The Children’s E-book: the death of children’s literacy, or the second coming of books?

With the emergence of e-books, there came what can be called a “panic” in the publishing community, and the larger general book loving public. Thousands of book lovers, willing to do or say anything to defend their beloved physical book. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a book lover like any other, however, I think story lover would be a more accurate title. While the medium in which it is delivered is undeniably significant, it is important to remember that it is a story that it at the centre of each book, or information in the case of non-fiction. In the e-book scare this idea is more important than ever.

In a 2012 article written by Nate Hoffelder, “Enhanced eBooks Don’t Enhance Literacy,” Hoffelder biasly discusses the findings of a study which commented on the potential of enhanced e-book features to distract young readers. The study examined 32 parents and kids, and the information they retained from reading a physical book, an ebook, and an enhanced e-book. Results showed that the enhanced e-books were not as effective as the physical text and Hoffelder notes multiple times that the findings are “obvious”. There seems to be a fear, in this technological age, that today’s children will be taken into the “techie cult”, and that the joy of reading will die a sad lonely death. Why is it so obvious that a child would be so incapable to decode an e-book, and come to absorb information in a similar way that they do through a book? Do e-books and physical books not have the same goal, to deliver content and story to their reader?

A lot of emphasis in the article is placed on the disadvantages of using enhanced e-books, and the many ways they can take a child’s attention away from the text, thereby diminishing their comprehension. However, Hoffelder glosses over the findings regarding the un-enhanced e-book. The study found that parents and kids actually showed more engagement and retention with the un-enhanced e-book, than with the physical book. Although the difference was small, this information still goes a long way in supporting further investigation of the benefits of e-book use for children. While Hoffelder does call this information interesting, he quickly brushes it off by saying he’d “hesitate to draw any conclusions from it”.

By the end of his article, Hoffelder does note that he hesitates to take any of this data too seriously, and he argue that further investigation needs to be done. Although, his initial blatant bias towards the physical book highlights an issue which exists among many educators and those who provide books for young children. Perhaps, we need to spot seeing the e-book as a threat to children’s literacy, but rather as a diamond in the rough, that when carefully crafted, can become a beautiful tool.


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