Great Literature or a Hat: Books, E-readers, and Parenting

I was reluctant to buy an e-reader. If it hadn’t been a gift from my husband, I probably wouldn’t have one today. Books made of trees are quickly becoming relics, and I feel nostalgic whenever I hold one.  As a history-lover, I am drawn to symbols of the past, but even I must admit that these items are incompatible with my modern life.  Apart from children’s books, I have finally realized the kind of books that leave papercuts are more of a burden than a treasure.  In my household, where the children outnumber the adults, e-books are a better fit for several reasons:

  • Babies take up a lot of space and e-books do not.  Babies may be little, but they require a lot of stuff: diapers, wipes, clothes, boppies, toys, etc, and their stuff has reduced the amount of space available to store other items. An e-reader is able to store far more books than my bookshelf ever could.  Plus, that room we thought would be a library will actually be a child’s bedroom instead.
  • Raising children is expensive and e-books are not. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that it costs middle-income families (making between $59,400 and $102,870) about $235,000 to raise a child for 17 years, not including college tuition.  So, for those of us with a tendency to impulse purchase books but a need to reduce overall costs, investing in an e-reader makes sense.  Digital books, especially indie books, tend to cost less than the paper variety, presumably because it takes fewer resources to download an e-book than it does to print, store, and ship an actual book. Another way to reduce the cost of books is to visit the library–a great place to take the kids–but finding the time to make the trip is often difficult to do.
  • Babies are cute, but they are also destructive. Sometimes it seems like my 16-month-old (pictured above) loves my books more than I do. She loves the way they taste, the way they feel and sound as the pages rip between her fingers, and the way they look covered in crayon.  What I believe is great literature, she believes is a hat, relaxing the binding until the pages fall out.  It’s harder for her to destroy my e-reader, as long as I keep glasses of water far out of her reach!

Now that I’ve learned to love my e-reader, our home library hasn’t grown much (excluding children’s books, of course).  In time, it won’t look like anyone with a reading level above elementary school lives here.  I’ve wondered whether this dearth of actual books will affect the literacy environment in our house.  Studies have connected the number of books for adults in a house to children’s literacy, finding that, “parents’ commitment to scholarly culture, manifest by a large home library, greatly enhances their children’s educational attainment.”

In addition to having a large library (and reading books to children directly), it is important that children notice their parents reading. That’s the part that gives me pause. Do my children (particularly my young toddler) understand that my Kindle is the equivalent of a book, and that it’s not the same as “playing” on my computer or ipad?  I’m not sure, and I’m not sure whether it matters much. Books remain an integral part of our homelife, even if my children can’t see them lying around anymore.  That will be normal for them, as the world in which they are growing up continues to have fewer paper books and more smartphones and tablets.  I can’t even imagine how light their backpacks are going to be.  Lucky ducks.


  1. First of all, adorable picture. Your little one definitely pulls off the book-as-hat look!

    I have a Nook and I like it – I got it because I figured it would make reading on my commute more convenient (it did) and because I thought it would be good given all the business travel I do (it is). I’ve had mine since before kiddo, so she’s not the reason I got it. I do think that maybe young kids won’t quite grasp the concept that the Nook is the same as a book, but older kids probably will, since they’re more attuned to technology than us parental types were at their ages! I completely agree with you that it’s important for kids to see their parents read – that’s an example I plan to set early and often. Whether that’s with a book or e-reader isn’t something I’ve thought much about, but now you’ve given me something to consider…

    1. Hi Jaclyn! I hope you and Peanut are doing well. Thanks for stopping by. I think my Zayla pulls off the book-as-hat look, too! She loves to play with the traditional books we still have lying around, and I hope my girls will make the connection between our e-readers and reading. I can definitely see how my kids are much more familiar with technology than I am (one of my four-year-olds can use an iPad better than I can!), and maybe that means that my worrying about whether reading ebooks will set a good example for them is all for nothing.

    1. I enjoyed looking through my parents’ books, too. We still have books, but not in prominent places. We’ll probably add another bookshelf at some point to store the books we already have, but we don’t buy many physical copies of books anymore.

  2. Well written and observed AMB. There may be a twist yet though before we write off traditional books. Today’s children will live more and more in front of a screen, whether at school or at leisure. This will weary them and their eyes. Once they have let off steam playing physical games maybe they’ll prefer to retire, not to a screen, but to traditional things like board games, chemistry sets and maybe books with pages and covers.
    Let’s hope so anyway.

    1. Thank you. I certainly hope that children won’t spend all of their time in front of a screen. My guess is that traditional books will remain, but in much smaller numbers than they do today.

  3. As a writer and a book collector, I’ve thought about this, too. Does the e-book revolution mean the beginning of the end of rare first editions? A friend joked about having me sign his Kindle after he downloaded one of my books, and after I had to pull a book off of Amazon to make a minor change in the cover art, another friend asked me if he now had a rare first edition since he’d been one of the few people who pounced on the book the minute it was first released. Those dusty old rare first editions are starting to look more and more like antiques, and there may come a time when people raised on e-readers will appreciate those books as much as we maybe appreciate 8-track tapes or radios with tubes.

  4. These are interesting thoughts–especially your consideration of whether your children will realize you’re reading when you’re curled up with an e-reader. My kids would probably think I was playing Angry Birds. 🙂 But I’m sure that as they grow, they will realize what’s actually going on–and I imagine that, since you are a reader, your home is filled with discussion of books and reading even if it’s not as filled with books in material form.
    Personally, I have read some books on my ipad, but I can’t get over my love of a real book in my hands. When I want to go back and find a specific passage, it’s easier for me to remember where it was in the geography of the book (although I realize you could flag it in the e-reader, but I doubt I’d be that organized). I like the variety offered by different covers and sizes and colors in my hands when I’m trying to get more reading done–and struggling with the shortened attention span that seems to have resulted from being a mama of three little people. And most of all, I like to see my books on the shelves or stacked by my bed. I love the “old friends” on our bookshelves that reflect who we are, and I love adding new ones. My budget doesn’t love that part, so I’m learning to love a nice pile of library books, too.
    I realize my preferences may make me a relic soon. But since my husband works for a publishing company, I hope not!

    Thanks for your comments on my post today, by the way!

    1. My kids love angry birds! They call it “Mad Birds.” I’m sure there will always be a place for paper books (I suspect more so with non-fiction and text book selections), and there are times I still purchase a paperback book. I read a paperback copy of the Kerry Reichs’ novel I reviewed yesterday, and I was surprised that holding an actual book felt so cumbersome! It didn’t help that my Zayla was in relentless pursuit of that book, grabbing it and ripping pages at every opportunity. I wish I had purchased the Kindle version instead, but it was one of those relatively rare instances when the paperback version was less expensive than the ebook (being a traditionally published book).

  5. Speaking as a paper book traditionalist, you have good arguments here. I do wonder about whether e-readers save money though. From my observations, people with e-readers tend to buy more books because it is so easy to do and thus spend more money. I guess it probably varies from person to person.

    1. I agree that it probably varies from person to person. I buy a lot of books, and I spent much more on traditional books because they cost more than ebooks. Most of my ebooks cost between $2.99 and $4.99 (and many are free or merely a dollar for a novel-length book!). That means I can buy several ebooks for the cost of a single traditional book. In this post, I only mentioned why I think ereaders are good for parents, but I’ve grown to love it for other reasons, too. Most importantly, it has expanded my access to indie books, which often only come as ebooks (or the paperback is cost prohibitive).

  6. I totally get your concern. It seems to me one of the things you lose, by not having “adult” books around is the inevitable, and exciting, grazing stage — when a kid suddenly finds a book on the shelf, starts to read it, and falls in love. This isn’t going to be an issue for many years, in a young family like yours, but I do remember the joy I felt when my kids started to explore the books on our shelves. Grazing is important at libraries, too, and it could be that when your kids are older, and it’s easier to fit the library into your schedule, they can accomplish the same thing.

    Still, maybe it would be nice to have one bookshelf somewhere, where you keep your most beloved and treasured books?

    1. We still have a few books lying around, but we don’t add much to our collection anymore. The books are like artwork–you look at it, but no one touches it. I’ve even gotten the ebook version of several books I already own in paper form (the classics are often free or only $0.99 as ebooks) because I actually prefer to read books on my kindle. I can highlight and bookmark without “ruining” the book! It’s wonderful. I really never thought I would love an e-reader as much as I do.

  7. Terrific observation. My personal bias would be for the presence of a real book. My childhood home had many books, mostly of a technical nature since my father was an optical engineer. My in-laws home was swamped with books. My father-in-law was by no means an intellectual, but he was a voracious reader. My mother-in-law was a high school English teacher and there are literally a thousand plus books in the house. Two out of my three children are life-long readers; the third reads for his work only. Perhaps if you read to your children from a reader the connection might work. This is food for parenting thought!

    1. I definitely should try reading ebooks to my kids. That might help. Right now, they think my kindle is a computer, and from their perspective, computers are used only for games. Luckily, my girls do love to read and I hope it will be a lifelong passion for them. My father is an avid reader and my mother is not. Of the kids, two of us love to read and one of us reads only for work. We think it’s funny that the one who dislikes reading is the most widely published person in our family (medical research articles)!

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