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Barnes & Noble’s new “Nook Kids” collection: Is it good for young readers?

A mom wonders if she really wants her kids to develop the digital habit.

By Rebekah Denn / October 25, 2010

Will e-readers prove a plus or a minus for the youngest of readers?

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It was only a matter of time. Modern parents, constantly pressed to limit their children’s screen time and send them off instead with a good book, now have to figure out what to do when books are screen time.

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I’m already at a loss with just the first reports of Barnes & Noble’s new “Nook Kids” collection. It’ll include more than 12,000 digital books, said The Wall Street Journal, including classics like “Go Dog Go” and my own children’s beloved “Jamberry.”

Sound benign? That’s what I thought at first, until seeing that some of these will be “enhanced editions.” They’ll allow, for instance, the ability to “pop” the berries from a "Jamberry" page on the screen, or to click a button to set the Ferris wheel in an illustration spinning. That sounds indistinguishable from the kiddie video games my 3-year-old begs to play when he poaches on his 8-year-old brother’s computer time.

But then I had to reassess once again. The books allow the option of pressing a button to have a narrator read the text aloud – is this any different from the book-and-CD of “Frog and Toad” that I joyously snagged for my toddler at the library last week? I’ve been known to buy him Pop-Up books; are those any better for his brain than watching a Ferris wheel spin? And it would have been wonderful for my grandmother to click on any text and have it enlarged enough to read to my children the way she once read to me. Publishers told the Journal that the new editions are engaging and restrained.

Still, though, my kids won’t be getting a Nook anytime soon. (They aren’t even allowed to fool around with my Kindle.) The experience of holding a book and turning pages is still so different from reading on a computer screen. Browsing the wealth of a filled bookshelf for bedtime stories is not the same as clicking on a virtual library. And, while I do get my kids Pop-Ups and read-aloud CDs, those are augmentations – not replacements – for what I still consider “real” books. But if they want to use some of their allotted screen time on a "Jamberry" game, at least now I know where to go.

Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.

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