Last month, Julie Bosman wrote about e-Readers for kids in the New York Times. Benefits mentioned by parents she interviewed included not having to lug books back to the library and easy access to books (with so many classics available for free).
With prices now mostly in the $150 range, e-readers are cheaper than video game systems. They do seem pricey to give to picture book lovers though. Barnes and Noble’s NOOKkids picture books are designed for the NOOK Color ($249). That's an expensive device for the kindergarten set. Tweens and teens are likely to be content with less-expensive text-oriented design. For an older kid with a well-established reading habit, I can understand why the readers would appeal to parents.
I do feel concern that e-readers could introduce a kind of disconnect into a family’s reading culture, especially before the older teen years. My kids love going to the library and picking out old favorites from their own shelves. The selection is manageable for them. At the library, once they pile two or three books into their arms, they stop to think about how much they can manage to carry (and read!). They love to sit in the cool chairs while they decide which ones are worth taking home. They’re interested in my selections too and ask me why I picked what I did. Downloading an e-book isn’t likely to foster that shared experience.
The other big concern I have is that if children become accustomed to using an e-reader, they’ll eventually reject reading printed books. While the volume of e-books for children is increasing, they may miss out on material that isn’t popular. The New York Review Children’s Collection is not available for e-readers. Neither is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. These types of books are so important to the maturing reader, rich in syntax and deep in human emotion. They build the endurance for deep reading that kids need as they go on to high school and college. But then, I don’t agree with the philosophy that anything a kid reads is better than nothing. Nothing simply is not an option.