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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.

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A world without Facebook

The Future of Us

by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2012

The Future of Us begins in a world without social networking. Set in 1996, teenagers Josh and Emma live in a time when, according to the title page, “less than half of all American high school students had ever even used the Internet”, and of course, Facebook was yet to be invented.

Despite this, they stumble across a glimpse of the future when Emma installs AOL on her new home computer. They mysteriously come across a website called Facebook which provides them with profiles of themselves and their lives in fifteen years’ time.

Not necessarily happy with what they see, Emma and Josh are also perplexed as to why anyone would share both intimate and mundane aspects of their daily lives with the world at large. They soon realise that their slightest action or decision in the present will change their future lives as this is reflected on their Facebook profiles. Their daily teenage lives then become inexorably linked with their future adult lives, and not always successfully.

Of course, much of their future online existence deals with relationships and the intricate web of their high school romances impacts on their future Facebook profiles. Teenage girls in particular will enjoy this real life drama with its romantic web of teen angst woven into a contemporary social network fabric.

Recommended for ages 15+

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New books on my reading list

My favourite bookseller visited the library last week and I bought a large number of children’s and young adult books. From the huge pile of books purchased, these are the ones I’ve chosen to read first. (This is the first time I have seen my bookseller since last year, so some of these books are newer than others ).

 

The future of us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I’ve started with this one and am half way through. Set in 1996, the plot is based on a clever premise: when a couple of teenagers install AOL on a new home computer, they somehow stumble upon their future Facebook pages. The only problem is Facebook, indeed any type of social networking, has not yet been invented. As they ponder a strange world where people display both intimate and mundane details about their lives for the world to see, they also realise that they are in control of their futures.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Pure by Julianna Baggott. The hottest thing in YA fiction at the moment. The first in a trilogy, this is a post-apocalyptic novel which is said to be utterly disturbing but impossible to put down. I can’t wait. The film rights have already been sold.

 

 

 

 

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. This is described as ‘subterranean fiction’, and the series has been a huge success overseas. Tunnels is the first book and the fifth was released at the end of 2011. The sixth book will be the final instalment. The movies rights have been snapped up by Hollywood.

 

 

  

VIII by H.M.Castor. Described as “Wolf Hall for the teen market”, this is the story of a young man named Hal who would be become Henry VIII.

 

 

 

 

 The fault in our stars by John Green. Green is the author of the hugely successful Looking for Alaska. This YA novel deals with cancer and is said to be irreverent, raw and profoundly moving.

 

 

 

 

Diary of a soccer star and Diary of a Cricket God by Shamini Flint. I’ve had a quick look at these and whilst the publisher may be cashing in on the popularity of the Wimpy Kid franchise, my Year 7’s will still enjoy these books.  Definitely for upper primary and Year 7. May tempt reluctant readers.

 

 

 

Dark Lord: the Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson . A book about a misplaced thirteen year old with a dark secret – he thinks he is a Dark Lord trapped in the drudgery of earthly existence. Said to be hilarious – I am really looking forward to this one.

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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.

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