Grandmother with child on iPad

Print books may be under siege from the rise of e-books, but they have a tenacious hold on a particular group: children and toddlers. Their parents are insisting this next generation of readers spend their early years with old-fashioned books. This is the case even with parents who themselves are die-hard downloaders of books onto Kindles, iPads, laptops and phones. They freely acknowledge their digital double standard, saying they want their children to be surrounded by print books, to experience turning physical pages as they learn about shapes, colors and animals.

So the New York Times reports in an article today on resistance to ebooks for young children. It’s an interesting challenge for ebook developers, particularly since children’s ebooks have been the standard-bearers for the interactive and graphical possibilities of tablet-native titles. In part because storybooks are shorter than adult titles, they’ve demonstrated far more creativity than the initial generation of adult ebooks, featuring everything from simulated pop-ups to reading aloud to touch-triggered animations.

But it’s a great example of how an app’s greatest strength will typically also be its greatest liability. Precisely because children’s ebooks have been so successful in blurring the line between book and app, and between narrative and game, they can lose the perceived purity of the reading experience. Our emphasis on reading as the cornerstone of education and learning means that parents resist anything that appears to distract from or dilute that reading experience — particularly if it feels like that new paradigm of evil, Video Games.

We owe it to our kids to rethink this idea that books and readings are not only distinct from, but antithetical to, gaming. Gaming is the environment in which our kids will spend a good portion of their school years, and which may also define much of their adult work lives as software developers become more successful at integrating game mechanics into other on- and offline activities.  We can best serve our kids if we not only embrace gaming as part of literacy, but also find ways to integrate it with the traditional literacy of reading.