24. 07. 2019

Who's Afraid of E-Books?

I'd like to start by stating that I love paper books. I've always loved their smell and how their pages rustle when I turn them. But aside from reading paper books, I've grown to like e-books. I can download many of them onto my tablet or e-reader, so I can even take them on a long journey without compromising space in my backpack. I also like to read interactive books and listen to audiobooks with kids.

But recently, I’ve noticed that some people are heavily against electronic books. I understand their concerns. After all, a very long time ago, even paper books were considered a novelty that some people had to get used to! Many of them negatively viewed reading as something that just keeps you from working. Because of this, I’ve decided to look into the most common worries associated with reading on a screen.

Will we stop reading paper books?

I am sure you find it very important for your kids to comprehend written text for reading literacy. But how can we best achieve that? The most important thing is to spark a love for reading with our children. We should give them many high-quality books to choose from, and on topics they will enjoy reading. It is, of course, great to introduce kids to libraries and the beauty of paper books. Yet why prevent children who love technology from reading books on the screen? There needs to be no competition between paper and electronic books; the more high-quality books kids read, whether electronically or on paper, the better!

A recent study showed some interesting results. Parents read electronic and printed books with the same content to kids between 17 and 26 months old, and then asked them questions about the text. The researchers found that when parents read an electronic book, children paid more attention! They participated more in the reading, and commented more on the content, than when the parents read the same story in paper book format. It’s this active participation and discussion about the text that makes reading with children so important. It’s, of course, difficult to generalise because the study was conducted on a relatively small sample of 102 kids. However, its results are not so surprising; for the young generation of digital natives, e-books simply have a certain charm. 

Other studies show that electronic books especially encourage literacy in boys, who generally tend to read less than girls, as well as kids who aren’t typically motivated to read. If these kids fall in love with reading thanks to e-books, they will definitely pick up paper books to read as well. This is why I believe the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this paragraph is No – paper books are here to stay. And that's good!

Are the screens of e-books pulling us away from nature?

You may think that technology and a love of nature simply don't go well together. But it all depends on how you use technology! Tablets and e-readers provide light, so you can easily take them outside at any time of day, and use them in the forest or on a field to combine technology and perceptions of nature. For example, you can take pictures of things you discover on strolls through nature with your child, and then create a beautiful collage from them. You can also use audiobooks in nature. For example, on a hot summer night, you can sleep outside, listen to a story about the universe and stars, and observe the night sky while listening.

Isn't reading from a screen unnatural?

There are certain worries that reading from a screen leads to ‘superficial reading’. Experts point out that when reading digitally, we can be selective and skip parts of the text. We tend to read from the internet in a similar fashion. I’ve noticed that when I read from a screen, I sometimes focus less and jump from one page to the next. But is the solution to ban screens and e-books? I think not. Reading from a screen is quite a new activity for humanity and we still have to learn how to do it. It’s true that we remember information written on paper better than information we read electronically. But even reading from paper was a skill the human brain had to adjust to over the course of centuries!

I definitely do not deny the value of reading from paper, which is extremely important for the development of a child's brain. However, we should try to learn how to properly read text on screens as well. In the future, kids will read digitally for learning and recreational purposes; we simply cannot avoid that. So let's help them prepare for life in the 21st century by encouraging them to be critical readers!

What about interactive books and all their flashing lights and sounds? Don’t they distract kids when reading?

Interactive books often feature options for customisation. For example, you can choose whether the text should be narrated by a voiceover, or if you wish to read to your child yourself. Additionally, interactive books have many distinctive features. They can have animated characters or objects in the pictures that move and make sounds. Although these features are very popular among children, some studies claim that they may confuse, distract, and pull kids away from the text. However, well-made, high-quality interactive books use these features in a clever way – they don't serve as a distraction, but rather as a supportive tool that helps kids understand and learn. 

For example, if a child taps on a flower, it opens and blooms as it does in nature. Or if they tap on an animal, it makes the sound the animal makes in real life. Therefore it is important to be critical when choosing interactive books in order to solely give our kids the exceptional ones! Thanks to interactive books, children can learn how to use a screen in a playful but educational way. By experimenting, they learn what to tap on the screen through the story’s content, and how to continue onto the next page. Reading interactive books also develops children’s digital literacy which they will need in their adult lives!

Won't our kids be glued to the screen all the time?

We have to use common sense and only offer our kids e-books when we find meaningful moments. For example, you can read paper books at home, but bring tablets full of e-books on trips. You can also listen to audiobooks only before bedtime. But I don't think we should forbid kids from reading on screens entirely! The forbidden fruit tastes the best after all. Besides, children will encounter reading on a screen sooner or later; it’s better if the encounter happens in the company of parents or other close adults. They’re the ones who can teach children how to use technology in a healthy way! Be a good role model and show them that it’s beneficial to regulate time looking at a screen, and alternate it with other tech-free activities.

Author: Ladislava Whitcroft, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning 


Frontiers. (2017, June 21). Screen time or story time? E-books better for toddler learning: Electronic books captured the attention of toddlers and led to greater learning. ScienceDaily.

Picton, I. and Clark, C. (2015). The Impact of Ebooks on the Reading Motivation and Reading Skills of Children and Young People: A study of schools using RM Books, London: National Literacy Trust. 

Schugar, H.R., Smith, C.A. & Schugar, J.T. (2013). Teaching With Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K–6. The Reading Teacher, 66(8), 615–62.

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