Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kids, eReaders, and Book Browsing

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The Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition tablet was launched this fall.  With it, kids can navigate to eBooks by topic and interest.   I think this is a great thing, to have digital shelves just for children and for them to decide what they would like to read.

Used books are changing.  I now prefer vintage editions that have excellent illustration, thinking that a large illustrated hardcover might still be the choice of parents when they want to buy shelf copies.  I am staying away from “reading copies” of novels, editions that are not collectible but are affordable for classics.  

How do children become inspired to read?  In my childhood, we had a babysitter who went to her work with a large bag of books.  Dolly was a favorite and we begged for her to come, but were often told that she was too popular to come every time.   She would open up her bag, containing some dolls and toys too, and then she would spread the books out for us to open and pick for reading.

I’ve believed in that method.  In Duluth, I worked at a bookshop that concentrated on children’s books, also a lakeside book store that had a large children’s room, and then I worked at a used books and antiques store where a children’s book dealer had a large and cozy space.  Children like to see displays and they like to look for themselves, especially when it comes to illustrated books.  Sometimes parents walked away from their browsing kids so that the children’s section became a kind of babysitter for shopping moms.  That could become an issue.  But the biggest issue to me was children selecting books and imploring their parent to buy them when the shopping moms were not out to buy books.

Children are used to libraries.  I heard many parents explaining to their child that a store is not a library, and that they couldn't take home anything they wanted. 

I belonged to a Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club long ago.  Books were sent to me and I tried them out.  Now as a used book dealer, I jump when I see one of those books I remember -  Across Five Aprils, The Golden Impala, The Winged Watchman.  Even then, I still browsed in the public library, looking for a book I might like for sure.  Now our libraries have eBooks to download without cost and eReaders that can be checked out.

Traditionally, parents bought hardcover books, if they bought children’s books.  The paperback was less expensive but, because children might not want to read a whole paperback novel, the library or the school was usually the place where they would select one.

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“Look Inside” previews are one of the most useful selling tools for books on the internet, I think.  A selling or a decision tool.  For children to be able to explore that way might lead to more satisfying reading experiences.  And the eBook is inexpensive like the paperback.  All books have to compete with free library books because few want libraries shut down.  

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At one time, I thought of starting an internet site for children’s writing.   Going to the few sites that had been created, I found out that some kids were spammers.  The children’s sites had to invest in high level internet security.  Even the children’s authors and illustrators site that I visited had the same problem.  Children were coming in and spamming or attempting to leave messages for authors.  That was the reason for the advanced password security at the site.

A child choosing for themselves, outside of school, will lead to another type of education.  That experience will mean much to them.  After all, children are all sent to a desk job for 35 hours a week, and one where they are constantly evaluated.  That has had a negative effect on book reading.  If children can choose books outside of school, then they might want to read more.   Libraries seem like a school environment.  The tablet or eReader with children’s choices, having other capacities too, might give the freedom that stimulates if a child is in a quiet hour, in a car, or prevented from outside play because of weather conditions.  And hopefully, parents, authors, and publishers will find out what young people really want.
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