Stacks of books teeter precariously all over our apartment. Built in shelves spill over. Stacks of paperbacks peek from closets and clutter counter tops. Unstable particleboard shelves, circa my college days, remain in service holding my fast growing collection of novels.
Don't even talk to me about consigning the books themselves to some sad garage sale. I don't toss books.
They're kind of like animals that land in my care: anything that makes it inside gets a home for life.
Suffice to say that if we ever bid goodbye to urban living, any house we buy or build out in the boonies will have to feature a library.
While most visitors to our apartment could probably rattle off a list of more urgent home improvements— replace tired living room drapes, hang more art, re-upholster chair favored by Lucy the Kitten as nail sharpening post, replace rickety, near collapse patio furniture—my top priority, the only one about which I nag R., is more bookshelves.
Favorite realtor, please look away now: I don't even mind if book shelves swallow a few precious square feet.
I understand I'm writing about a retro problem, but stay with me, because I have child welfare at heart.
The ladies of my book club have universally switched to ereaders. I quietly covet a Kindle. It's so light, so travel-friendly, and I believe the commercials that say it's fine for reading in full sun. I could solve my storage problems (or at least head off future ones) with a quick click. I'll be doing a bit of travel this summer, and I was actually going to cave and order a Kindle yesterday.
Until my friend A., an avid reader who tears through several books a month, mentioned that her daughter, a first grader, asked her the other day why she never reads.
It seems the Kindle, or Nook, or iPad, to a child, counts like any other screen time.
Many of you will remember a widely reported twenty-year study that concluded that the mere presence of books in the home is as important as parental education level in determining children's educational level. Everyone knows reading to your kids is good for their brains. And since children learn by example, it follows that seeing adults reading is beneficial.
But the study about the mere presence of books was a ground breaking testament to the power of suggestion. If a child sees things, in this case books, treasured and valued, the reasoning goes that s/he will grow up to share those priorities. Which in turn will hopefully set off a desirable chain reaction: I.e. value books, love reading, love learning.
So here's the gazillion dollar question:
Do ebooks count?
I have no degree in child development, but I'd have to argue maybe not. Or at least maybe not for young children.
Put differently, does reading The Cat in the Hat, Curious George or Madeline to your preschooler on an ereader count as much as reading a tattered, much loved paper copy?
And does it matter if your child sees you leafing through the pages of the latest by your favorite author, or swiping a screen?
I don't know the answer and I'd love to hear your thoughts.