The eBook Debate

When you’re trying to get your children off screens, eBooks can seem counter-intuitive.  Are they good or bad for your children?

At one stage eBooks were the fastest growing sector of children’s publishing.  It looked like it was all over for paper books, bookstores, libraries, etc.  The major publishing houses were hooking up eBook and app sections overnight and sites such as Kalahari, Amazon, and Exclusives were hooked up already. 

 eBook Sales Decline


Today there’s a slightly different picture.  According to The Guardian, ‘while book sales through shops increased 7% in 2016, ebook sales declined by 4%. It is the second year in a row that ebook sales have fallen, and only the second time that annual ebook sales have done so since a decade ago.’  One of the reasons is that young people have reported preferring physical books. Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen Book Research UK, said young people were using books as a break from their devices or social media.

Like many, I’m a fan of the physicality of books.  I want to hold a book and lift it up, flip the pages back and forth and let my children hold the book to do shared reading at times. I know you can do shared reading with an eBook, but there’s something about the feel and smell of a book that I can’t seem to move away from.  What’s really bugging me about the whole eBook issue though, are several reports that eBooks miss some of the vital links needed for establishing good reading skills.

Are eBooks good for children?

The New York Time’s Motherlode section points to a study that found that student’s reading comprehension was higher when they read paper books. They also found that young readers ‘often skip over the text completely, rather engaging with the book’s interactive visual features.’ Children end up seeing the book, not reading it.  An exception is a great digital books site I came across recently. Digital Leaf publish paperback books and book apps – so you can read the book and access the app too.  This partnership makes a lot of sense and if it encourages children to read more – everyone is a winner.


eBooks can be shared

If one family can share a digital device and have access to books on it – which can be shared amongst others – then the argument of what is more or less interactive becomes less important.  eBooks are proving vital in developing areas where the high cost of books is an issue.  NGO initiatives in South Africa like Bookdash and Nal’ibali are encouraging the reading of online books which can be shared by many.

Ebooks have also been shown to help children who are beginner readers, or who struggle to read on their own. Children with learning disabilities in particular, benefit from working with an eBook.   By listening to the narration while they follow the words, they have a fuller sensory experience. They can also use interactive features to better understand stories.  reluctant readers are also often more likely to read an Ebook with interactive features than a paper book.  Don’t forget though, that studies show that children perform better when reading with an adult and this is easier with a print book, so alternate between the two.

If you’re interested in the screen time debate read this interesting article with new research. To find out about reading apps check these out


Recommended e-Books from author Annie Murphy Paul :

For beginning readers

“Blue Hat, Green Hat” by Sandra Boynton, “Go, Clifford, Go!” by Norman Bridwell, “Meet Biscuit” by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, “Nickelby Swift, Kitten Catastrophe” by Ben Hecht, “Miss Spider’s Tea Party” by David Kirk, “A Fine Musician” by Lucy Thomson.

For fluent readers

“Slice of Bread Goes to the Beach” by Glenn Melenhorst, “Who Would Win? Killer Whale Vs. Great White Shark” by Jerry Pallotta, “Wild About Books” by Judy Sierra, “The Artifacts” by Lynley Stace and Dan Hare.

Another resource is Oxford Owl and Digital Leaf have various titles available including the wonderful Jules and Nina series by Anita Pouroulis. For a list of further eBook sites check this out.


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