iPad.

As a mom, I wonder how many parents would feel about their little ones handling their expensive equipment, like an iPad. I get nervous when my 15-year-old needs to borrow my laptop (yes, I am a bit paranoid, but he also has a habit of dropping things, stepping on earphones, etc.), so how much more would I feel anxious about a preschooler with sticky fingers and a drippy nose handling my iPad? It's one thought that comes to mind. However, the interactive nature of the illustrations and text is very cool. I would definitely sit there and play around with the ticking clock or read-aloud text, and I could see parents really enjoying sharing these resources with their kids. 

The other thought I have about e-Readers comes from my experience in reading a recent book for adults on my husband's Kindle, the e-Reader produced by Amazon. At first, I felt totally out of my element. I was pushing buttons on this foreign contraption and just couldn't get used to the fact that I was reading an actual book. As I got into the story, it became more natural. I liked the fact that I could adjust the font size easily, but I guess that normally I must do a lot of flipping around when I read a paper book. I read the info about the author, I flip ahead to see how long the chapter is, I look at the chapter headings. This is not so easy with an e-Reader.

But, on the pro side of the argument, you no longer need bookmarks.

An editor recently told me about a children's book called "It's a Book" by Lane Smith. Love it, love it, love it! One character is reading an actual paper book, and an annoying, slightly ignorant character keeps asking what it is. What does it do? Where's the plug? It's a great story, with a bit of commentary on our cultural obsession with gadgets.

So, I guess the bottom line for me is that I don't think picture books in their traditional form will be going away any time soon. There's still a physical connection we have with stories and with page turns and the story--literally--unfolds. But I also love technology and have my own love of gadgets, so I can see parents embracing this new "delivery system" of books as well. My husband, who has owned a Kindle for a couple of years, uses it occasionally, and also reads regular books. Not all books are available on the Kindle, and he still goes to the library to check out books as well. This is what I picture parents doing. They may have a couple of books on their iPads to share with their kids, but will also make those library and bookstore runs for books as well. As an author, I think the possibilities are exciting, and I hope someday to see one of my books on an iPad or Nook!


  1. Like you, I'd be a little leery of preschoolers using iPads on their own, but I know of a 7 year old who loves using the book apps on an iPhone while waiting for appointments, etc. Doing the interactive elements of the e-books with the preschoolers would be fun.

    I'm pretty old-school when it comes to books and kids, though. There's nothing quite like reading an actual picture book to a child.

  2. Ooh, that's the CONTROVERSIAL Lane Smith book. Read it and see if you agree.

    I like carrying books around, so I haven't converted to a e-reader yet, although sometimes I read books on my laptop. I'd let my kids use one if I had it, though; they've been on the computers since they were toddlers. I agree with you -- parents will get some picture books for their iPads, but also have books that kids can drool over in print.

  3. Oh dear, I don't remember a controversy. Perhaps it's my unreliable memory, or maybe I didn't notice. :)

  4. I used to think I would never read an online book or use a reader of some sort but I am now just getting used to the idea. I think it is another format to be enjoyed. However we read, just read. It's like listening to audio books. I consider that reading.

    ~ Lauri Chandler

  5. Great post ... I hadn't thought about the loss of expensive equipment. I haven't tried a Nook Color or an iPad, but do love my "old" Nook for reading chapter books and ARCs. Makes sitting at swim practice a whole lot easier!