This year for many children and teens, books may come under the Christmas tree but they won’t be hardcover or paperback. With the price of some e-readers sinking below $100, it’s likely that more and more children will be toting e-books with them on long rides in the family car.
Barnesandnoble.com has a dedicated “Nook Kids Store” with titles organized by age, kids’ favorite tales, and featured youth literature authors. Amazon’s Kindle offers many middle-school classics, such as Little Women, The Scarlett Letter, and A Tale of Two Cities, for free since they are in the public domain.
While there will always be a place for hard copies of books, the form and meaning of a book is changing rapidly, and probably permanently, according to prolific children’s book author Marc Aronson. His most recent book is “Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert.”
Aronson, also a lecturer at the School of Communication and Information, said that there are special concerns and opportunities surrounding e-books and e-readers in the youth literature market.
The New York Times reported that in 2010, e-books were about 6 percent of the total youth literature sales for some major publishers. In early 2011, the figure had jumped to between 20 and 25 percent.
“I think it is an exciting moment – there is a lot going on,” said Aronson, who teaches in the Department of Library and Information Science. “The fear, and the hope, is that the e-product replaces the print product. I don’t see that in kids’ books. I see a splitting where some kinds of experiences happen in print.”
For example, bedtime storytelling. “It’s an experience that has three parts: the adult, the child in her lap, and the book. Busy parents are free of that moment, but you also lose that moment,” Aronson said. “A parent looks forward to that moment of sitting with a child or going to a library.” Also, little can replace the beauty of a richly illustrated children’s book on display in a nursery.
Initially, displaying illustrated children’s books on a reader with e-ink took away from the magic of youth literature. Newer tablets, however, can display books and magazines in rich color with illustrations specifically designed for the e-book.
The electronic experience with a book places the reader in a more active role. Traditionally, a book’s narrator takes the reader on a journey. With apps and interactive features on e-readers, children control more of the experience. Often, the experience is made much richer through animated illustrations, games, and music clips.
Aronson has already had a book, “Sugar Changed the World,” accompanied by a website with additional multimedia features. For his upcoming book about a new hominid species discovered in South Africa, Aronson has already identified features that can only be experienced digitally.
It’s not just publishers creating those apps. Teens – “Generation i” – have been creating apps for smartphones and tablets since they could use them. Aronson said that children and teens have an opportunity greater than ever to shape their own reading experiences.
It’s a new entry point for children into the world of reading and literature, and Aronson points out that interactive e-books can also benefit children whose parents speak another language or are not literate.
Regardless of the context, e-books are revolutionizing children’s literature. “I think there are many different horizons that are different from the adult market,” Aronson said. “Ideas that were just fantasies before now start to become possible.”