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August 2, 2012 By:
Elyse Glickman, Jewish Exponent Feature
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High school and middle school English class staples -- from William Shakespeare to Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway -- now exist in the e-book universe, as do Harry Potter and the crews from the Twilight and Hunger Games series.
This brings up a very provocative question, not so much about Johnny not being able to read, but Johnny feeling he can absorb the written word on a device similar to the one he can play video games on.

Jamie Wilson, electronic resources coordinator at the Free Library of Philadelphia, notes that the presence of e-books not only help Johnny to read, but do it with increased curiosity and gusto. It can also bring an added dimension to the literacy process that is already bolstered by television shows and the well-encouraged practice of parents reading to their infants and toddlers.

However, it should not totally replace the feel and weight of the printed page. "There is certainly a novelty aspect to e-reading for children," observes Wilson. "Getting to use the device or gadget may be a treat and in a lot of families the e-book could be the carrot parents can use to attract children to books. However, we are missing the larger point that so many children already love books and reading."

Wilson further explains that the e-book question could be tied to age. If a child still needs you to read to him, then an e-reader will not make much of a difference as picture books do not translate very well to a digital format due to their heavily illustrated, tactile nature.

Though publishers are making strides in this area, such as iPad apps created for Pat the Bunny or There's a Monster at the End of This Book, these books wind up being interactive animations instead of straight e-books that you might get on a Kindle or Nook.

On the other hand, if a child can read on her own, the novelty factor of an e-reader may encourage her to read more.

"I think it is most important to make reading something kids want to do," Wilson continues. "I don't see a fundamental difference between e-books versus print when it comes to instilling a love of reading in your child.

"The bigger issue," he says, "is spending time each day reading with your child and teaching by example. Let them see you reading. Carry a book or an e-reader with you. Take your kids to the library, and buy books and magazines for them."

Though some parents may have health concerns about readers with backlit screens like iPads, the Kindle Fire or Nook Color, Wilson says he has not heard of any cases where children suffered eye impairment from it. He points out that e-readers like Nooks and Kindles with no color or backlit screens best replicate the optical print reading experience.

"The biggest concern expressed by educators and parents groups about e-reading is that devices with Internet connectivity like iPads, Smartphones and tablets offer too many distractions," remarks Wilson. "It can be difficult to slog through a somewhat dry reading assignment when Facebook and Angry Birds are only a click away."

While author Sue Madway Levine is known nationwide for her Susie's Shoesies book series www.susiesshoesies.com, the Philadelphia-area special education teacher and teaching instructor details e-reader pros and cons teachers often pick up on.

She notes that no matter how much things change, the printed page offers advantages during the years kids are just acquiring essential reading skills.

"It takes a little more effort to get used to the format," she points out, referring to e-readers. "I have also observed students also read more slowly on e-books. Education experts Gloria Marks of UCLA and Mary Ann Wolf from Tufts, meanwhile, have found that students don't engage in as deep thought as they do in print books, because of the distraction factor (i.e., emails or games), or getting discouraged knowing it may take a little longer to get through the material."

She also cites Sandra Aamodt, author of Welcome to Your Child's Brain, who "finds that the brain can gaze meaninglessly on an e-book without soaking up the content.

"The traditional book format is more amenable to allowing early readers to 'decode,' 'tap' and 'scoop' the syllables by finding the vowels in a word and going back and moving their fingers in arcs below, from syllable to syllable -- something that cannot be done on a touch screen," she says.

The e-book phenomenon's technological aspects can also make books and literacy available in places that have been deprived of adequate distributions of reading materials.

London-based Tim Coates is endeavoring to do just that. The former CEO of European retail book sellers Waterstone's and WH Smith is now leveraging nearly 40 years of experience to establish Bilbary.com, an Internet-based consumer e-book library and retail bookstore currently operating in the United States and the U.K.

Indeed, it's arrived in Philly, where the Free Library is on board, "lending e-readers to seniors. And through our efforts with our Techmobile, we are trying to bring reading and literacy directly into our community, aiming to meet people where they are."

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