Children embrace ‘bookness’ across all formats

Heather Hughes // Western News

Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor Lynne McKechnie stressed it is the role of librarians to curate lists of well-designed e-book apps for children. “We need to sort out what is ‘good’ and what isn’t,” she noted. A study by McKechnie and PhD candidate Kathleen Schreurs showed children don’t see a difference between a physical book and the electronic version.

In a technologically literate age, children don’t see a difference between e-books and their printed, dog-eared counterparts, with both occupying children’s literal and virtual libraries, a new study suggests.

Many studies have examined children’s experiences with e-books from the perspective of parents, librarians and teachers. Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor Lynne McKechnie and PhD candidate Kathleen Schreurs take a different approach in their recent study on children’s experiences and perceptions of e-book reading. They asked 20 children, ages 2-12 years, for their opinions on e-books. McKechnie and Schreurs were amazed by the findings.

Children don’t see a difference between a physical book and the electronic version. In a tech-savvy age, children’s ideas of what a ‘book’ is are not fixed; they see them all as ‘books,’ regardless of format, said McKechnie.

“It’s based on their experience of the world,” she continued. “They are no longer differentiating by format, and that’s really interesting. Some are equally comfortable with all the formats. They are more flexible than adults.”

Reading an e-book is no different for them than reading a physical book. Traditional literacy skills still apply, such as understanding how they work, how to manipulate them, the relationships between the words and images and the practice of reading aloud.

“A very well-crafted e-book or picture book app, in and of itself, can teach a reader how to read it,” she said. “We see this in print.”

For example, the I Can Read! Book series is designed to assist young readers with navigating the written word, by using short sentences and lots of white space. For older children, series books, like Nancy Drew and The Baby-Sitter’s Club, “are almost like the training-wheels for reading,” said McKechnie of the writing’s repetitive formula.

When she demonstrated e-book apps, such as Pat the Bunny, to the children, they were quick to see the advantages of the interactive high-tech version – even though the low-tech book was meant to be a sensual experience and the smell feature could not be replicated online. To the reader, they were the same and the changes made in the e-book version, such as watering the flowers instead of smelling them, were just as good.

“The format of the book was irrelevant. There was something ‘bookness’ about what was there,” she said.

“Someone just needs to put this stuff in their hands,” she continued, adding when the children were unsure about how a new e-book app worked, “we saw how they would help one another.”

While parents may want their kids to use iPads or Android devices as learning tools, children see them serving a different purpose: playing games.

“All of the children saw these devices primarily as gaming spaces. The adults around them want them to be learning spaces or reading spaces.”

So, how do we bridge this gap? Provide children with well-designed e-book apps and they will use them, McKechnie said. And it is the role of the librarian to curate lists of well-designed e-book apps.

“We need to sort out what is ‘good’ and what isn’t,” she noted, adding it is important to have “access to reading materials and being able to choose what you want.”

McKechnie, who has 20 years of experience as a children’s librarian, noted children are naturally self-directed learners and can quickly apply familiar literacy principles to e-books.

“It’s how they go about learning the world. They just interact with it. They play with it. They manipulate it.”

E-books are not going to replace traditional books, she stressed, but rather present an alternative format, akin to watching a movie version of a book.

Since there is a cost often associated with the apps, access may present a barrier for some. However, this is where libraries and librarians can play a role, she explained.

“It is healthy technology. I have no trouble with putting this (device) in children’s hands,” she said. “Providing access to this stuff is very important. We librarians know how to do this, we can build those collections and provide access to them.”

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There are an increasing number of high-quality book apps and e-books for kids. This list includes award winners, enduring favourites, promising new titles and both story and informational titles for children of all ages which are readily available for purchase.

  • Moo, Baa, La La La! By Sandra Boynten. Loud Crow Interactive. 2 years plus;
  • Pat the Bunny. By Dorothy Kuhnhardt. Randomhouse Kids Apps. 2 years plus;
  • The Monster at the End of This Book. Sesame Workshop. 3 years plus;
  • Spot. By David Wiesner. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 5 years plus;
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! By Mo Willems. Disney Publishing. 5 years plus;
  • Little Red Riding Hood. Nosy Crow. Crow’s Nest. 4-8 years;
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants. By Dave Pilkey. 7-11 years; and
  • Apprentice Architect. Foundation Louis Vuitton. Touchpress. 8-11 years.