Learning to read in the digital age, where fun comes easy
A childhood studies expert weighs in on picture book apps, whistles and bells, and John Newbery’s book marketing in 1744.This is the third in a series of dotMomming’s conversation with Patrick Cox, who is teaching Children’s Literacies, a course at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, about learning to read in the digital age. Patrick is a Ph.D. candidate in Rutger’s childhood studies program.
DotMomming: The term “book” has become a loose thing as app developers include games and other whistles and bells with their digital stories. Often a parent wonders, “Is this a book? a game? a movie? all three?” What is your take on these new beasts?
Patrick Cox: I think it’s great to be prompted to such questions, and to hopefully conclude that books, games, and even movies needn’t be mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s OK for reading to be fun. . . it always has been. Adding a few bells and whistles to reading is nothing new. John Newbery’s Pretty Little Pocketbooks are often mentioned as a starting point of children’s literature, at least as a marketed product. He published them in 1744, and they were accompanied with balls and pincushions. Children’s books and toys have always gone hand-in-hand.
One can argue that children’s literature has always crossed a line between “reading” and “playing” in such a way and to such a degree that should really force us to always consider fun, play, and even “gaming” as part of it. Digital enhancements are just the next development.
And the questions and concerns about digital reading are age-old as well. Nowadays, people can’t tell if the latest reading device is a toy or a book, but in the past, people have asked, “How can this be serious reading if the rhymes and rhythm are so bouncy? Won’t the colorful pictures distract from the reading? Aren’t these pop-up images just a little ‘too much’? Isn’t it enough to just read?” But the truth is, reading is supposed to be fun.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that there’s very little evidence to suggest that either:
- No one is reading any more, or
- No one is reading books anymore.
The presence of these new types of experiences with reading are not spelling the end of reading – to the contrary, I’d argue they enhance and encourage it! And to those who ask, “What’s wrong with just reading a book?” I’d reply: absolutely nothing, and the sales figures suggest that most people – especially young people – agree! These new creations really ought to be embraced for their ability to bring new people to reading and new experiences to reading, and not feared as some sort of enemy of literacy.
DotMomming explores the intersection of parenting, technology, and children’s literature, written by children’s author Kate Hannigan Issa. Read more posts on the dotMomming site on Blogspot.