Chris caught Sprout “reading” earlier this week. He obviously didn’t understand the words, but there he was on the floor of his bedroom, flipping through a book page by page. As a touch and feel book, he was running his fingers over the textured spots and even had it the right side up! Moments like this make me glad we haven’t abandoned physical books yet. As convenient as e-readers are, they don’t have the material presence of books, which is essential for a child to build an appreciation of them.
For one, e-books can never provide the tactile feedback of board books. You can’t allow babies to gnaw on the edges or turn the pages with drooly little fingers, even with the best covers. There’s no such thing as a touch and feel e-book, with furry and fuzzy patches that simulate the baby’s senses. Having a direct interaction with books, not just seeing them held at the parent’s arm length and out of reach, is important for a baby. It builds an inherant affection for books that they’ll carry throughout their lives. Many lovely e-picture books have sounds and animations, but those just aren’t the same, especially for infants.
E-books also don’t have the physical presence in the house that regular books do. While this is a huge advantage when you are traveling or facing a serious lack of shelf space (who, me?), you can never get the sense of being “surrounded by books” as you can with a good family library. It’s been shown that kids that see their parents reading regularly are much more likely to read themselves. I feel that having a physical library reinforces the self-image that “we are a family who values reading and books.” To quote Wondermark, I want Sprout to be a bibliophiban, to breathe books as he does air.
Relatedly, e-books also don’t allow a child to have a personal library, unless you purchase them their own tablet. Despite Amazon’s claim that an Kindle is a perfect Christmas gift for a one-year-old, I disagree. But with board and picture books, Sprout already has a whole bookshelf full of wonderful stories that he enjoys pulling off the shelf on a regular basis. Many of them carry special inscriptions in the front, reminding him of the fact that a gift of a book is a sign of love in our family. With electronic versions, it’s much harder to pass down beloved books. It’s simple to let a child read one, but it lacks the history of worn covers and bent pages that remind you that you were once their age.
I’m glad that in this day of electronic media – which I’m certainly prone to favoring myself – that there’s still a place for physical children’s books. I know reading to him on my lap, watching him turn the pages (even if it’s often backwards), has given me more appreciation for their simple charms.