When was the last time you read a good book? If it was quite a while ago you might want to head to the library or the nearest bookstore, because research shows that reading makes you happier. In fact, adults who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, and more likely to feel that the things they do are worthwhile.
Yet despite all the benefits reading can bring, statistics from 2014 show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11. And with this in mind, anything that helps to encourage children to read is often seen as a good thing.
Over the years, personalised children’s books have become increasingly popular. This is when children’s names, addresses, their likes and dislikes are inserted into a story book – the characters can even look like the children. These books are sold online and have become big business with many new children’s publishers popping up creating these one of a kind story books.
Wonderbly, one of the biggest publishers of personalised books, has sold over 2.7 million copies of their leading title “The Little Boy/Girl Who Lost His/Her Name”. Children tend to like personalised books because they are specially made for them and often feature themselves or their friends and family members as story heroes. And reading a personalised book together can be a really lovely experience for parents and children.
But personalising books in this way means that how children’s publishers work is now changing. Because as well as producing books, they are now also data managers – responsible for the privacy and confidentiality of children’s data.
There are no official national guidelines regarding the amount, storage or sharing of data collected by publishers and producers of personalised books, so parents must trust the integrity of individual companies and that their family data won’t be misused or misplaced. This data often includes information such as a child’s date of birth, gender, address and photographs.
Though some progress is being made – from May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation will apply throughout the EU (including the UK) – it is still the case that children’s personal data can become ensnared in a web of complex legal and technical challenges if it is ever reused, consolidated, or organised by publishing companies.
As part of the project we are working with the HAT Community Foundation and the The Hub of All Things – a technology designed to help the internet exchange and trade personal data. HATs are “private data accounts” that let anyone store their personal data for themselves, so that they don’t have to rely on governments or corporations.
As we explain in our white paper, if publishers use HAT technology, a child’s private data account could hold their personal data in a contained, self-owned database. This means that children and their guardians would be able to own their personal database in the same way they own physical assets, and share the data within it on terms they control.
Changing the way this data is stored and used is important because there is a big future for these types of books. And it is clear that children’s publishers need a straightforward means of effectively leveraging personalisation – both economically and educationally – to improve both the reading experiences of children, and the peace of mind of their parents.
The question of when to get rid of a book (or books) is one that often causes a bibliophile many a heart palpitation. It may even seem bad form to even contemplate the question, let alone ask it in a blog (especially when the person doing the asking is a fellow bibliophile.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at this very question, with some worthwhile advice.
While just a few years ago, headlines predicted eBook supremacy and the demise of the paper book, that’s now reversed. They’re now saying the Kindle is clunky and unhip and paper books are cool and selling well as eBook sales crash. But are today’s claims any more accurate than those of 2012?
The latest round of headlines was triggered by UK Publishers’ Association figures noting a fall in consumer eBook sales of 17% in 2016, while physical book sales rose 8%. This statistic seems straightforward enough on the surface, but it pays to go deeper.
Mainstream media have long been in the habit of relying on figures from publishers’ associations, retailers’ groups and Nielsen data, but the industry has changed. While these measures are accurate, they are only accurate in terms of what they measure, and they represent far less of the industry than they once did. They are no longer a proxy for the industry.
A recent history of eBooks
Amazon’s Kindle was launched in November 2007. Barnes & Noble followed with their Nook in October 2009 and Kobo with their eReader in May 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad in January 2010, meanwhile, introduced a non-specialist device that gave a pleasing eReading experience. US eBook sales rose 1260% between 2008 and 2010. By early 2011, US advisory group Gartner reported that industry researchers were predicting a 70% annual growth rate for eReader sales globally.
In February that year, the REDgroup, the parent company of Angus&Robertson and Borders in Australia – chains responsible for 20% of the country’s book sales – went into receivership. Retailers across the industry in Australia were noticing a downturn. After 5% growth in 2009, Australian book sales contracted slightly in 2010, then dramatically in 2011, with falls of 13% in volume and 18% in value, and significant falls continuing into 2012.
In January 2011, Amazon announced that, for the first time, it was selling more eBooks than paperbacks. According to Nielsen figures, US eBook sales went from US$69m in 2010 to US$165m in 2011, a 139% increase. They increased a further 30% in 2012 and 13% in 2013.
Nielsen figures, though, only record sales of books with ISBNs, something many independently published eBooks do not have. Despite not counting many eBooks, Nielsen still recorded sales as increasing, albeit probably at diminishing growth rates each year.
With increases in both average smartphone screen size and smartphone use, the 2014 to 2015 period marked another shift – the phone was becoming a significant reading tool. According to US Nielsen surveys, while the percentage of the eReading population reading primarily on tablets had increased from 30% in 2012 to 41% in 2015, the number of eBook buyers who used their phones to read at least some of the time increased from 24% to 54% in the same period.
Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, stated in 2015 that,
“The future of digital reading is on the phone. It’s going to be on the phone and it’s going to be on paper”.
EBook sales in the US, though, appeared to plateau at 2013 levels, according to Association of American Publishers figures, and then dipped early in 2015. In the UK, the Publishers’ Association reported digital sales for the year 2015 falling slightly and print sales growing minimally. “Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital,” the Publishers’ Association stated, and declarations of “peak eBook” became commonplace. Those figures, though, do not tell the whole story.
As Simon Jenkins admitted in The Guardian last year when declaring that peak digital was at hand, the adult colouring book fad made a contribution to print sales in 2015. Unlike fiction blockbusters, sales of colouring books are almost entirely in print format.
In the case of the UK market, the £20.3 million generated by adult colouring books in 2015 matched the growth in the overall print market. Without it, the pattern of zero or negative growth seen in the preceding seven years would have continued. In the US, Nielsen reported that sales of adult colouring books surged from one million units in 2014 to 12 million in 2015. Australia was also part of the adult-colouring craze. Nielsen BookScan’s November 2015 Australian top 20 featured eight colouring books, each one of them outselling the most successful Australian novel.
Other factors were at work as well. Following the renegotiation of pricing between major American publishers and Amazon, eBook prices rose in the US Kindle Store in late 2014 and 2015. Until then, Amazon had pushed publishers to keep prices no greater than $9.99, and buyers had become conditioned to paying less than $10 for eBooks.
Publishers that increased prices above that mark subsequently recorded a fall in eBook receipts, and some identified higher prices as a factor. According to journalist Jeffery Trachtenberg, publishers viewed this pricing change as involving “some sacrifice, but they felt it was worth it to keep Amazon in check”.
The specific books published from one year to the next had an impact too. Some publishers noted that 2015 saw fewer “hot” titles. With nothing to match Frozen and the Divergent series, children’s and young-adult eBook sales fell 45.5% in 2015 in the US.
eReading growth not counted
While the Association of American Publishers’s figures are based on a survey of 1200 publishers and often seen as authoritative, the Amazon Kindle Store stocks many independently published titles and titles published by small and micro publishers not captured by the survey.
At the same time as the association was reporting a drop in overall eBook sales, Amazon, the retailer with the majority of the US eBook market, reported increases in sales in terms of both units and revenue.
And other avenues were opening up that facilitated continued growth in eReading that was not feeding into the statistics. Public libraries were lending eBooks and subscription eBook libraries were opening for business – Oyster in September 2013, Scribd the following month and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited in July 2014.
While subscriber downloads earned an author readers and, in the case of subscription libraries, revenue, they did not count towards sales.
David Montgomery, CEO of publishing services company Publishing Technology, drew on these factors to declare last year that publishing had split into two markets, with a widening gap between them.
Self-published and micro-published authors, particularly those writing genre fiction, were pricing their eBooks much lower and claiming an increasing share of the market, particularly through Amazon, while large publishers were increasing eBook prices in a way that reduced eBook sales.
This pattern has continued, and the rhetoric that pits one format against another appears to be continuing too. At the Digital Book World conference in January 2017, Nielsen presented 2016 data from more than 30 traditional US publishers showing a fall in eBook sales from 2015 to 2016 and hardback unit sales overtaking eBooks for the first time since 2012.
Association of American Publishers (AAP) data released in February 2017 appeared to confirm the decline of eBooks, with eBook sales for the first nine months of 2016 down 18.7% on the year before.
However, at the Digital Book World conference in January, other evidence was presented that attracted less media attention.
An analysis by the Author Earnings website (an aggregator and analyser of eBook sales data) identified that, outside the world of traditional publishing, authors who were self-published, independently published or published directly by Amazon imprints, had sold more than 260 million eBooks worth more than US$850 million in the US in 2016.
Total eBook sales by Amazon – which makes up 83% of the US eBook market by volume and 80% by value – rose by 4% from early 2015 to early 2016, at the same time as eBook sales recorded by the AAP were falling.
While no direct comparison exists for the UK market – where the Publishers’ Association reported a 17% fall in consumer eBook sales from 2015 to 2016 – 42% of eBook sales in that market are by self, indie or Amazon-published authors. This added up to 40 million of the 95 million units sold in the UK in 2016 – a percentage that is growing as the eBook market share held by the larger members of the Publishers’ Association falls.
The publishing industry has changed. It is no longer solely the domain of members of publishers’ associations and books with ISBNs that allow easy tracking and accumulation of data that appears robust but tells much less of the story than it once did.
Moving beyond the ‘format wars’
It is too easy to have our attention grabbed, and sometimes our biases or hopes confirmed, by an appealing set of statistics from an authoritative source, and to misunderstand what those statistics are measuring.
While it is possible to speculate about the future trajectories of the eBook and paper book markets, many confident pundits have been wrong before, as new factors have emerged that have significantly impacted reader behaviour and sales patterns.
From the practical perspective of writers wishing to connect their work with readers, it is prudent to see both paper and eBooks as significant for any book-publishing project in the present and near future, and to develop strategies to meet both of them. It is also prudent to look beyond both platforms to another, one that had long been regarded as a peripheral player: audiobooks.
All we can be sure of is that the digital platform is still evolving. What will an eBook be 20 years from now? What will a book be?
April 2 is International Children’s Book Day and the anniversary of the birth of one of the most famous contributors to this genre, Hans Christian Andersen. But when Andersen wrote his works, the genre of children’s literature was not an established field as we recognise today.
Adults have been writing for children (a broad definition of what we might call children’s literature) in many forms for centuries. Little of it looks much fun to us now. Works aimed at children were primarily concerned with their moral and spiritual progress. Medieval children were taught to read on parchment-covered wooden tablets containing the alphabet and a basic prayer, usually the Pater Noster. Later versions are known as “hornbooks”, because they were covered by a protective sheet of transparent horn.
Spiritually-improving books aimed specifically at children were published in the 17th century. The Puritan minister John Cotton wrote a catechism for children, titled Milk for Babes in 1646 (republished in New England as Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes in 1656). It contained 64 questions and answers relating to religious doctrine, beliefs, morals and manners. James Janeway (also a Puritan minister) collected stories of the virtuous lives and deaths of pious children in A Token for Children (1671), and told parents, nurses and teachers to let their charges read the work “over a hundred times.”
These stories of children on their deathbeds may not hold much appeal for modern readers, but they were important tales about how to achieve salvation and put children in the leading role. Medieval legends about young Christian martyrs, like St Catherine and St Pelagius, did the same.
Other works were about manners and laid out how children should behave. Desiderius Erasmus famously produced a book of etiquette in Latin, On Civility in Children (1530), which gave much useful advice, including “don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve” and “To fidget around in your seat, and to settle first on one buttock and then the next, gives the impression that you are repeatedly farting, or trying to fart. So make sure your body remains upright and evenly balanced.” This advice shows how physical comportment was seen to reflect moral virtue.
Erasmus’s work was translated into English (by Robert Whittington in 1532) as A lytyll booke of good manners for children, where it joined a body of conduct literature aimed at wealthy adolescents.
In a society where reading aloud was common practice, children were also likely to have been among the audiences who listened to romances and secular poetry. Some medieval manuscripts, such as Bodleian Library Ashmole 61, included courtesy poems explicitly directed at “children yong”, alongside popular Middle English romances, saints’ lives and legends, and short moral and comic tales.
Do children have a history?
A lot of scholarly ink has been spilled in the debate over whether children in the past were understood to have distinct needs. Medievalist Philippe Ariès suggested in Centuries of Childhood that children were regarded as miniature adults because they were dressed to look like little adults and because their routines and learning were geared towards training them for their future roles.
But there is plenty of evidence that children’s social and emotional (as well as spiritual) development were the subject of adult attention in times past. The regulations of late medieval and early modern schools, for example, certainly indicate that children were understood to need time for play and imagination.
Archaeologists working on the sites of schools in The Netherlands have uncovered evidence of children’s games that they played without input from adults and without trying to emulate adult behaviour. Some writers on education suggested that learning needed to appeal to children. This “progressive” view of children’s development is often attributed to John Locke but it has a longer history if we look at theories about education from the 16th century and earlier.
Some of the most imaginative genres that we now associate with children did not start off that way. In Paris in the 1690s, the salon of Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, brought together intellectuals and members of the nobility.
There, d’Aulnoy told “fairy tales”, which were satires about the royal court of France with a fair bit of commentary on the way society worked (or didn’t) for women at the time. These short stories blended folklore, current events, popular plays, contemporary novels and time-honoured tales of romance.
These were a way to present subversive ideas, but the claim that they were fiction protected their authors. A series of 19th-century novels that we now associate with children were also pointed commentaries about contemporary political and intellectual issues. One of the better known examples is Reverend Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863), a satire against child labour and a critique of contemporary science.
The moral of the story
By the 18th century, children’s literature had become a commercially-viable aspect of London printing. The market was fuelled especially by London publisher John Newbery, the “father” of children’s literature. As literacy rates improved, there was continued demand for instructional works. It also became easier to print pictures that would attract young readers.
More and more texts for children were printed in the 19th century, and moralistic elements remained a strong focus. Katy’s development in patience and neatness in the “School of Pain” is key, for example, in Susan Coolidge’s enormously popular What Katy Did (1872), and feisty, outspoken Judy (spoiler alert!) is killed off in Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians (1894). Some authors managed to bridge the comic with important life lessons. Heinrich Hoffman’s memorable 1845 classic Struwwelpeter reads now like a kids’ version of dumb ways to die.
By the turn of the 20th century, we see the emergence of a “kids’ first” literature, where children take on serious matters with (or often without) the help of adults and often within a fantasy context. The works of Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Francis Hodgson Burnett, Edith Nesbit, JM Barrie, Frank L Baum, Astrid Lindgren, Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, Roald Dahl and JK Rowling operate in this vein.
Children’s books still contain moral lessons – they continue to acculturate the next generation to society’s beliefs and values. That’s not to say that we want our children to be wizards, but we do want them to be brave, to stand up for each other and to develop a particular set of values.
We tend to see children’s literature as providing imaginative spaces for children, but are often short-sighted about the long and didactic history of the genre. And as historians, we continue to seek out more about the autonomy and agency of pre-modern children in order to understand how they might also have found spaces in which to exercise their imagination beyond books that taught them how to pray.
There is a common perception that children are more likely to read if it is on a device such as an iPad or Kindles. But new research shows that this is not necessarily the case.
In a study of children in Year 4 and 6, those who had regular access to devices with eReading capability (such as Kindles, iPads and mobile phones) did not tend to use their devices for reading – and this was the case even when they were daily book readers.
Research also found that the more devices a child had access to, the less they read in general.
It suggests that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading, and that paper books are often still preferred by young people.
These findings match previous research which looked at how teenagers prefer to read. This research found that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens.
Why do we think children prefer to read on screens?
There is a popular assumption that young people prefer to read on screens. This was mainly driven by education writer Marc Prensky who in 2001 coined the term “digital natives”. This term characterises young people as having high digital literacy and a uniform preference for screen-based reading.
Despite this, the myth has already had an impact on book resourcing decisions at school and public libraries, both in Australia and in the US, with some libraries choosing to remove all paper books in response to a perceived greater preference for eBooks.
But by doing this, libraries are actually limiting young people’s access to their preferred reading mode, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on how often they choose to read.
Young people are gaining increasing access to devices through school-promoted programs, and parents face aggressive marketing to stay abreast of educational technologies at home.
Schools are motivated to increase device use, with Information and Communication Technology being marked as a general capability to be demonstrated across every subject area in the Australian Curriculum.
The drivers toward screen-based recreational book reading are strong, but they are not well-founded.
Why are students more likely to prefer paper books?
Reading on devices through an application leaves more room to be distracted, allowing the user to switch between applications.
For students who already experience difficulty with attention, the immediate rewards of playing a game may easily outweigh the potentially longer-term benefits of reading.
Digital literacy could also be an issue. In order to use a device to read books, children need to know how to use their devices for the purpose of reading books.
They need to know how to access free reading material legally through applications such as Overdrive or websites such as Project Gutenburg.
While equipping children with devices that have eReading capability is unlikely to encourage them to read, there are a number of strategies, supported by research, that can help encourage children to pick up a book. These include:
Be seen to enjoy reading. This study found that a number of students did not know if their literacy teachers actually liked reading. Teachers who were keen readers inspired some students to read more often and take an interest in a broader range of books.
Create (and regularly access) reading-friendly spaces at home and at school. Loud noises, poor lighting and numerous distractions will not help provide an enjoyable reading experience, and are likely to lead to frustration.
Encourage regular silent reading of books at school and at home. Giving children time to read at school not only encourages a routine of reading, but it also may be the only opportunity a child has to read self-selected books for pleasure.
Teachers and parents should talk about books, sharing ideas and recommendations.
Continue to encourage your child and students to read for pleasure. While we know that children tend to become disengaged with books over time, in some cases this can be due to withdrawal of encouragement once children can read on their own. This leads children to falsely assume that reading is no longer important for them. Yet reading remains important for both children an adults to build and retain literacy skills.
Find out what your child enjoys reading, and support their access to books at school and at home.
To celebrate the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books over the course of modern history, seven specialists share the book they believe has been most influential on modern British culture and society, as part of Academic Book Week.
Veronika Fikfak, lecturer and fellow in law, University of Cambridge
It is a measure of A.V.Dicey’s influence that more than 132 years after the first publication, the relevance of his writing is at the core of the UK’s departure from the European Union.
While students and scholars have read Dicey for more than a century as a basic constitutional text, the general public will have become familiar with his arguments on parliamentary sovereignty and the primacy of parliament only recently – with Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the legal fight to get parliament to vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.
Dicey argued that the British parliament is an “absolutely sovereign legislature” and had the “right to make or unmake any law”. His legacy in the UK constitutional sphere is unrivalled, and to this day he is referred to as “the great constitutional lawyer”, whose writings have not only shaped the constitutional landscape of the UK until now but are also very likely to decide our future.
Simon Frith, Tovey professor of music, University of Edinburgh
When it was first published in 1957, Richard Hoggart’s book made sense of the upheavals in post-war ways of life by referring back to working-class culture – and Hoggart’s own childhood – in pre-war Britain.
What is clear now though, is how important the book became for our understanding of what came next: consumer culture. The book was both a founding text for the academic fields of media and cultural studies, and an inspiration for a new generation of novelists, dramatists and film makers – not least for the team behind Coronation Street, launched in 1960.
Richard English, professor of politics, Queen’s University Belfast
At a difficult point in Anglo-Irish politics, this book brought to a very wide audience the insights of the latest and most important academic scholarship on Ireland. And it considered “Irishness” in terms of a layered and inclusive sense of identities which was then less widely accepted than it has subsequently become.
As the Northern Irish Troubles began to be transformed into a much more benign peace process, and as relations between the Republic of Ireland and the UK continue to be shaped in ways that are significant for both islands, this book heralded a more inclusive and subtle interpretation of how properly to understand Ireland. Indirectly, it made it possible to know a fuller reality of British experience too.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church, University of Oxford
As the UK began to come to terms with its retreat from imperial narcissism, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s book was a dose of common sense. These essays edited in 1983 concentrate on the creation of the UK and its empire, and nationalist reactions against those developments. It is still just as relevant now as it was when it was published, posing many questions for the understanding of our history.
Ian Kershaw, emeritus professor of modern history, University of Sheffield
As its title suggests, Robert Tombs’ magnificent book published in 2014 focuses on English, not British, history. However, England’s history was – long before the union with Scotland in 1707 – deeply entwined with that of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Tombs’ book not only incorporates these interrelationships but is greatly enlightening about them. It is a book that cannot be ignored by anyone wishing to know more about the history of the isles.
Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy, Loughborough University
Published in 1979, this is a monumental work, which helped modern Britain better to understand itself. Not only did it provide the most comprehensive in-depth picture of what modern poverty means for those affected, it also represented a milestone in developing our understanding of poverty.
Its opening words provided a relative definition of poverty, rooted in a concept of relative deprivation, which still resonates nearly 40 years later and which has influenced subsequent research and policy. As predicted at the time, it ranks as the modern day successor to the classic works of Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree.
John Kay, supernumerary fellow in economics, University of Oxford
In a letter to George Bernard Shaw, Keynes wrote: “I believe myself to be writing a book on economic theory, which will largely revolutionise … the way the world thinks about economic problems.” The author’s assessment of its impact was correct. The analysis of the book was the dominant influence on macroeconomic policies in the 30 years that followed World War II, and we still debate, and employ, Keynesian policies today.
It’s not always easy to keep kids reading over the summer holidays. But research shows that those who stop reading over these long breaks from school are actually at risk of seeing their reading ability drop during this period. This is called the “summer slide”.
But there are simple ways to prevent this from happening. Reading just four or five books over the summer can stop the slide.
Reading regularly also helps to develop a child’s language and comprehension, enhance listening and speaking skills, and help with the understanding of narrative and story. Reading to your child during pre-school years has even been shown to boost their literacy levels.
Children are, unsurprisingly, more likely to read when they find a story interesting and engaging. With this in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of great new books that have been published this year that are sure to keep kids engaged in reading over the summer break.
(Harper Collins Publishers, 2016)Ages: 0 – 3 years
Cameos of babies’ lives and their families feature in ordinary but universal scenes starring babies as they sleep, play, eat and explore life.
The short, familiar text, such as “Zane rubs corn in his hair” and “Vikram yawns and stretches”, is perfect for parents to read aloud. Lester is at her finest in capturing the minutia of the ordinary and rendering it memorable.
Further reading: Lester’s 48-page colouring-in book, Wonderful World, featuring characters and scenes from her books Imagine, Magic Beach and others, is the perfect companion.
Parents might collect Lester’s books and join in a game of “find the characters” appearing in the colouring book.
Here’s a treasure trove of nine familiar favourites by a creator who excels in the art of simplicity, humour, playful images and universally loved stories including Grandpa and Thomas and Belinda. Allen’s jaunty language is perfect for reciting and performance by pre-schoolers.
Parents will enjoy performing words and actions and talking about the subtle character-building ideas, such as being kind to others and working together.
These 60-second poems are perfect bedtime reading. Five countries, including Australia, feature in these 132 selections, each evoking strong emotions. Included are abecedarian, pantonums and haiku poems, plus others. The illustrations are minimalist and clever, ensuring imaginations are engaged.
Australia’s poems by Kathryn Apel, Mark Carthew, Sophie Masson and others add to the international flavour. Parents prepare for a rollicking read aloud and discussion of other kinds of poetry than those here.
Welcome to country ceremonies are an important part of major events. They signify cultural greetings by Aboriginal elders who grant permission for visitors to enter their traditional lands.
This stunningly illustrated book has a deep yet simple text, which introduces its central concept through poetic language and earthy, evocative landscapes of blended colours and shapes of people and landscapes.
“We are part of the land and the land is part of us” reminds us to respectfully share cultural traditions. Parents might collect a range of picture books by Aboriginal creators for children, comparing illustration styles and discussing the meaning underlying traditional stories.
(Crows Nest, NSW : Allen & Unwin, 2016) Ages: 7 and up
Gibson’s debut, gem-like story offers likeable characters, a tasty dilemma and a satisfying ending. Appealing ingredients include a family of four French mice who adore food, family and fashion, intricately detailed illustrations, lavish banquets of French food and a text in delectable rhythm and rhyme.
Adults and child can explore places in the world, locate these on maps, and share cultural diversity.
Further reading: Similar in whimsical detail, but featuring enchanting rabbit characters, is the trio of books by Kate Knapp about Ruby Red Shoes. Ruby’s adventures to distant places are told in entrancing prose and feature detailed, whimsical illustrations.
(National Library of Australia, 2016) Ages: 8 and up
Australia is home to over 110,000 species of animals and here in Newton’s large, lavishly designed book are 120 – most existing only in Australia. The beautifully designed layout conveys information so jam-packed that readers will return again and again.
Basic and iconic information include slang, sports, places to visit, and lots of food. Adults reading this book (and the one below) with children might want to talk about the importance of looking after the environment.
Further reading: Tania McCartney’s book, Australia illustrated, in a similar large and inviting format, offers fascinating titbits about all Australian states and territories.
Artie and his best friend Bumshoe discover a cave-of-possibly-stolen-stuff, then match wits and defeat our shady characters including fang-toothed Funnel-web and the dastardly Mayor Grime.
High-appeal ingredients abound in this mystery-adventure: a struggling underdog; good-hearted friends; moments of bravery; slightly dangerous baddies and a rip-roaring pace. The quirky line illustrations perfectly capture inventions like the “super snotter” and shady characters in zany, slightly dark, line illustrations.
Parents might compare this work with other popular humorous authors and illustrators such as Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton with their Magic Tree House series.
8. Radio Rescue written by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
(National Library of Australia, 2016)Age: 9 and up
Two masters of story and illustration combine their art to reveal a fascinating piece of Australian history — how “the world burst open” with the invention of the pedal radio. The facts are astonishing, but the human story adds great appeal.
Young Jim and his mum and dad love station life but long for human contact, and worry about disaster striking. Jane Jolley’s text is simple with appealing repetition perfect for reading aloud.
Robert Ingpen’s signature soft pencil sketches and luminous foldouts are unforgettable. Parents might find other books about significant inventions and innovations in our world such as transportation and the Internet, and talk how these have changed our lives.
Shaun Tan’s 15 short stories explore unique, perplexing and sophisticated ideas with unforgettable images. One story centres on Eric, tiny in size but large in heart. He leaves behind an unforgettable gift for his human friends. Another story features satirically decorated missiles in front yards. Tan puts a twist in this tale, prodding the reader to think. A family with little money creates a richly imaginative attic retreat.
Parents will enjoy reading Tan’s crisp proud aloud and luxuriate in his mesmerising illustrations, then discussing the many layers of his work. Then, as a family, put together the accompanying Shaun Tan 750-piece puzzle.
Occasionally a book leaves an indelible impression, irrevocably changing one’s worldview. This is one of those books.
Ten-year-old Subhi is a refugee, born in a permanent Australian detention centre. Though he knows no other life, his imagination soars and offers comfort. When he meets a young girl from the other side of the fence, their lives change forever.
Family members loved and lost weave throughout this story. The prose is lyrical, and there are light moments. Read this book as a family and explore injustices, hope and love.
Most of us have an opinion about whether we prefer reading on screen or paper: but what difference does it make for children? The truth is that technology is now encountered from babyhood. Anecdotes abound of toddlers swiping their fingers across paper rather than turning the page, while parents and teachers express their fear of screen addiction as tablets introduce new distractions as well as new attractions for young readers.
Ofcom figures tell us that children’s screen use rises sharply towards the end of primary school (from age seven to 11) and in the same period, book-reading drops. Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?
We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.
We asked 24 mothers and their seven to nine-year-old children to take turns – mother reading or child reading – with popular fiction books on paper, and on a tablet. They read Barry Loser: I am not a Loser by Jim Smith and You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. We found that the children’s memory for the descriptions and narratives showed no difference between the two media. But that’s not the whole story.
The interactions of parent and child were found to be different in the independent ratings from video observation of the study. When they read from paper rather than a screen, there was a significant increase in the warmth of the parent/child interactions: more laughter, more smiling, more shows of affection.
It may be that this is largely down to the simple physical positioning of the parent and child when using the different media, as well as their cultural meaning. When children were reading from a screen, they tended to hold the tablet in a head-down position, typical of the way they would use the device for solo activities such as one-player games or web-browsing.
This meant that the parents had to “shoulder-surf” in order to share visual attention. In contrast, when parents read to their children on paper, they often held the book out to support shared visual engagement, tucking the child cosily under their arms. Some children just listened without trying to see the book, but instead curled themselves up comfortably on the sofa.
Keep taking the tablets?
Our research joins a growing list of studies comparing paper and e-books, but the answer isn’t a simple one. Shared reading is different to reading alone, for a start. And we may be interested in whether screen or paper makes a difference in how children learn to read, to understand, and enjoy reading. In short there are multiple perspectives to consider – developmental, educational, literary and technological – if we are to decide which medium is preferable.
Most studies have compared children at the earliest stages of reading, using paper books, e-books with audio and dictionary support to help less-skilled readers, and so-called “enhanced” e-books with multimedia, activities, hotspots and games.
Text with audio support helps children to decode text, and multimedia can keep a reluctant reader engaged for longer, so a good e-book can indeed be as good as an adult reading a paper book with their child. But we don’t yet have long-term studies to tell us whether constant provision of audio might prevent children developing ways of unpicking the code of written language themselves.
Re-design for life
There is also increasing evidence that adding multimedia and games can quickly get distracting: one study found that young children spent almost half their time playing games in enhanced e-books, and therefore they read, remembered and understood little of the story itself. But there is plenty of guidance for e-book developers on the what, where and how much of designing multimedia texts.
And that brings us back to perhaps the defining conclusion from our own study. Books versus screens is not a simple either/or – children don’t read books in a cultural vacuum and we can’t approach the topic just from a single academic field. Books are just books, with a single typical use, but screens have many uses, and currently most of these uses are designed round a single user, even if that user is interacting with others remotely.
We believe that designers could think more about how such technology can be designed for sharing, and this is especially true for reading, which starts, and ideally continues, as a shared activity in the context of close long-term family relationships. Book Trust figures report a drop from 86% of parents reading with their five-year-olds to just 38% with 11-year olds. There is a possibility that the clever redesign of e-books and tablets might just slow that trend.