I have recently become a grandmother for the first time, and it’s just as thrilling as people said it would be. All the fun and none of the responsibility. And lots to look forward to.
In particular, storytelling. When I was a mother of very young children, the best bit by far and away was reading aloud, or making up stories, having a soft, warm body snuggling up on my lap, waiting expectantly to be entertained. My older daughter loved books with flaps you opened to see the pictures – so much so, she wouldn’t look at any others. So I had to ‘fix’ her other books by sticking home-made flaps in strategic places. My younger daughter was one of those readers who had favourite books that she requested over and over again. Even I got fed up, so I decided to take her to our local library to borrow some new books. She was madly excited, and I made a big deal about getting tickets and the magic of libraries. As soon as she had her ticket clenched in her chubby little fist, she hurtled off to the picture books. And found all of her favourites and insisted (threatening a tantrum) that we borrow those and no others.
I remember with huge affection the lifelike stories and pictures of Shirley Hughes, and can still recite vast swathes of my all time favourite, Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea. And the Ahlbergs! And many, many more.
I am looking forward to getting to know all the new picture books, and I can’t wait to get stuck in. Rather prematurely, I have already got my copy of The Gruffalo and Hairy McLary for an unsuspecting grandson. What else ought to be on my list?
But. Will those books disappoint him? Will he be expecting an iPad instead?
What follows is really a series of questions and requests for information, rather than a set opinion. I am, as I said, a newbie. We are now living in a digital age – that’s a commonplace. I myself have a Kindle, publish Kindle Books (Good Recipes and Bad Women, since you ask!) and I have an iPad. I love both of these gadgets dearly. And my iPhone is almost like an extension of me. But am I right to hope that my grandson will come to these things later rather than sooner? And if I think that, am I not a hypocrite? Enjoying the fruits of the electronic age but refusing to pass these on?
I think (but I’m not certain) that children ought to learn to read, and love stories, by interacting with real, paper books, and hearing real people read them aloud. I am chilled to the bone by those Americanised automated voices that read to children. And there’s something about a toddler finger swiping across an iPad to turn the page that just doesn’t work for me. But I might be a fuddy-duddy.
Of course, there are practical difficulties. Even if I am persuaded that babies should have ebooks, there’s no way I’d let my new grandson play around with my iPad, no matter how gorgeous and interactive the graphics are (or how gorgeous and interactive he is!) Nor am I going to buy him one – heck, his parents can’t afford one for themselves! The Kindle is too sober to be baby-friendly. And even if I let my grandson touch my iPad, I’m going to be very nervous and restrictive in a way I wouldn’t be with a paper book. And that might very well inhibit his love of books.
But I may have missed something. Is there anyone who uses ebooks with babies? Are there any advantages in doing so?
And while we’re on the subject, do any of you have evidence that children and teenagers are beginning to turn to electronic readers? My sense is that in this respect, young readers are the most conservative.
Maybe because their grandmothers insist on reading real books to them!