Rediscovering Real Books in Today’s Electronic Age

Eve Padula
Aug 16, 2016

Earlier this month, I read a great article in The New York Times about the benefits of reading real books to your children. I’ve been an avid reader all of my life and a mom for nearly three years, so this article piqued my interest. It also got me thinking about how my own reading habits have changed over time.

As a child, I grew up using physical books. Pretty much everything that I read for education or enjoyment was some form of ink on paper. I also grew up using screens—my family had a home computer and TVs, but e-Readers were a long way off at that point. The books that I read were “book books.”

I bought my first iPad about 5 years ago, and my personal reading habits began to change. Although I still have shelves of physical books, most of the books that I purchase these days are in electronic form. My iPad became my library, and although there was still something appealing about ink-and-paper books, I became fully entrenched in electronic reading. I didn’t think I’d ever go back.

Then I became a mom.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was eager to pass on my love of reading to my child. I started loading up on children’s books… but not the electronic ones. Although I’d be hard-pressed to find a child’s book that isn’t available in electronic format these days, there was no question that I wanted my daughter to grow up with the tactile experience of reading actual books. So of course I selected the chunky, colorful board books that all babies love to pick up, throw, and yes… chew.

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Unlike myself, my daughter has never known a time without smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. She has always been fascinated by electronic screens—televisions, tablets, computers, smartphones, and the like never fail catch her eye, but the effect with a physical book has always been different. The difference, I think, is engagement. Although electronic screens have a passive and almost hypnotic effect, my daughter is an active participant in the experience of reading a physical book. As an infant, she loved turning books over in her hands, slapping the pictures, and opening and closing the covers. Now at nearly three years old, she is pointing to pictures, asking questions, and making the stories come to life in her own mind. I’ve seen benefits of reading books to my daughter firsthand. I’m not saying she doesn’t enjoy the occasional episode of Curious George on TV, but I can truly see her thoughts at work when I’m reading to her.

I have been reading books to my daughter since the day I brought her home from the hospital, long before she started to talk or was even able to comprehend what I was saying. Although I suspected it was good for her—reading a book to your child certainly feels better than plopping her in front of the TV—I primarily did it as a way for us to bond as a family. Things have changed a bit over the years. When she was very young, I chose the books for her and she often fell asleep in my arms as I read. Later, when she started to talk, she would excitedly point to pictures and shout out the few words that she knew. These days, she enjoys walking over to her bookshelf, selecting the books for herself, and asking questions as I read to her. The tactile experience of taking books off of a bookshelf is something that a virtual bookshelf on an e-reader will never be able to replace.

Reading physical books has become part of our family’s nighttime routine. It’s a relaxing way for us to bond, reconnect, and unwind after a long day. It’s something that we always make time for, no matter how hectic things get. My daughter has her favorite books so I sometimes find myself reading the same stories over and over, but it’s all good. Not surprisingly, she’s committed some of the stories to memory and enjoys “reading” the books to her dad after I’ve read them to her. Story time serves as a signal to my daughter that it’s almost time for bed, but I find myself looking forward to it almost as much as she does. Electronic devices are distracting and have a way of sucking you in, but physical books help us live in the moment.

So although I might end my day by reading a physiological thriller on my iPad, there’s no doubt that I want physical books to be a part of my daughter’s life. It’s nice to know that real books have their merits, but I’ve been surprised to find that the return to physical books for my daughter’s benefit has been beneficial to me as well. My daughter might “go electronic” someday like I have, but if she grows up enjoying the reading experience, that’s really all that matters. And when she gets older, she can say that she grew up reading real books, just like her mom did.

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