This is the conclusion of a study published last week by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to studying and promoting children’s reading. The study interestingly contradicts another study released by the Cooney Center earlier this year which concluded that children prefer reading electronic books to print books, and moreover, that they experienced no losses in retention and comprehension in reading electronic books.
The study released earlier in the year, however, observed only 24 families with children ages 3-6 reading print books and ebooks in the Summer and Fall of 2011. 1,200 parents were involved in the study released last week.
This most recent study also revealed that the retention and comprehension of the children under observation went down when engaged with enhanced ebooks, as the interactivity not directly tied to the narrative caused the children to become distracted.
The Cooney Center’s decision to pursue these surveys was in part inspired by a November 2011 New York Times article that suggested that parents do not like reading ebooks to their children because of negative perceptions around children spending too much time in front of a screen.
As a publisher of children’s ebooks with no print operation, I find these studies significant. But neither of them addresses the demographic that my humorous Kingdom of Patria series seeks principally to entertain: the middle grade audience, ages approximately 8 to 13. There is no study of which I am aware that surveys this demographic’s engagement with ebooks.
I can readily understand, both as a parent and children’s author, why parents of children ages 3-6 prefer reading print books to ebooks, and why children prefer being read to from print books. For children in this younger group, reading is snuggle time with the parent, and the kinds of books enjoyed are usually picture books in which illustration and often physical design play a crucial part in the reading experience. An electronic reading device is simply not as attractive a medium when it comes to snuggle time, and its small screen, even if it is a full-color e-reader or iPad, cannot provide the sensuousness that illustrations in a well-designed print book provide (and if sensuousness is attempted through interactivity, retention and comprehension falter, as the one Cooney Center study shows).
But what of kids ages 8 to 13? They’re into beginning chapter books and full-blown middle grade novels. Illustrations, while often a part of such books, do not play as large a role as they do in picture books. What is their experience with ebooks, either when reading aloud or when having them read aloud by a parent? Do they prefer ebooks to print? Is it a wash?
There is an even more fundamental question: how many middle graders are actually reading ebooks? Given the increasing prevalence of digital books generally, I’m inclined to say that “more and more” children ages 8 to 13 are reading digitally. But I don’t have any data to back up this hunch.
So I turn to you.
If you have or know children in the middle grade years, then how would you describe their experience reading ebooks?
Are they in fact reading them more and more? Do they read them more than print books, or are they still predominantly reading print books?
If your family reads aloud–and I hope it does–do you ever read from an ebook, or does the very thought of that make you cringe?