Friday, February 4, 2011

E-books for children, tweens and young adults

I've been ruminating about e-books for children lately, and would love to share thoughts with other people.

The New York Times ran an article today about e-book sales rising for children's and young adult titles, as e-readers become less expensive and filter down to children. Many publishers are noticing a spike in e-book sales for children's and YA titles. The New York Times reports, "At HarperCollins, for example, e-books made up 25 percent of all young-adult sales in January, up from about 6 percent a year before."

My children have read a few books on our e-readers. The two older children read The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, on our iPad. They really liked the experience for many reasons. They liked reading it at night in the dark, as the iPad is backlit. It gave them a cozy feeling, snuggling up in the dark. My fourth grader liked reading it with a slightly enlarged font, so it was easier to read. They both read it at the same time, and found it easy to mark their places. And there is certainly the novelty aspect - it was simply fun to read on a new toy.

I was impressed that they were able to fall into the book with the e-reader, developing the deep concentration that reading brings on. Often when we read on a screen, especially at our computers, we bounce around and our attention is scattered by to many demands. But reading a novel on the e-reader was a very different experience. They were not distracted by the fact that the iPad was also the device that they use for games.

Why are tween and teenagers using e-readers? Like adults, they enjoy getting hot new releases for a significant discount. They enjoy the physical experience of holding a flat device instead of a bulky hardback book. And they enjoy the novelty of the experience. Other tweens and teens, like adults, are enjoying reading classics which are available for free or very little money on e-readers. A young tween in the New York Times had just finished reading Little Women and enjoyed it very much.

An interesting point to think about is that the market for children and young adults is much more influenced by libraries and schools. Children get the vast majority of what they read through school libraries, classroom collections, and their public libraries. My children read too many books for us to purchase every book they read. Libraries are slowly getting into the game of making e-books available to read, but there are still significant issues with compatibility with devices. As far as I know right now, library e-books are only readable on a Nook or Sony Reader.

The last point that I am exploring and thinking about is how younger children will access picture books using e-readers. The iPad and other full color tablets provide a fascinating opportunity for picture rich e-books. But children using iPads want more interactivity. Book authors, illustrator and designers will need to strike an interesting balance, making their picture books interactive, but not overwhelming the essence of the story. I found the Magic School Bus: Oceans e-book a fantastic example of getting this balance right.

Have your children experimented with reading any e-books? What have they thought about the experience? What have you observed about their reading - was it a fulfilling experience, or did they get distracted by the technology? Were they drawn to read more because of the ease of finding the book they wanted?


  1. Thanks for passing along your thoughts and observations, Mary Ann. The idea that your kids fell into the book on the e-reader was heartening. I'm working hard to overcome my resistance to these devices. They offer so many advantages to readers and consumers.

  2. Thanks for a great post Mary Ann, and for allowing us to run an excerpt on E is for Book!

  3. Great post! E-books are an interesting topic of discussion for children - one I have started thinking about a lot. I think you make some very interesting points here. One concern I have about e-readers is their interaction taking on the role currently performed by the child's imagination.

  4. This is such a fascinating topic, i only just noticed it on your blog! I like that your children found it easy to read something on an e-reader. I feel they are a great tool, the Ipad especially. I downloaded some books recently by Miles Kelly, there I Love series. Absolutely stunning books on the colour rich Ipad screen. On the flip side i also have a kindle and read I Am Number Four, again it was great to take it anywhere etc whilst also having the rest of my library on tap.

    I think more people should indulge in an e-reader, they really are something special if you relax your thoughts on them ruining "Traditional books"