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Can New Technology Give Way to a Burst in Reading?

Posted by Jen on March 31, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Books and Reading
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Carter taught himself how to read in kindergarten by sitting along the wall on the floor with all the other kids outside his classroom each morning, picking one "WOW!" and "Zaaaap!" out of a Calvin and Hobbes book at a time. He still can't spell onamonapia, but that's exactly what gave Carter a love for reading. He's had his nose in comic books and graphic novels ever since.

Madeleine had a very nominal interest in reading until she discovered Harry Potter. Her Aunt Katie gifted her the entire set in one fell swoop one Christmas, and Madeleine prided herself in plowing right through to the last book well before Spring Break that same year. Her reading interest waned after that until she took a cue from Carter and got into comics. Other than comics and an occasional childrens volume of mythology, both kids have had zero interest in traditional reading. Chapter books? Yawn. Novels? No thanks.

This all changed early this year when Dave ordered up a copy of a recent kids' bestseller for Carter to read on Dave's Kindle. Madeleine immediately came begging. "Mom, can you download it on your Kindle?" At first I was really surprised that Carter was burrowed down in the Kindle with this title, since just the week before I had offered to buy him the hard copy in the book store. His eyes had widened a little bit as he fingered the pages and felt the thickness of the binding. So. Many. Pages. No, thanks, he said, and I chalked it up to lack of interest.

I reminded Carter of this, but he insisted the Kindle was better. "There are fewer words per page on the Kindle," he assured me. "It's easier not to get lost."

"Are you sure you're into this book?" I asked Madeleine. She gave me the tween age look--the one that looks shockingly like "Duh, Mom!" and I decided not to argue? With one click, I ordered the book and she was reading it in seconds.

Now both kids are reading as fast as we can download the next book in the series. No danger of never turning our books back in to the library. No need to go to the bookstore (unless we want to hang out). And, get this--they are reading to each other straight off the Kindle--two kids who have next to nothing in common.

I'm still getting requests to buy comics and graphic novels and (interestingly) self-help/reference books in actual book form. But otherwise, it's the digital format that's convincing my kids that books that look intimidating in the bookstore are actually worth reading after all.

I know our family is an unusual case as early adopters of the latest and greatest technologies, but it's a hopeful sign for naysayers out there who are concerned that too much screen time is contributing to a lack of interest in education or reading. Quite the contrary in this house. A portable screen with the book of choice ready to go is becoming a pretty popular choice where in years past the Nintendo DS might have ruled the day. And I have to add, as someone who travels and works extensively in developing countries, the kids in the village are way more interested in my Kindle than any book I've brought in recent months.

What do you think? Would you be willing to invest in an e-reader if you thought a new technology would encourage your kids to read more regularly or with more gusto?


victoria writes...

This is very interesting. One of the things I DON'T like about the Kindle is that I don't have the same sense of where I am in the book, from seeing how many physical pages are left. But I can see how the opposite holds true -- how it could seem less intimidating. With the recent release of the iPad, I'm considering selling my Kindle and moving onto Apple's latest and greatest. In part because I saw Winnie the Pooh on it and it was amazing. In part because my two year old knows how to operate my iPhone and I believe the iPad will be the computing format she is comfortable with. I have a feeling Carter and Madeleine will be pushing for iPads of their own when they learn about the Marvel app.

Elisabeth writes...

Probably you got this from everyone, but it was just so funny, I had to say it. You say, "He still can't spell onomanopia..." and that is not how you spell it! Onomatopoeia!

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