e-books, e-readers, e-issues…..

I am a YA writer and school librarian and I run training courses for school librarians. During my courses the one subject that everyone wants to discuss is the e-reader issue.  Here are my thoughts on the matter. I originally posted this last year (so you will notice some of the comments are from then) but have spruced it up with some new thoughts. To be honest not much has changed and I am still being asked the same questions so I felt it was worth posting this again. I’d love your thoughts on the matter, and if you disagree with me!

I am aware that there are many people who do not see the attraction of a Kindle or e-reader, be it for esoteric or logistical reasons – and I must confess that I used to be one of those. I am now, however, a complete convert.  They are undeniably convenient; being able to carry around thousands of books in one simple and lightweight device is an absolute luxury. 

But what does this mean for the industry, and for libraries?

First, we need to consider the use of the e-reader.  I have a large amount of case-history evidence that shows that they provide a great incentive to less keen or able readers.  In the schools where they are already in use it is clear that they can often provide the extra step that less keen and struggling readers require to clear the last hurdle to finishing a book.  The e-reader is defiantly not a book, and for all children who have struggled to read and learnt nothing more than how to hate a book they can be a revelation.  I have personally seen a child who has spent most of their school years fighting every attempt to engage them in reading, not only finish a book using e-readers, but love it too.

So they work.

But do the children who only read e-books ever tackle anything else? Do they learn to love books?  Do they become keen and avid readers in the long term?

Possibly not, time will tell, but they can read and isn’t that the whole point?

There is another argument that the e-book will kill the paper book, but once again only time will tell on that. History has, however, gifted us with many examples of other technological advances that threatened established leisure industries.  Video did not kill the radio star.  DVD did not kill cinema and CDs have not killed the music industry.  Oh yes these industries have all been changed by the rapid move of technology, but the ones who absorbed the change still exist.  Publishers will (and rapidly are) absorbing the changes and will make it their own. Some may not make it successfully; it depends on how quickly they can move with the times and find their own niche.

Kindle owners do still buy books, the Amazon forums show that, and Kindle owners are quite defensive about this fact.  There are many things that an e-reader is still not useful for, revision being a classic example.  Flicking back and forth and jotting down notes? Nope, too fiddly on a kindle and (whilst you can annotate text) it is nowhere near as simple as (book purists look away now) a pencil in the margin.  Course materials and set text books are not readily available in e-book format and, no matter how wonderful the illustrations, indices and layouts become, I have yet to see a method of spreading several connecting texts out in front of you the way you can lay books out.  How many of you have revised by stretching out on the carpet with five books open?  Not on an e-reader you don’t – not unless you have unlimited resources and own several of them!

For study purposes it is doubtful that the e-reader will crush the printed text book completely, but what about fiction?

That is where the e-reader really comes into its own – now you’re talking! Tens of thousands of books available free of charge and out of copyright.  People have free access to the great classics of literature, and they are actually reading them (shock, horror!)  I’ve worked in publishing and libraries for over 25 years and I’ve never seen a rise in interest in classics that matches what we are seeing now.

However the self-publishing e-book industry has flooded the market with dross. I’m sorry if that offends some people but it is true.  There is a lot of great material out there, but it’s drowning in a tsunami of garbage. The buffer is no longer there on dross and it is possible for anyone to throw a book out on the internet for a few quid, and sadly that really does seem to be the case. 
For most of us there is little more guiding us in our purchases than a cheap price and a few reviews from mates with an Amazon account. We, the book buyers, need help from the publishing industry and from high calibre reviewers so that we can keep our heads above the tide of low-grade material. If people are downloading more books than they ever bought in print, then this is a busy marketplace and how do we know if we are wasting our time and money without the label of a trusted publisher?  I know that statement will annoy a lot of people as many find it patronising to suggest that people do not know a good book from a bad one without seeing the name of a trusted publisher – but the majority need to be sure that they can trust what they are purchasing and any help is better than none.  Think about how you buy your clothes and other everyday items? Which do you trust more, a major supermarket and reliable local traders that you trust, or a stranger who pulls up outside with a van that he has loaded up with goods being flogged off on the cheap? You might buy from him, but it’s safe to say you wouldn’t trust the quality. Kindle is the literary equivalent of a fully loaded white van, and readers need help to be able to see if they are being ripped off – not just of money, but of time! I have less and less time to read and I’d like to be sure that I have something good I’m front of me. For younger readers this is even more important as poor quality material can even set them back on their reading progression. We need trustworthy, independent thinking reviewers who can help us find our way through the melee. This is why The Times’ sacking of a reviewer as trustworthy as Amanda Craig is all the more baffling. At a time when we need more reviewers we can trust, they sack one of the best.
So how can we trust the reviews in the newspapers if we suspect that they will only be reviewing the “next big thing”, the sponsored titles, the super-massive authors? How will we find something new and potentially dazzling if there is no one left with integrity to raise it up for us to see?

So it’s back to the publishers, and they are increasingly sending material out in e-galley form to independent reviewers like me, trusting in their books and hoping we will agree. Some of the publishers are moving faster than others with these e changes; Harper Collins is very rapidly absorbing them and it shows. A couple of Christmases ago there was a huge battle of the e-imprints the digital success was theirs. With innovative imprints like The Friday Project they cornered the market in quality e-books. For example, one of their books, (Confessions of a GP) sold less than 9,000 copies in paper that season (admittedly still an impressive number these days) but downloads of the same title were well over 100,000 copies.  Good marketing and creative pricing have shown that it is possible to even knock back The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which came second in the top download list at that time.)  Other publishers are quick to catch up, and many will be launching new digital imprints before the end of the year and so it is becoming ever more possible to source well edited, quality e-books. These are books that have been through exactly the same editorial process that a print book has – someone other than the author has vetted it! That’s a great start. Mine was out first in e-imprint and I can tell you that it went through exactly the same editorial process as a print book before it was released, and then went through it all again before going to print. So I’ve seen both routes first-hand.

But what about libraries?  An e-reader may be a useful tool to tackle low literacy levels, but how do you lend one?  One school librarian asked me “if I can’t get back a five quid book, how I am going to get back a hundred quid Kindle?”

She has a point.  So if anyone has an idea on how to handle this, let me know because I cannot find anyone who has a truly successful and secure method of handling this.  I know lots of schools who are using them for specific pupils, or for tackling certain issues with literacy, but not lending on or via e-book. Even if you issue the e-reader out via signature on computerised lending systems, you still have no guarantee of getting your expensive e-reader back.  The only system that I can see as being effective is to keep the devices for use in the library only, and that turns them into just another bit of tech in school to teach and improve literacy and not a lending item.

Public libraries have been issuing e-books for some time with varying success and a growing number of systems, and the whole PLR issue is another minefield and one that can’t possibly be done justice here.  Are authors still able to trust that they will get what is due to them when relying on virtual issues?  What about the book sharing problem?  How secure are these systems? I’ll get back to you on that one – anyone care to comment and I’ll add it to a future blog.

It is a fairly simple thing to lend an e-book and to code it so that it virtually “expires” after a set period and cannot be copied beyond the registered device. However the counties I have spoken to have admitted that the expiration does not work for the book that remains on the e-reader. It expires on your computer, but not on your Kindle.  One county I spoke to (and I won’t say which) admitted that they send an email reminder that the item has expired, and this flags up the library ticket and has to be cleared on the next visit – but they “have to trust” the borrower to delete it from their device once they have read it.

Would you delete it?  I wouldn’t!

I’m sure that this loophole will be addressed, and it is as I write, but we are still in very early days of this technology even though it has been around a long time – if that makes sense!  It is as if we were not paying proper attention and lo! it has crept upon us and now we must embrace or tame the beast before it devours us.

Technology, like language, grows, changes and shifts all the time and we can either absorb and manipulate those changes or ignore them and let it all overwhelm us.  The e-reader is here to stay and it is no longer a question of if printed books and traditional publishing can survive, but how they can.  I do firmly believe that there will always be a place for both e-books and printed ones.  One simple fact that no one can ever deny, will supersede any opinions about the importance of e-books over printed ones – you can’t archive them as effectively as you can a printed book.  What happened to all those items archived on micro-fiche?  Or on floppy discs?  Archives have to constantly absorb new technological changes in frantic attempts to save digital or copied material. All the while the printed books sit like quiet sentinels on their shelves and in their stacks for hundreds of years, and can be instantly accessed without any need to rely on rapidly outdating hardware.

One thing that will possibly protect the printed book is love. I may be a sentimental fool who is too attached to them, but the printed word inspires great devotion and affection in us; people love books, but they don’t love their e-readers.  They remain a bit of grey technology that we find hugely useful, but we don’t really have an emotional attachment to it.  We do not stroke its glorious cover, or flip through its fresh pages, and we do not gaze at it whilst we hurry to finish our work thinking “ooo, new book to read.”  We can’t gift books the same way we have done before. The joy of being able to give a book to someone is something we all know, but our e-readers deny us this. What joy is there in giving a voucher? They also deny us the pleasure of sharing outside the devices paired to our accounts.  I like sharing books, and I must admit that I do miss wandering up to a friend and saying “you’ll love this.”  I have dog-eared, much-loved books that have been passed around for years, I’ll still be doing that.

The simple fact that will ensure the survival of the printed book is that it is the best at doing what it does. Nothing else carries the printed word in such a durable and accessible way. But stories began as shared gifts that fell from the lips of storytellers, and not from shelves, and we should remember that. Ultimately it’s not the format, it’s the story that counts.

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Ask a librarian.

As a children’s librarian I have been asked a lot of the same questions over the last decade. I know that parents often have similar concerns about their child’s reading, and so I thought I would share some of those questions with you, and my answers.

I hope you find them helpful.

I have a child in infant school and they don’t seem to be reading as well as the other children, what can I do? Some of the other children are on much higher books, why is my child not the same?

This needs a longer answer, but I’ve already covered in a longer post, and I’ve covered a lot of the issues that cause stress in parents about their child’s reading. Relax, it’ll be fine, they are all different and taking the pressure off is the first step to reading enjoyment.

 My daughter is seven and has read the first two of the Harry Potter books, but I think the next ones will start to get too scary for her. I don’t want to stop her reading or censor the books, but she’s only seven and easily scared!

People tend to forget that just because small people can read a book, it doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready for the content. After all, I’m sure your eight year old boy is more than linguistically capable of tackling all of the words printed in Nuts and Loaded magazines, but would you give him a copy?

The Harry Potter books are a good example of this desire to push books to bright readers too early (not that I’m comparing Harry to Loaded!) Remember that Harry is eleven in the first book, and so his life experience is based around the life of an eleven year old (albeit an extraordinary one!) Some seven and eight year olds are absolutely fine with a story that features an abused orphan who is locked in a cupboard and not allowed to deal with the death of his parents, but many are not. Children are often fine with scary magical elements, but it is the emotional content that may disturb and upset some young children.

You know if your child is emotionally ready for certain books or not, just don’t ever make the mistake of choosing books for much older children simply because you have a bright reader. Take advice, ask a librarian (ask me!), ask a good bookseller (not one that just wants to sell you the latest bestseller.) This is not about censorship, it is about guidance. If in doubt, read it yourself and ask yourself if your child is ready for this material. If your child is too young to emotionally deal with certain material, or too young to bond with the characters in the book, then you will only succeed in putting them off. Save these books for when they are ready to really enjoy them, and are able to fully appreciate the complexities of the plots. Don’t give in to parental snobbery or pushiness (“my daughter is only eight and has already read Twilight/Hunger Games/War and Peace…”) Go with what you know about your child, and be honest about what might upset them and what they might not be emotionally ready for. There is a vast amount of material to choose from, you just might need a bit of assistance to navigate the choice. Take them to a good library and a good bookshop and you’ll find all the help you need. Encourage them to read what they will enjoy, not what they feel under pressure to say they have read.

 The only thing my boy wants to read is comics and comic books, how can I stop him?

Why would you want to?

I almost left that answer there, but I do need to make a bit of an effort to convince you all!

Comics are AMAZING!! Don’t stop your child from reading anything, and don’t be critical unless you have dipped your toe in the water yourself. I grew up on comics and progressed to graphic novels and I’m still hooked. Reading is reading, and comics are a fantastic way for children to contextualise higher level vocabulary using visual prompts.

And they’re cool.

My child’s school doesn’t have a school librarian, does it matter?

Yes. 

OK, so I should say more than that – but it seems glaringly obvious that your child deserves the very best for their education, and you have every right to expect your school to provide that. A good school employs staff members who are qualified for the job. A school librarian has a very specific skill-set that goes far beyond handing out a book. They are supportive of your child’s reading and involved in their progression. They provide the expert advice and support that you and your child require for them to progress with their literacy, and engage in books and reading.  A librarian should be there to ensure that reading is a pleasure, a lifelong habit, and this in itself will have a massive positive effect on your child’s life.

Why would you not want this for your child?

Good literacy will vastly improve your child’s life and their opportunities in the future. Quite simply, they will be smarter if they read more. Fact.

If your child’s school does not have a library and a librarian, ask why.

This leaflet will give you all the reasons why your child deserves this, and what to look for in prospective schools.

 Ok, that’s it for now – more soon!

If you are not lucky enough to have a school librarian, you can always ask me a question.

Apps for little ones? Get Nosy!

Now, before you go getting all twitchy about people suggesting you pop your tinies in front of iPads and use them as some kind of robotic babysitter…. That’s not what I’m doing. This is not me telling you to give iPads to your children, this is me making the assumption that a lot of you already have, and would now like some advice on what they should be doing on them. I’ve worked with well over a thousand children and (trust me) I know what I’m doing when it comes to children and their reading.

This Christmas the iPad will undoubtedly be the desirable gift for most people, both adults and children. But what do you do with it? I have a tablet and I’m still finding that I’m largely using it to watch movies and tv shows, and in my travels I see that children are doing this too. The market is flooded with apps that claim to be “beneficial” to your child, or that offer “educational” content. A quick perusal of these and it doesn’t take an IT expert to work out that most of these are garbage with a heavy sales agenda and a heap of expensive “pester- power” add ons.

What parents need is a company that offers quality material produced by talented writers and illustrators. Apps that are created by people who know children, and who want to give children book related material that they will enjoy. Apps that are entertaining, good value and that you can trust to not send your child begging to you for expensive extras.

Ok, well the good news is – it’s out there!! What you have been looking for is Nosy Crow! This wonderful independent publisher started up in 2011 publishing child-focused and parent-friendly apps and books. Since then they have won numerous awards and published outstanding books and apps from brilliant authors and designers. They are constantly adding to their apps and book list, and have some of the very best writers and illustrators in their stable.
If you are concerned about the apps that you are putting in front of your children (and I know I am!) then have a look at Nosy Crow and take the pressure off yourself! Relax, it’s all good here.

I have to stress that I have no connection with this company, and no involvement with them apart from my desire to have quality book-related material in front of children. My interest is purely related to my evangelical zeal for improving the literacy of our children.

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NOT reading lessons!

Your dear little lad has brought home Him, you know the one, the kid who is smart and funny and who you wish you didn’t like because he seems to be perfect at everything. He has normal and regular parents and a normal and regular vocabulary…so why is he already on Gold books?

LESSON ONE…….

STEP AWAY FROM THE BOOKBAG!

And relax…

Seriously, looking at other children’s books is not helping you or your child, it is only putting more pressure on you both and turning what should be an enjoyable activity into homework.

Human beings are hardwired for reading, that’s the good news. Most children have an epiphany moment with their reading somewhere between the ages of five and ten – yes, I said TEN! The epiphany moment is quite remarkable – a child can just suddenly find the right book or the right motivation and they whoosh off with their reading.

So what does the school expect? They probably won’t tell you, but your child will be expected to comfortably reach Level 2 by the time they enter Year Three. This means that they will be assessed through a series of increasingly dull and worthy texts to ensure that they can do things like blend phonemes, understand what a text is about and answer questions about it and recognise the component parts of a book like an index and a glossary. The bare bones of reading are pretty tedious and the chances are your child will be doing this stuff long before they reach transition to Year Three. So relax.

If, however, your child is not quite there, it doesn’t mean that they won’t get there with a little help. A good number of children have issues that may impact on their reading and hold back their epiphany moment, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve the basics that will get them a comfortable Level2/3 at infant-primary transition.

  • Read with your child. When they hit a word that they don’t know, remember, they have never met this word before and will need an introduction. Let them try three times, no more than that because it becomes horribly frustrating.
  • Let your child read alone. No help, no input, just let them sit with words in front of their faces. These need to be their choice and it might be something you loathe. Tough!
  • Read to your child. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is for children to be read to. Not just picture books, longer books with chapters that they are not yet ready to read alone. It is a superb way of expanding their vocabulary, gives them something to aim for, and it’s lovely. Do not assume your child is too old for this, you are never too old for a bedtime story.
  • Acknowledge and draw attention to the fact that there are words everywhere. Give them reading with a purpose so that it does not feel as if you are expecting them to carry out a homework-like task. Ask them what the competition is on the cereal packet, put the subtitles on when they are watching their favourite tv show, stick post-it notes on the objects around the house that have new and exciting words to learn (such as television, radiator, refrigerator) Children have incredible powers of assimilation and suck up new words with ease – provided they see and hear them repeatedly.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to enjoy reading yourself and stop making it a chore. Make it a treat and let them soak up any words that they want (I’m a great fan of the literary qualities of the Beano) and stop putting pressure on them to be the same as others. They all learn at different paces and all come to reading in different ways. You probably don’t need to buy any special books or sign up for some expensive plan or club, just look out for reading opportunities everywhere.

Remember – only one in ten adults regularly read a book, and yet we expect 100% of small children to do it. It just might not be their thing, and there may be educational issues that need addressing, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become independent readers who enjoy diving into a book.

Most of all…RELAX!

 

Originally posted on www.beingamummy.co.uk

Dawn Finch is a YA author and for the last decade she has specialised in reading development in young children. She is vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group and a published author. Her book (Brotherhood of Shades) is a contemporary ghost story and is published by Harper Collins.

You can ask her questions about books and reading at www.dawnfinch.com

 

Comic genius.

As a children’s librarian I was often dismayed when parents asked “they only read comics, how can we stop them?”
WHAT?? Why would you want to? Comics are amazing!

As I kid I loved comics. I mean I really loved them. I read hundreds of books, but those were mainly from the library and so they were not my possessions. They were read, loved, and returned – but I owned comics. Actually, that’s only partially true – I hoarded them, bought them from jumble sales, swapped stuff for them, ran to the sweet shop for the next one. I had piles of them, huge and ever growing mounds of comics of all types. Oh how I looked forward to the Summer Special with its glossy cover and extra thick bumper set of stories.

Comics expanded my descriptive vocabulary massively – who knew I’d need words like scrunge, boink, splurge and spackle?! (Oh, but not in an Urban Dictionary sense, they are hell-bent on ruining some of my favourite comic-based words)
Why anyone would want to stop their child reading comics is beyond me. It’s all about words in context, and comics and all visual story-forms are a superb way to get people reading. They are especially good for people who might not feel that traditional books are for them. They are incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn another language, and I’ve seen teachers of EAL pupils have genuine “by George, he’s got it!” moments whilst using comics.

But enough with the educational reasons, I could prattle (another classic comic word there) for ages about the linguistic and literary importance of the comic construct… but the simple fact is that they are wonderful.

In a comic we are taken by the hand to a visual world that allows our imagination to expand way beyond its usual capabilities. We see things that we might not have conjured up without a bit of visual assistance, and yet there is still room for our own wild imaginations to add to the mix. That’s something that does not happen with a movie or a game, they’ve done all the thinking for us. Comics provide the reader with a jumping off point, and then we can tumble into the story at our own velocity.

I grew up on a steady diet of Buster (I was such a fan I even named my cat after this comic) The Beano and Whizzer and Chips
Then I wanted something a little more grown up and moved on to slavish devotion to the superb writing and illustrating in 2000AD. This lead to the inevitable move to graphic novels and then on to discovery of the genius of people like Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller.
I won’t lie to you – comics are a gateway drug. If you allow your kids to read comics it will lead to something stronger and they will get addicted. It’s just that simple.

I suggest you start them on something superbly written, deeply entertaining and rewarding – and I’m pitching for The Phoenix
If you haven’t heard of it yet, you are missing out. It really is the most wonderful creation by some of the best names in the business. It’s smart, funny and with genuine crossover appeal (if you are not nicking it to read before your kids I’ll eat my hat.) Both the website and the app are brilliant too as they add to the enjoyment between issues.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Monster Fun ahead of me.

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Why your child deserves a school librarian.

Dawn Finch, Vice President CILIP, YA author, school library and literacy consultant.
Follow @dawnafinch

With over a decade of UK school libraries under my belt, and as a YA author, it is easy for me to see why your child needs a school library with a trained professional to run it. I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference this makes not only to your child’s development in literacy, but also to their enjoyment of reading and their linguistic progression. It’s not just about stamping books out, it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s reading, guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of reading and emerge triumphant and in charge. So much more than Biff and Chip and struggling to the end of a scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them. Your child deserves that person in their life.

You can read the research for yourself – try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries have on children’s literacy.
Or maybe look at what’s being said in the House of Lords.
Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading. Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a watch.

But I know I don’t really need to convince parents that their child deserves a well stocked library run by a qualified librarian. You know it makes a positive difference to their education, and their lives.

Sadly it seems that increasingly the people we need to prove this to are head teachers and SLT members. As parents you need some evidence to prove your case and to get what your children deserve. So, when you are visiting schools to decide which one to commit to for your child’s future – take this leaflet with you. This explains exactly why your child deserves a good school library with a professional librarian. Download it here from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, print it and take it with you when visiting prospective schools. It will help you to see if the library you are being shown is a successful and supportive place, or just a room full of books. The leaflet will give you key points to look out for, and questions to ask. This way you can be sure that your child will be getting the support and materials that they require, and deserve.

This is not about a librarian banging on about her profession, it is about your child’s one shot at a brighter future. Their next school might make or break them, so why not expect the best? It is a simple fact that their literacy levels will be much higher if they have access to a real library. We’re not talking a room with books in – this is about real libraries run by professional people who have the right training for the job. This is a highly skilled profession, and your child deserves the right support from trained people. This is your child’s right to a better future, don’t stand for anything less.

A poster from the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre says it all – a powerful search engine with a heart.

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