The Obsolescence of Picture Books and Reading to Children

I’m a children’s librarian.  In library school, I learned how to pan books around the room during storytime. I know the importance of dialogic reading.  I cringe when parents come to the desk and ask for a DVD that can teach their kids to do something. I don’t think Dora or the Magic Treehouse books are good literature, but the kids are ravenous for them, so I show them where to go.  My 3 year old has mostly Caldecott winners or honor books in his personal collection at home. I use music heavily in my early literacy programs because kids love it, and when they love it, they learn. I can recite the 6 early literacy skills by heart. I support literacy like a boss.

I am NOT out to replace picture books, or reading generally, with technology. Why do so many children’s librarians think that because there are new tools to enhance a child’s use of the library, that the next step is to throw out every other tool we have? Reading books comes first.  I agree. Children reading together with parents, as early as possible, is the best thing for developing brains.  I agree.  Too much time in front of screens is a bad thing.  I agree. Reading a print book is not the same as reading a digital book.  I agree.

Yay! We all agree! We’re friends! We all love books and reading! So stop getting all up in my grill when I say that it makes more sense to project an iBook on a screen so that everyone in the room can see it, not just the 5 big kids in the front.  Stop making that squinty face when I recommend a good-quality book-based app. Parents are downloading stuff on their smart phones and tablets anyway; would you rather they show their kid the crappy stuff with in-app purchases, bad interface, rampant consumerism and potentially inappropriate content? Step up, grab your library’s iPad, and start using the same content that your customers are using at home.

I am not threatening the 30 years you have spent being very good at your job by suggesting that we learn about new formats for children’s books.  I am not advocating that people read solely on their devices.  I am not making you obsolete. I am not suggesting that we remove ALL physical elements from a  storytime in favour of digital facsimiles.

The digital marketplace is FLOODED with content for kids and people need our stewardship more than ever.  This is an opportunity to expand our skill sets and learn about useful tools that can make us more effective and relevant as information professionals and experts in early literacy.

Read this article from the Guardian. The assertion is that the same things that makes a kid’s book great are what makes kid’s apps great: Great storytelling. Strong characters.

This, hopefully, will head off the crotchety commenters who appear whenever I write about children’s apps for The Guardian, saying things like “You idiot! Children should be reading BOOKS, not staring at a screen!” Ridiculous, since children in even the geekiest households are doing both, not replacing the former with the latter.


Posted on September 25, 2012, in Early Literacy, Media Literacy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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