Tag Archives: ebooks

We need another Harry Potter.

It is nearly sixteen years since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel and few would argue the immense impact of J.K. Rowling’s series in every corner of the globe. Indeed, there are some young Muggles who cannot remember a world without the famous boy wizard. Whilst the success and cultural influence of the Harry Potter series is undeniable, of late there has been a noticeable shift in the place young Harry and his friends occupy in the hearts of the young.

Harry Potter

The first hint I had of a waning preoccupation with Harry surfaced upon the release of the final movie back in 2011. During a wide-reading lesson, my class of Year 7 boys were discussing the upcoming film release with much anticipation. During the ensuing discussion, I discovered the majority of boys had not read the final book in the series and furthermore, had no intention of ever doing so. They all reported quite cheerfully that they had been waiting for the film’s release to “see how it ended”. Thank you, Hollywood.

Apparently this reluctance to read the actual book is not restricted to boys. A recent change of school now sees me enjoying wide-reading lessons with girls and, much to my dismay, I have discovered a similar avoidance of Harry. The prevailing reason given for not bothering to read the books is “we’ve seen the movies; we don’t need to read the books”. Again, thank you, Hollywood.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the movie tie-in, as it frequently sparks eager interest in a book. A fortunate side-effect of the hoopla surrounding certain blockbuster films is often the rush of fans to the bookstore, impatient to read the book and/or series. The Hunger Games is a recent example of this movie-inspired hype.

Sadly, the rush to read Harry Potter appears to be at an end. The story has reached saturation point and as such has created a disturbing predicament for both educators and parents: like Neville Longbottom’s cauldron in potions class, Harry Potter has gone off the boil. The exhilarating whizz-banging blast of spells has faded away to a sad fizzle.

At the height of its popularity, the Harry Potter series was nothing short of a phenomenon. Rowling’s imagination, clever characterisation, warm wit and resounding themes captured the hearts of readers and non-readers around the world. Children ran around playgrounds shouting Expelliarmus! and Wingardium Leviosa! College students created their own Quidditch league, Hermione made going to the library cool, and the word Muggle entered our lexicon forever.

Indeed, there was a time back in the early part of the 21st century where it was hard to find anyone who hadn’t read some or all of the Harry Potter series, or at least expressed the desire to read it. In short, Harry got both kids and adults reading. And as my Reading Rules explain, often all it takes to trigger a lifelong reading habit is enjoyment of and engagement in one book – and Harry Potter was certainly the trigger for a generation of readers.

The majority of these Harry Potter readers are now in their twenties, members of the so-called Generation Y. They grew up reading the print editions of Harry Potter, eagerly anticipating the release of each subsequent book. Later, they were the first fans at the midnight screenings of the films, resplendent in their Gryffindor scarves and Death Eater masks.

Despite receiving bad press for various traits, Gen Y is an incredibly smart and articulate group. I am constantly blown away by the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of this generation – the Harry Potter generation. Of course Harry Potter didn’t create these smart kids – but maybe their habit of sustained, deep reading had a profound influence on the way they turned out.

The world of reading has undergone significant changes and challenges since these Gen Y readers were children. Today’s children often read from a screen and not from the printed page. Whilst I maintain that any reading is good reading studies are beginning to discern a difference between reading from a screen and the printed page, as this Scientific American article reports. Indeed the National Literacy Trust in the UK believes that children’s reading progress is hindered by Kindles and e-books.

Further studies into the long-term effects of reading from non-print sources are clearly needed. But it is irrefutable that a child reading an e-book from a connected tablet such as an I-pad or Kindle Wifi has to compete with many distractions whilst reading – checking social media sites, online chatting and gaming. The ability to become totally immersed and absorbed in a good book is lessened by constant distraction – and this must detract from the enjoyment of the reading experience. Does this lack of immersion and subsequent lesser enjoyment of the reading experience explain the decline in reading among our children? What will be the societal result? Will reading decline to such an extent that we become a post-literate society?

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, the final book in the series, there has been a void in the reading world. Yes we’ve had the Twilight craze, but this was far more popular with girls than boys. John Green is arguably the most successful author for teens at the moment, in large part due to his clever marketing via social media (a big hello to any nerdfighters out there). Green is undoubtedly an exceptional writer. His novel The Fault in our Stars is being made into a movie, and there is a currently great deal of online hype about this. But few adults will have heard of either the author or the book. Perhaps the nearest rival we’ve had to the Harry Potter phenomenon in recent times is The Hunger Games. But with sales of 26 million against the 400 million of Harry Potter, the comparison is almost embarrassing.

It’s clear that nothing comes close to Harry. And that is a problem. Because anecdotally most educators will tell you that this generation is not reading as much as previous generations. And when they do bother to read, many of them are reading e-books. More studies need to be done on the effect of reading from screens and personal devices, but all teachers will tell you that nothing beats sustained reading and it is difficult to become immersed in an I-pad when Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds are beckoning.

We need another Harry Potter! We need a new series which will tap into the imagination of children (and adults) around the world. And we need a few years between the publication of the book and the release of the inevitable movie so that kids have to make an effort and read the damned book first! Will the next J.K Rowling please step forward?



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“Reading is a majority skill but a minority art” – Julian Barnes.

In this National Year of Reading I just had to share this beautiful reflection by prize-winning author Julian Barnes. In it he discusses the important role that books have played in every stage of his development, and his thoughts about the future of the book. My favourite part in this section is where he says: There will always be non-readers, bad readers, lazy readers – there always were. Reading is a majority skill but a minority art.

He goes on to discuss the differences between reading from the printed page versus an e-reader (you can read my extensive post about that here). Being the supreme wordsmith that he is, Mr Barnes is able to beautifully articulate the simple yet subtle difference between the two: books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information. Bravo, Mr Barnes.


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Will the e-book kill reading?

With the rapid rise in popularity of the e-book we have seen a shift in people’s reading habits. Many have celebrated the e-book as the salvation of reading in the 21st century, however, I have a few reservations.

I have written at length about the print book vs e-book argument here. I make no secret of my preference for the printed page, though I continue to make good use of the Kindle app on my iPad. I’m a reader. It’s that simple. I will read anything, anywhere, in any format.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a reader, particularly children and teenagers. It takes work to turn a child into a reader, and have them sit and engage with the written word. The Reading Rules address this issue, providing ten steps to turn a child into a reader.

E-books do have their place in the reading world, which I freely admit in Reading Rule no.7: Remember it’s the 21st Century. My concern about e-books lies in the distraction factor offered by new technologies such tablet pc’s and the Kindle Fire. Originally e-books were read on devices which were designed for that purpose only: reading. Now, e-books can be read on devices which offer access to all online services. Great if you want to look up a word, not so great if you keep checking your email and updating your Facebook status. I can attest to this because I have found myself doing both when reading on my iPad.

This point is made clear in this New York Times article Finding YourBook Interrupted…By The Tablet You Read It On. The authors describe the e-book reading experience “more like a 21st-century cacophony than a traditional solitary activity” and report readers who say that “it’s harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading”.

Herein lies the problem for those of us trying to develop readers and create a reading culture in our homes and schools. If e-books make it harder than ever to sit down and focus on reading, there will be a decline in reading. This will signal a decline in reflective thinking practices. In my post The Importance of Reading, I refer to some 2009 research carried out by American neuropsychologist Patricia M. Greenfield. She found that whilst Generation Y’s love of technology is developing impressive visual intelligence, it comes at a considerable cost, namely the ability to process information at a deep level. The ability to analyse and reflect, in short what teachers know as ‘critical literacy’, is not being developed. I believe the only way to develop reflection and critical thinking skills is through sustained reading – reading without distraction. Others refer to this as deep reading – reading which is uninterrupted, sustained and requires reflection.

Sustained reading is the casualty of the e-book. It may not be the only casualty though. The abovementioned New York Times article reports that distractions offered by modern e-book readers are a real threat to book publishers: “book buyers may switch to tablets and then discover that they just aren’t very amenable to reading”.

A large-scale decline in reading would have huge social and cultural implications in our world. Our only option is to continue to develop a strong reading habit amongst our children, and fight the distractions offered by tablet pc’s by choosing engaging, exciting and impossible-to-interrupt reading material. Note to children’s and YA authors – it’s going to be more important than ever to create works of unputdownable brilliance.


Filed under Reading matters

Print or e-book?

I wrote this column for online magazine Mamamia, and it was published in their Books section. For those who missed it, it is my take on the visceral aspect of the book.

When you curl up in your favourite armchair with a new book, do you open the pages with anticipation or do you press the ‘on’ switch on your Kindle, Kobo or i-pad? As e-book devices become more available and accessible, the merits of the e-book versus the print book have been keenly discussed by readers and booklovers, with passionate debate raging on both sides. Often this has become an over- simplified argument, a contest of the luddites versus the geeks. But there is more to it than this.

I love technology. L.O.V.E, love it. I use technology in my work and at home on a daily basis. I tweet, I am on Facebook and Linked in. I’ve explored Tumblr and I’ve used Glogster and Animoto. I am the mother of teenagers, or screenagers as the social researchers often like to refer to them, and what I don’t already know about technology they teach me. In short, technology and I are pretty good friends.

So yes, I have read the odd e-book or two. I have the Kindle app on my i-pad, and I’ve bought and read about a half dozen e-books on it. By far the best thing about the Kindle app is that it meets my 21st century need for instant gratification.  The book I want is in my hand in seconds. In fact, I can have multiple books in hand which is another huge attraction especially when I go on holidays. My Kindle allows me to change the size of the font and the colour of the page. When I‘m reading and want to find out a little more about something, I can look it up on my i-pad without even leaving my chair. Not great for my thighs, but damned convenient at the end of the day.  

But here’s the thing. When I hold the e-book in my hand, it doesn’t feel right. Reading for me has always been a very sensual activity, engaging my visual, tactile and olfactory senses. And so far, the e-book is just not doing it for me.

The weight of the e-book is wrong, the feel of it is wrong, and when I lie in bed in the evening with an e-book it is a strange and unfamiliar experience, akin to an unfaithful spouse lying beside their lover. More importantly, the smell is wrong.  My e-book doesn’t smell like a book, in fact it doesn’t smell like anything at all. New books have a distinctive crisp, fresh scent whilst older books have a distinctive musty odour enclosing the tantalising secrets of generations past.

The e-book also doesn’t collect visual memories like the pages in my old favourite books. There is a smudge of chocolate in my copy of Five Go Adventuring Again, left there because Enid Blyton made me want to snack on something delicious when the Famous Five ate their slabs of cake and drank lashings of ginger beer. My e-book has no well-thumbed pages or cracked spines to remind me that I loved a book so much I read it again and again, nor are there pages stained with the remnants of my tears such as page 362 when Mr Darcy looks at his future bride and calls her “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth”.

What the e-book lacks, the print book makes up for in spades. It’s not just about the words which lie within; it’s about the physical book itself. Books provide much of my décor and entertaining style. Books of various shapes and colours are an important part of my interior decoration scheme. My bedside table is never without a stack of books – my ‘pile of good intentions”. Books turn my home office into a proper office, a visual symbol of the knowledge held within. And when I entertain, my books are a great conversation starter.

But more than anything, my bookshelves hold the history of my life. Therein sit my favourite books from childhood and the books I received at School Awards Evenings. Alongside the school prizes sits my very first and most treasured Complete Works of Jane Austen. On the next shelf is the collection of various copies of Pride and Prejudice which I have picked up in antique bookshops over the years. Further down are the self-help and women’s health books that I was given when I had breast cancer. But most importantly of all, on the very bottom shelf resides a very old and somewhat damaged copy of News Chronicle Needlework and Crafts which belonged to my great-grandmother, and right beside it sits my treasured Complete Works of Shakespeare bequeathed to me by her son, my recently departed dearest grandfather.

How can an e-book compete with the sensory overload that resides in my bookcase? How can an e-book compete with any book kept lovingly on my bookshelf, its cover alone enough to evoke a memory which entices me to pick it up, hold it and re-live a chapter or favourite section?

My love for reading in any shape or form will always define me, but when push comes to shove my loyalty will always remain with the printed tomes that I treasure and adore.


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Reading Rule 7

7. Remember it’s the 21st century.

Not only is it the 21st Century, there is just so much to do! If you’re a child or screenager, you are surrounded by a whole host of entertainment and online activities to keep you busy. So rule seven is obvious: use technology to hook your child.

It is difficult and indeed foolish to try to separate reading from technology these days. Our children are digital natives and technology forms an incredibly important part of their lives. The clever parent or teacher will embrace this and use technology to tempt their reluctant reader.

Ebooks are increasingly accessible, cheap and especially exciting for younger readers. Ebooks for younger readers include many interactive elements which will engage and entertain the hardest audience. All you need to access an ebook is a computer. For more portable ebooks you can choose to use an e-reader device such as a Kindle or Kobo, or you can use your i-pad, i-phone or i-pod touch. Whilst interactive ebooks will really appeal to the very young reader, it is interesting to note that anecdotal evidence from booksellers and teacher librarians indicates that many teenagers still prefer the printed book to the ebook. It doesn’t really matter what format your child chooses to read, as long as they are reading.


Teenagers may prefer to use technology in other ways to keep them engaged in reading. YouTube has fantastic book trailers to hook children and teenagers. Book trailers are just like the movie trailers you see in the cinema. They are often made by the publishing houses, but can also be put together by fans. A book trailer will give you a ‘taste’ of the book: a little of the plot and characterisation, but like a movie trailer, they will leave you wanting more. They are a fabulous way to tempt the reluctant reader, and I use them a lot in my library to promote books and reading.

Social networking is a guaranteed way to engage a teenager. There are few teenagers these days who are not using Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other social networking tools. A great way of engaging your child with books is to tap into the many resources available through social networking to promote reading. There are many Facebook groups associated with reading, and on Twitter it is easy to follow popular authors. In addition, there are numerous blogs created by fans of reading, or special genres such as science fiction. One terrific website which many teenagers enjoy is http://www.fanfiction.net. Fan fiction is where fans write stories about their favourite books using the characters and settings already created by the original author. Fans can write the next Harry Potter chapter, or write a story using characters from the Percy Jackson books, or develop a new plot line for the Twilight series.

Other ways of using technology to engage young readers is to simply browse the web and see what’s available. You will find websites about popular books, authors’ websites, library sites and blogs about reading. There are also online magazines for teenagers about books. One example is Spine Out, an online magazine created by Good Reading magazine. Spine Out is targeted at Young Adults and is designed for young people to share their ideas about reading and writing in various media: words, film, music and art. As such it actively seeks contributions from its young readers.

If you want your child to spend time reading, you do need to appreciate that a great deal of their reading will be done in front of a screen. If you can embrace this idea, and encourage your child to utilise some of the tools and sites mentioned here, you are planting a seed and sparking an interest. More importantly, if kids are reading about reading, then generally, they are reading.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.


Filed under The reading rules

Reading Rule 4

4. Redefine “book”.

Parents want their kids to read, but many parents also think that the only form of ‘legitimate’ reading is a print book. If you want your child to be a reader it is important to redefine your concept of what constitutes a ‘book’.

A book is many things. It is the traditional novel with which most of us are familiar, but it is also information (or non-fiction) books, graphic novels, ebooks and audio books.

Many children, particularly boys, find the idea of reading an entire novel quite overwhelming. But give them an information book on their favourite subject (surfing, basketball, motor cars or cooking) and they will happily sit and read. This form of reading encompasses more browsing and reading short passages of information, and is therefore different to reading a novel. However, it is still a form of sustained reading which will engage the reader.

One of the most popular non-fiction books with the boys in my library is the Guinness Book of Records. Some teachers are unhappy with the boys choosing this book in their private reading time, but I vigorously defend this. In my experience, many reluctant readers find the Guinness Book of Records non-confronting, as it has small passages of information accompanied by numerous illustrations. It also has a high interest level. Boys will sit, engaged, with this book for a sustained period of time. Job done. And who knows what further reading this will lead to? The most important reason to get kids reading is to develop their ability to engage in sustained periods of reading and reflection, which will ultimately develop their critical literacy skills.

Another way to encourage reading is to entice your child with Graphic Novels. You may be more familiar with the idea of ‘comic books’ from your childhood, but the Graphic Novels of today are a little more sophisticated that the comic books of our youth. They are indeed novels, with a full plot, narrative structure and character development. Graphic Novels deal with all topics, from superheros to the holocaust. There are also Graphic Novel adaptions of the many of the classics: Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen for example.  More importantly, to the reluctant reader, a Graphic Novel may not appear as daunting as a traditional novel. They appeal especially to visual learners, with some Graphic Novels even having no text at all. Graphic Novels are certainly not the easy way out, with time and thought necessary to read the images and text. Graphic Novels are a legitimate form of reading, and will often lead on to bigger and better things, such as reading entire novels. Many popular fiction novels such as the Young Bond series and Artemis Fowl series are now being adapted into Graphic Novels. This is a great development for reluctant readers. They can read the Graphic Novel and then, similar to watching a movie adaptation of a book, they may yearn for more detail and read the novel.

If your child is a typical screenager, another way to encourage reading is through ebooks. Many ebooks for younger children are interactive, offering high interest level for pre-schoolers, and ebooks for teenagers may appeal simply because they are read on a screen. Similarly, audio books are an option for the extremely reluctant reader. Whilst listening to an audio book does not bring any of the traditional benefits associated with reading the printed word, listening to an audio book and becoming familiar with the plot and characters may be an entry into reading a traditional book, making the idea of reading a book in its entirety less daunting.

By redefining the concept of book, you are providing more options for your child. Reading anything, even newspapers and magazines is important and to be encouraged. As a teacher and librarian my mantra has always been “I don’t care what they read, as long as they are reading”. I know this to be true: reading ebooks, magazines, information books or graphic novels invariably leads on to bigger and better things.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Photo from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43602175@N06/4070018828/

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