Thursday, 3 March 2016

Why we Love eBooks for Kids: Harry Potter and the Digital Library

There's a lot of sentimentality about paper books. But I've become rather sentimental about eBooks. They've got my 7 year old son actually reading proper books!

eBooks for little kids and early readers have a different set of issues. And so do Read and Make books and other books where the physical aspect is important. In this article we'll focus proper chapter books which some kids will start reading at 5 and others at 8 or later if they don't find a way into reading.

Harry Potter and The Digital Library

My younger son, now 7, has always been a capable reader but we had trouble finding books that captured his imagination enough for him to stick with them. One day he came home from school and announced that a Harry Potter book had fallen on him at school (I have no idea if this actually happened or is just his active imagination!) and he now wanted to read the first Harry Potter book.

Thank goodness for eBooks. I was able to tap into that enthusiasm and borrow a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from the local digital library. Within minutes he was reading it in the Overdrive app on his tablet.

If I'd had to source a physical copy of the book then I might have missed that window of opportunity.

I think he would also have been put off my the sheer size of the book. We have a houseful of physical books. His older brother is an avid reader and happily switches between paper books (which are often cheaper to buy) and eBooks which are borrowed from the library, or bought from Amazon.

He didn't just read the first Harry Potter book, he kept going until he had read the first five books. And then I encouraged him to wait until he's a bit older for the last two.

I was a bit worried that Harry Potter would be the only series he would ever read, but he's now working his way through the Percy Jackson books. Phew! He'll read paper books now but he does grumble that they're awkward to hold and he has to use a torch if his older brother wants the light off or if he wants to read in the car after dark on a journey home.

With eBooks he likes being able to change the font size and style and screen colour to his preferences and being able to quickly swipe to the next page. With paper books he often manages to lose the bookmark, he loves that eBooks save his place and he's a whizz and moving around using the table of contents.

We've never had to encourage my 9 year old to read. He reads paper books and eBooks. He read Harry Potter as eBooks which is why we don't have physical copies. He loves the sense of history he associates with paper books. He does miss the ability to easily look up words he doesn't know. He just doesn't want to stop and look a word up in a dictionary. He definitely appreciates how he can instantly find eBooks and doesn't have to worry about misplacing them.

Research on Children and eBooks

A recent study on the impact of eBooks in school from the National Literacy Trust in the UK has shown that boys in particular benefit from reading eBooks. The study was supported by RM who have an eBooks offering for schools so you should take that into account!
"Given a choice, nearly half of pupils said they preferred to read using technology (45.2%) at the end of the project, while just over a quarter said they preferred reading on paper (27.8 %). However, 1 in 5 (21.2%) did not have a preferred reading format." NLT Study
Reading with technology was pretty popular with the children in the study with the largest group preferring to read with technology. Quite a lot preferred paper and there were lots of children who didn't mind (presumably those who either love or hate reading.)

Cost of eBooks

It's great when my kids can borrow free eBooks from the library, but they tend to want to read specific books that they have heard about or are by authors they know they like. Many of these aren't available to borrow.

It's really annoying that eBooks are often more expensive than buying a new copy of the paper version and getting it delivered. Paper books are often available in discounted sets which makes them even cheaper, or used from a charity shop (thrift store) or passed on from a cousin or swapped with friends.

In the UK, VAT (sales tax) is charged on eBooks, this seems to include children's eBooks (Amazon includes the text "* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT." against children's books.) We'd really like to see this dropped for children's books at least.

The rate at which my kids get through books means it would be very expensive to buy them all as eBooks!

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is a good source of reading material for young readers for a monthly subscription fee. It's great when they're at that point where they want to read a new book every evening and it gets expensive!

The Kindle Unlimited subscription service does include children's books but the selection is fairly limited.

Advantages of eBooks for Kids

  • Can buy or borrow instantly to tap into enthusiasm
  • Kids can adjust font style and size to their preference
  • Can read in the dark without disturbing siblings (with a backlit device or tablet)
  • Not put off by the sheer size of a longer book
  • Can look up words immediately
  • Don't need a bookmark and can easily find chapters
  • Some kids are more motivated by the use of technology and prefer swiping to page turning
  • You can't lose an eBook or forget to return it to the library!
  • eBooks don't take up lots of space (we have shelves of books that will probably only be read once by each child, if that)
  • Once kids have phones or an eReader, eBooks are more portable 

    Disadvantages of eBooks for Kids

    • Some children find reading on a tablet uncomfortable (eInk devices are better)
    • You don't get trading cards (though digital content can sometimes make up for this)
    • Harder to take into school when own books are allowed (though a cheaper eInk device may be okay for this.)
    • Can't swap with friends
    • eBooks are often more expensive and you can by used
    • If reading on a tablet or phone some kids may get distracted
    • They're not as fun to give as gifts
    • There's just something amazing about physical books

    Tablets vs eReaders

    I know some kids find the other apps on a tablet distracting but my kids know that once it's reading time they can't use other apps, we've never needed to set up any software to control this. If you're on a tight budget, a cheap Amazon Fire tablet can be used for reading eBooks and for lots of other things.

    Ideally I'd rather my kids read on an eReader than a tablet. eInk does seem to be easier on the eye.

    Amazon offer a Kindle for Kids Bundle which includes a warranty and a kid-friendly case. Kindle for Kids has parental controls and other kid-friendly features such as progress tracking and achievement badges.

    In the UK we can't borrow Kindle eBooks on Overdrive which is a real pain. At the moment my kids are reading Overdrive eBooks on a tablet which is really convenient and flexible but not ideal. We have an older Kindle eReader so my kids can read Kindle books on that. If it wasn't for the Overdrive issue, we'd definitely get the kids their own Kindles. (In the US Overdrive does offer Kindle books.)

    Our Overdrive library isn't hugely well-stocked so we supplement with eBooks from Amazon, especially when there's a good deal on.

    Elbrie's teenage son recently got a Kobo eReader. He chose this particular one, primarily for the high screen resolution and larger screen size. It is more chunky and comfortable to hold.

    He still loves reading paper books but admits an eReader is useful to get books not readily available in print (he's a Manga fan) and is very handy when travelling (he loved having all his books on one device on a recent snowboarding trip.)


    eBooks are much more convenient for us as a family. My older son loves paper books, but is happy for a lot of his reading to be on an electronic devices. My younger son prefers eBooks. I stick to eBooks and so does my partner. 

    For us it's really just the cost of eBooks compared to physical books that's a real inhibitor. And we'd prefer to be able to borrow Kindle books from UK libraries.

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