By Brooke Thompson
With the creation of the e-reader, be it a kindle or a nook, there has been an ongoing debate over which one makes reading better for youngsters–books or e-books. While both have advantages, it has divided book lovers, parents, and educators everywhere.
However, with the current pandemic, there has been a rise of e-books, causing these same groups to rethink their stance on them. While nothing beats the smell of a new paperback or the impressive display of books on a shelf, there is something satisfying about being able to read a book whenever – be it on your phone, laptop, kindle, etc.
But that brings us back to the question: which is better for youth literature–a physical book or an e-book? After doing some research, I have compiled a list of five advantages and disadvantages of e-books to printed books.
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Advantages of E-Books
1) They don’t take up space.
One major advantage of e-books is that they do not take up physical space. You or your child have the capability of carrying an entire library in your pocket. This comes in handy if you are going to be traveling and you need to keep your children entertained for a couple of hours.
Being able to bring a “library” gives them endless reading options, and the best part is that you do not have to worry about keeping up with all those books–just the one chosen reading device.
Also, another advantage of having e-books is that you and your children can keep your book collection. While there is no such thing as having too many books, the fact that e-books do not occupy physical space means you can acquire more books without the fear of one day losing them or (heaven forbid) getting rid of them. Readers of all ages can keep their beloved books to revisit whenever they feel like it.
2) Cheaper alternative to physical books.
Let’s face it–books are expensive, and kids can be voracious readers. While hardback picture books can be anywhere between $5-$12, the average hardback chapter books can cost anywhere between $15-$25. That’s enough for a full tank of gas or a decent meal at a restaurant!
E-books are a cheaper option for those who do not want to spend a fortune on physical books. That aforementioned $15-$20 hardback suddenly became $6-$10. The difference in prices between the two mediums is crazy!
This fact comes in handy for when children get into books that are in a series. Regardless if it’s a paperback or an expensive hardback, buying these types of books can get expensive. However, with e-books, you can buy two or three at a time to keep your children occupied.
3) You don’t have to leave your house to buy an e-book.
Another great thing about e-books is that you do not have to leave your house to buy it. Let’s say your teen just finished a book and wants the next one in the series or their favorite author just released a new book and they are just DYING to read it.
But what’s this? The nearest book store is on the other side of town or you don’t have the time to go buy it. Have no fear! Many websites and apps like Amazon, Walmart, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads all have a feature where you can buy it with a click of your mouse or a tap of your finger.
Purchasing an e-book through a website or app has the advantage of having an endless supply and you can buy it in a matter of seconds. Now you don’t have the hassle of waiting in a line or worrying about the book selling out.
The best part about this whole situation is that your teenager now has immediate access to the book and can continue the next installment of their favorite series.
4) E-books have interactive tools.
If you are reading a story to your kid or having your child read a book aloud, one awesome feature with e-books is that you can interact with the e-book’s text. This comes in two features–a built-in dictionary and the text-to-speech option.
The built-in dictionary comes in handy whenever the child is asking what a particular word means, and you are unsure how to explain its definition.
The text-to-speech feature is another useful tool. Say your preschooler is struggling on how to pronounce a word, they can click or tap on the word, and it will say it for them. This can be especially beneficial for when they are learning how to read.
5) They can improve your child’s literacy skills.
Since we live in the technology era, it can be difficult to get your child to sit down and read a physical book. Studies have shown that children were more willing to learn to read when given an e-reader versus a physical book.
This is partly due to the aforementioned interactive features, such as the built-in dictionary and the text-to-speech tool, and the ability to control the font size. If a kid has poor eyesight or a learning disability, reading a physical book can be daunting with its small font and wall of text.
However, with an e-book, they can adjust the font size to help them see the text and they can easily break up that “wall of text.”
Disadvantages of E-Books
1) Children (and adults) tend to not remember the information from an e-book.
Extensive research has shown that when given both an e-book and a physical book, people were more likely to remember what they had read from the printed book versus what they had read on a screen.
The same can be said for children. While reading on e-readers can be more immersive and interactive than printed books, physical copies allow for them to focus more on the material than on a screen.
A couple studies suggest that this has to do with how both children and adults alike hold a book. The turning of the pages, reading left to right, and having an idea of the progress they make into the book stimulates the senses and makes them pay attention to what is happening in the story.
Additionally, some e-books come with music, games, and animations. While these features might make the story more interactive, it also has the potential to distract young readers from what is happening in the story. The children are more interested in the moving pictures or what button creates what sound, instead of connecting these features with the text.
2) There is a loss of aesthetics in e-books.
What makes physical books better than e-books is their appeal to aesthetics. When we purchase a book–be it for our children or ourselves, whether it is brand new or used, there is a particular smell that is very pleasing to the senses.
If your child is a hands-on learner, opening a book up and flipping through the smooth pages provides them a sense of accomplishment as they get closer to the book’s end. On some e-readers, there is a percent sign that shows a reader’s progress while others give you actual page numbers. However, e-books do not offer much encouragement of finishing versus a physical book.
3) E-books require a device.
One major disadvantage of e-books is that they require a device to be read on. While physical books, for the most part, are cheap and can withstand a fall, e-readers and other devices are expensive and can easily break with one drop. This drawback makes parents hesitant to give their young child an e-reading device.
Be it an e-reader, laptop, phone, etc. they can break down one day or their battery might die. This aspect can be especially frustrating whenever your child is in the middle of a good story and all of a sudden their e-reader decides to malfunction and shut off.
Printed books do not have a battery life and, for the most part, are pretty durable. As long as your child has a decent light source and a comfy spot, books provide hours of entertainment without the fear that its battery is low or that it will randomly shut off.
4) You can’t share e-books.
The idea behind books was that their information was meant to be shared. People have used books to converse or to educate others. Children are no different. Lending a book out to a friend builds trust and later invites a lively discussion about characters, plot, or the ideas the story presents. Thus, this strengthens their social skills and helps them bond with their peers since they now share a common interest.
Unfortunately, e-books can’t be shared. While most e-readers allow you to “give” an e-book to someone, you won’t be able to receive your book back.
5) E-books can cause eye strain.
Studies have shown that e-books can cause eye strain. With society growing more reliant on technology, eye strain is becoming a huge problem. Staring at a screen for hours at a time can make children more tired, make them forget information, and can potentially cause vision problems.
Also, using an e-reader or any screen before bed can cause “screen insomnia.” When reading in the dark, the light coming from the e-reader’s light confuses the child’s body into thinking it’s day time and they stay awake.
Therefore, it is important to have children take breaks from screens (including e-readers) and, like with regular books, read with a light on to prevent screen insomnia.
Despite the divide in the book reading community, both books and e-books encourage children to read and still have the potential to forage relationships with fellow book lovers. While both books and e-books have their drawbacks, they still allow young readers to enjoy reading and share their ideas with their fellow neighbors.