A fantastic thing about traditional books is that they’re boring. Not in the story sense, of course, but in format. There’s a cover to pore over, pages to turn, words printed on said pages, and that’s pretty much it. No noises. No buttons. No graphics. No hyperlinks or wifi. Peddlers of techie gadgets and e-books would argue that this is a bad thing, utterly 1.0. However, I’ve increasingly come to believe, with greater and greater confidence, that this is in fact one of their best and most unassailable qualities, especially for young children. And extra-most-turbo-especially for children still in the “read to me” age.
The reasons e-books are inferior to unplugged books for read-to-me kids range from the educational and emotional benefits of robust parent-child (dialogic – more on this coming soon) interaction, to active versus passive/outsourced imagination, to the distraction factor. The latter – ironically – popped up recently in a 2010 study about pop-up books. I was surprised, as I, like most children’s book aficionados, love pop-up books. However, the connections and findings make sense. Pop-up and related feature-based books are, to varying degrees, prototypes for animated e-books: flaps to pull, wheels to turn, 3-D effects leaping off of the page. Maybe this explains the popularity these days of such interactive masters as Robert Sabuda (fine art), Matthew VanFleet (sturdier, flaps over pops), and Rufus Butler Seder (“Scanimation”).
The study, in 2010 issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that learning from picture books is accomplished via shared reading of books with realistic illustrations, and impeded by manipulative features. This is a byproduct of the tendency of these features to distract from the story itself towards the physical format of the book. Sounds familiar (see my last blog post). Did someone say, “iPad”?
Most of us who have read pop-ups with young children are aware of the routine: “Open it this way, sweetie. Pull the tab. Gently! Ooh, cool… No, don’t tear it off. Let me hold it. No, I won’t leave it in the crib…” Though usually enjoyable, the process is more about nifty visuals than the story itself, more akin to a trip through a hands-off museum than a walk in the woods. This is probably why most of us keep pop-ups on a high shelf and don’t often choose them for story time. They are too wonderful to be shared.
The point here isn’t to bash pop-ups. They are wonderful, and I love and collect them. The point is to illuminate (via realistic illustrations, ideally) the fact that when sharing stories with young children, less is more. Specifically, less package is more. Less features, bells, whistles. Less gadget. Less device. Anything that distracts from the intimate connection between grownup, story, and child, tends to disrupt the magic. Sorry, Mr. Bezos.
And so, we celebrate the plain. Plain books, plain toys (blocks, balls, boxes…), plain pets, plain blankets, plain yards, and plain, wonderful days together. And OK, OK, a few pop-ups, too, as long as they get torn a little. And when all of the fun among them is exhausted, go ahead with the iPad. In college, maybe.
Share your pop-up stories! Compare and contrast at bedtime and see what you think!