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Stacy Eckmann Digital Publishing 29 February 2012 Children’s Literature and the Digital World A large majority of people can remember their favorite bedtime story; that moment of crawling into bed and settling in to hear a story for the hundredth time. Recently, technology has become more innovative and advanced. This surge in technology has not only expanded science and communication, but is also rapidly developing and changing the way that people–young and old–are able to enjoy literature and storytelling. With technology continuing to spur on digital publishing, the younger consumer population seems to be the most adept to the fast-paced, everchanging whirlwind of electronics and digital media. And rightly so. Children are now surrounded by electronic technology at a younger age and in ways that many older generations are not accustomed to. Children younger and younger are introduced to the digital world and quickly learn and adapt to digital technology so that it is simply a part of normal, routine life. Children’s literature must continue to expand digitally through online digital libraries as well as electronic books. While Amazon’s Kindle, the Nook by Barnes and Noble, and other electronic book devices such as the iPad have focused most of the appeal to adults and young adults, there is a continually growing market for children electronic books as a means of entertainment and even education. Books and literature of many forms have been longstanding as a great type entertainment for children of all ages. Adapting printed books into a digital format expands the experience for the reader; characters, settings, and plots have the ability to be shown in exciting and more interactive ways. As Cynthia Houston explains, “Research conducted with children and

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computers over the past twenty years clearly shows that children interact with digital information differently than print” and that children read printed text left to right while digital media expands the opportunities for interaction. 1 There is a greater flexibility in the design and content for digital creators and publishers of children’s books when “freed from rules about page count and paper weight”. 2 With this freedom, books will have the option and ability to appeal to a wider array of children interests from book-reading to computer games. Digital media gives publishers and designers more devices and mechanisms in order to “blend animation and text”; therefore, readers can use these electronic books in different ways such as having the words repeated back to the readers or the ability for children to follow words and spell them out syllable by syllable as they are aided with an animated bouncing ball. 3 Sound, music, animation, and video interactive actions combine with written text to make reading and learning more multisensory stimulating for the readers. This new, more in depth interaction with the text makes literal participation with the story and book possible. Design and appeal are important because children see and experience the world differently depending on age and development differences which publishers are continually exploring. Children, between the ages of the three and five, are starting to explore language, words, and sentence structure at a greater extent than before. More inclined to picture book stories, this is an important time to introduce written literature to children and make it a fun and interactive. Digital publishing gives designers and publishers a greater assortment of techniques to carefully customize stories and activities for children dependent upon age. For example, Leapfrog has been enduring as a digital education tool that gives children freedom to learn and play simultaneously. Publishers are looking toward similar technology in 1

Cynthia Houston, “Digital Books for Digital Natives”, 39. Karen Springen, “The digital revolution in children’s publishing”, 19. 3 Springen, 20. 2

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order to appeal broadly to children and parents. By broadening literature digitally, many book applications and other similar digital media have extended to make activities within the stories exciting and fun. Children are able to pick out new words they may not have known previously, connect words to visual images of each word, play games with the newly learned words that teach pronunciation and spelling. Some applications contain extensions of the stories through games, videos, and coloring pages that children are subsequently able to print out pages from their favorite story in some cases. As many publishers are working to expand the content and capability of digital books thereby making them wide-ranging in interactivity, there is a danger that the literature will be lost within the game-like media. The instant that books turn into simply another type of game to occupy a child, the charm and purpose of a book is lost. Children’s books are for entertainment and enjoyment, but a key component is to teach children to read and create a foundation for the love of books. It is a fine line between an electronic book and applications and simply another computer type game. While children’s books are readily available for purchase for Kindle, iPad and similar applications, online digital libraries are also accessible. The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) is an online, open access digital library that contains hundreds of thousands of children’s books from all around the

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world in any language imaginable. ICDL is a nonprofit organization working to connect cultures and expand knowledge as well as enriching the genre of children’s literature. It began as a federally-funded research endeavor in 1999 and expanded into an international library meeting the needs of children by appealing visually to children and their interests, as well as a safe internet site for parents to feel comfortable letting their children access. 4 Part of the ICDL’s mission is to overcome language barriers that make education difficult as well as provide access for children to read and learn through their native culture and other cultures as well. The ICDL utilizes many core components that electronic books possess that are accessible through e-book readers. The extensive library has collected books that are no longer printed, available tangibly, outdated, or collections of older children’s literature that may have been deemed inappropriate for children in a previous point of time. It also holds a vast collection of current and up-to-date material. Digital publishing and media continues to make the world of literature wider for children and more educationally worthwhile. With online access to libraries like ICDL and others, there is the capability to use them in the classroom or in libraries. Projection screens and computer classes are now popular in many schools which makes it easy for database libraries like ICDL to be user-friendly. Teachers now have another teaching instrument at their disposal that can make learning much more interactive. Digital media cannot; however, make up for less than interesting stories, poor character development, and simply bad writing. Well-known animated movies created by Pixar and Disney (such as Cars, How to Train Your Dragon) have been inspiration for much of the new children’s literature as an extension of the movie and a way to relate reading to a child’s favorite characters from the screen. And writers must still create and compose a story that will sell. No amount of 4

Cynthia Houston, “Digital Books for Digital Natives”, 40.

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digital media can make a bad story worth purchasing. A publisher is working in tandem with a story to make it reach its full potential and for that to be possible, the story must be good. Although “good” is an ambiguous term, the story should be interesting, fun, and interactive for the readers in question. All the cleaning up, editing, and artistic work cannot make up for an unattractive and uninteresting story. There is a danger that a publishing company, in a mad dash to secure its space of the digital publishing real estate, will overlook the growing interest in children’s books. The future holds many promising and valuable expansions for children’s literature in a digital aspect with so much already easily within grasp. Digital publishing has more to offer children’s literature and will continue to develop as technology continues to advance. Electronic book readers will create another form for children to enjoy reading when not at home or make traveling easier when books are able to be stored in one single device. Children moving to a foreign country will still have access to stories in their native culture through online libraries like ICDL while connecting to other cultures worldwide. Learning will be interactive, creative, and enjoyable for children while furthering education and the desire to read.

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References Karen Springen, “The digital revolution in children’s publishing,” Publishers Weekly 257 (2010): 19-22. Cynthia Houston, “Digital Books for Digital Natives,” Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children 9 (2010): 39-42.

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Children's Literature in the Digital World

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