Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mom, Will You Read Me a Bedtime App?

It's a pivotal moment for picture books, and traditionalists might find themselves shouting, "No, David!"

Here come the picture book apps.

The New York Times writes about e-readers with color and the new push from publishers to bring these books out. Most readers and writers of picture books knew that day was coming, but it still seemed "a ways off." Many hung tight to the thought that the purity of the 32-page book as we know it might remain unthreatened.

Well, those days are over, and it remains to be seen how the youngest readers respond. Our kindergartener has a paper-thing-with-a-spine kind of book under the Christmas tree. I plan to download a new picture book app after school today to see what he thinks. We'll see which one he goes back to again and again during the holiday break.

While the early picture book apps out of the chute have been with smaller publishers, the heavyweights have now arrived. Apple is pushing more than 100 titles to its iBookstore starting today with incredibly popular titles like the Olivia series by Ian Falconer. And Fancy Nancy has been available on Nook Color for about a month.

Most publishers have been eager to jump onto the e-book bandwagon, but there were a few obstacles in the way for picture books. The largest being that pesky problem of color. But now that that's taken care of, off we go!

"It finally gives us the opportunity to have our picture books join the e-book revolution,” says Jon Anderson of Simon & Schuster in the Times article. “It gives us a great opportunity to monetize our content in a way that we previously haven’t been able to.”

And monetize they will.

This is the turning point. Anderson says that by early 2011, S&S hopes to release picture e-books at the same time as the print versions. Just like the grownups.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daphne, Dressing Up, and Parenting Online

Parenting is hard enough. Taking it to the Web? That's a whole different can o' worms.

A Missouri mom's recent post about her 5-year-old son's Halloween costume has drawn a tremendous response from parents and others -- and not just for his choice in being Daphne from Scooby Doo.

On her blog Nerdy Apple Bottom, the Mo Mom wrote,
"If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off."
The post, which features a photo of her son in his bright orange and purple costume complete with pink boots, has gone viral, generating over a million hits and more than 38,000 comments. Mom was interviewed by phone on CNN’s “American Morning,” saying she and her husband were “flabbergasted” by the response.

Various media outlets have now weighed in, not to mention all the mothers and others with strong opinions.

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams hilariously addresses the mom's post, saying "This is how it's done, folks."
"It should be a no-brainer that 5-year-old boy who dresses like Daphne one day a year is not automatically gay or transgendered -- although obviously, if he had wanted to be Velma, he'd be a lesbian. The point is, as the mom blogger beautifully expresses it, so what?. . ."
But Carline Howard over at isn't so supportive.
"Her anger at the mean mommies is valid. But she’s taken to the blogosphere with her rants (people can be mean, even to children! traditional gender distinctions aren’t fair!) and his photo at the expense of her “worrier” son’s privacy."
This entire kerfuffle reminds me of a children's picture book called "King & King" (Tricycle Press, 2002) that was attacked for "promoting a gay agenda" and sexualizing characters for children. But what the book boils down to for me is less about homosexuality than about teaching tolerance. Buy it now.

I agree with Nerdy Apple Bottom that her son did "rock that wig." And obviously her post struck a chord across the country. So while many of us support the notion that "it takes a village," this Missouri Mom seems to have gotten a much larger village than she ever dreamed possible.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A New Form of Storytelling, Both Online and Off

The New York Times Sunday Book Review takes an interesting look at a new beast on the scene in children's literature: books that use an online component to engage and expand the reading experience.

These books are bridging the online and off-line reading experience, in some cases using the Internet to propel the plot forward. Readers go to websites mentioned in the book's pages for information or "bonus" material.

The concept sounds engaging, but it seems a little clunky in many ways.

If your child is still reading the paper page, she's going to have to shift from traditional book to computer and back again. But if she has made the move to an e-reader, the experience seems to be more fluid.

Says the Times:

". . . with the rise of e-readers and other tablet devices like Apple’s iPad, I have to imagine that some author is hard at work creating a fully digital experience that combines text, video, animation and data. Books, movies and video games will all contribute to this new form of storytelling, and I would not be surprised if it happens to children’s and young adult literature first. We may scoff at so much gimmickry, but what adults call gimmickry kids call something else: awesome."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teens Are Reading, But Just In a Different Way

The kids are all right.

At least, that's what I took away from a recent Washington Post story about young people's reading habits.

The article looks at recreational reading in the age of Wii and XBox and real-time Tweeting. And what it says was a bit of a comfort to the part of me that wants to write books for this audience: They are reading.

And it confirms what many of us are beginning to wrap our brains around: They're reading books in digital forms.

"It's not that they're reading less; they're reading in a different way," Kim Patton, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, says in the Post article.

The story refers to a detailed analysis into the trend on reading for fun - in books, newspapers and magazines. Researcher Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland has looked at the daily time-use diaries of a nationally representative sample of children 12 to 18.

The Post reports the following: Pleasure reading dropped 23 percent from 2003 to 2008, from 65 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week - with the greatest falloff for those ages 12 to 14.

So where's the bright side? The Post gives Patton's answer:

"They could be reading on the cellphone, in games, on the Web, on the computer. It doesn't mean they're not reading, but they're not reading using the printed page."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quick Draws: iStoryTime's Picture Book Apps Come Hot Off the Presses

Toy Story 3 set box office records this weekend, which wasn't too surprising. But what did come as a surprise was that Buzz Lightyear and the crew were heading toward infinity and beyond with the release of Toy Story 3 apps for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch -- all on the film’s launch weekend.

The digital book publishing business is turning around books quickly enough to tie in with movie releases, which hasn't always been the case. Two other recent big-screen hits, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After, also launched picture book apps the same day the films hit theaters, allowing kids to walk out of the movie house and download the story for the drive home. Both were published by iStoryTime, which is part of FrogDogMedia.

“It was less than eight weeks from the finish of the movie to our book being published,” said iStoryTime founder Graham Farrar. “It used to be that you could not publish a book at the same time as the release because they were finishing just weeks before the films hit theaters.”

As we’ve learned from previous interviews with picture book app producers, the turnaround time to make a picture book app for iPad or iPhone is just a matter of weeks.

“Certainly someone could send us a fantastic Halloween app book today,” Graham said, “and it would be a non-issue to get that out by Halloween.”

iStoryTime has been on the scene for about a year and a half and has 35 books in their catalog – making them one of the largest picture book app publishers. They have worked with DreamWorks on the movie tie-ins, but they also publish little-known authors and illustrators, such as their popular Binky the Pink Elephant, written by Sonowa Jackson and illustrated by Jaclyn Mednicov, which has sold upwards of 10,000 copies.

“That's the beauty in books,” says Graham, a father of two young children, who used to tote bags of picture books out to restaurants but now totes their books in his iPhone. “If you look on the bookshelf in kids’ rooms, there’s plenty of room for Dr. Seuss and Binky the Pink Elephant and How to Train Your Dragon. And it’s constantly evolving as they get older.”

That matters a lot to picture book authors and illustrators trying to break into the market, so it’s great to hear a publisher like Graham leaving the door open to new talent.

iStoryTime accepts submissions from authors, but the story has to be illustrated – which is completely different from what traditional book publishers want. And while they are open to retellings of the classics or original stories, they are only interested in buying the rights for electronic distribution – meaning an author with iStoryTime could sell his or her digital book to a traditional publisher.

“The value is in the content these authors create,” said Graham, addressing skeptics who are still leery of digital books. “Michael Jackson’s Thriller was just as good on CD as vinyl.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

PBS Apps and Building Young Brains

Maybe the kids really are all right.

A recent study by the broccoli and asparagus of children’s programming, PBS Kids, found educational benefits in young children’s use of gaming apps. The study showed that children ages 3 to 7 who played with the PBS app Martha Speaks, based on the popular TV cartoon, showed an improvement in their vocabulary by as much as 31 percent. PBS Kids announced initial results of research studying the educational benefits of mobile gaming apps in conjunction with the 7th Annual Games for Change Festival in New York.

"Mobile apps can be a great learning tool in the hands of children," Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children's media for PBS, says in their press release. "This research is important in helping to better understand and guide the development of new apps that improve the value of children's screen time with significant educational outcomes."

A story on CNET says the study provides real evidence that iPhone and iPod games may not be rotting kids' brains. That is, so long as the apps they’re looking at are educational. And that is the key for parents perplexed by how to navigate through the vast wilderness of iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Android applications.

Just as Mom and Dad have to decide between Elmo vs. the Power Rangers when allowing some TV time, the same goes for choosing quality apps. Junior can spend his time blowing up monsters in mindless games, or he can focus on learning to name shapes, colors, and patterns in engaging new ways.

As with every other medium kids consume -- books, movies, TV shows, websites, and video games -- there is plenty of trash out there. And PBS, thankfully, seems to be leading the way once again, helping parents make good use of all these portable, app-based gadgets.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Children's Books, Authors, & Apps, Oh My!

Digital picture books have arrived on the scene, and I am trying to understand what it means for aspiring picture book authors and illustrators. So I contacted David K. Park, co-founder of MeeGenius, a publisher of digital picture books for the iPad, iPod Touch, and the iPhone. I asked him how the whole process works.

“You would submit your manuscript,” David explains. “Our editors would review it. If we agree to publish it, we would enhance it with audio playback and word highlighting, and create the personalization tool for the text. We
 would then make the book available on the web, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad in days.”

Days? He must have meant to say months.

“This process would be weeks instead of 18 months to bring a traditional book to market.”

Okay, so what’s the catch for authors and illustrators? We must have to pay to bring our stories to life, no?

“We are not currently charging authors and illustrators to enhance and distribute their books," David says. "We understand they are plunging into this paradigm, so we want to be as supportive as possible.

“We offer 30 percent royalty on the net price of a book. For example, for a $1.99 book purchased on iTunes, Apple received 30 percent of that, which leaves $1.40. Authors and illustrators received 30 percent of that $1.40, or $0.42. So if an author/illustrator creates a book that gets downloaded 10,000 times, they received $4,200.”

That 30 percent would be split between an author and an illustrator, so for picture book authors, that’s about 15 percent, or in this example, $0.21.

How does that compare with the traditional model? According to Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon website, for a traditional 32-page picture book priced at $16,
“Half of the $16 is the wholesaler and bookseller's part--their overhead and profits. On average, the publisher receives $8, or perhaps a little more. Assuming that the publisher does a print run of 10,000 copies (this is fairly typical), of that $8.00,
• $3.20 is overhead
$1.60 is the royalty to author and illustrator

• $1.76 is the cost of paper, printing, and binding (binding is about half of that)

• $0.64 is the cost of preparing the plates
This leaves 80 cents profit per book, assuming all goes well and that the entire printing is sold. And assuming, on the other hand, no subsidiary rights income, which would increase the amount of profit.”
Let's point that out again: That $1.60 is split between author and illustrator, so for the writer, we're talking about $0.80 per book sold. Compared with about $0.21 in the e-book example. So how can an author hope to come out ahead selling digital picture books for $1.99 online?

It remains to be seen how these markets will play out. One thing to keep in mind is that not every traditional picture book is going to sell 10,000 copies. Many do not even come close. While for the digital book, the market is very different.

“There are currently 75 million iPhone, iPod Touches, and iPads in the United States,” David says, “so even a small fraction of that market is very large.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

MeeGenius and Picture Book Apps: An Interesting Story

I had picture book apps on my mind after attending a meeting up at my kids' school last week. A learning counselor was talking about summer activities parents could do to keep kids' math and reading skills alive. One mother said her daughter wanted to read books on the Kindle, just like Mom and Dad. But she was worried about her daughter learning to read in an electronic format. What about the act of turning the page? Basic literacy skills? Engaging with a real book?

I contacted David K. Park who, along with Wandy Hoh, is founder of MeeGenius, a publisher of digital picture books for the iPad, iPod Touch, and the iPhone. MeeGenius has been listed on the New and Noteworthy section of iTunes, the What’s Hot section, and a staff favorite for the iPad.

“We launched our beta site and introduced the iPhone and iPad app on April 1st of this year,” says David in an online interview with dot.momming. Remember that the iPad hit the market on April 3, so they’re off and running.

“We’re ultimately creating these beautiful works to be read and enjoyed by children, so whatever medium they enjoy the most, we should adapt and provide it for them,” says David, who is the father of two young boys. “Furthermore, a digital platform will allow so many more talented authors and illustrators to get their works out there in the hands of children.”

Okay, sure, but let's get to the point: Change is bad. Everybody knows that, right?

What does an app publisher like MeeGenius have to say to calm parents and authors who are quaking in our collective boots? For authors and illustrators, we want our books to stand the test of time – in a library, on a bookshelf, under Junior’s bed! What are we supposed to do with all these changes in book publishing?

“We think you should embrace it and will be pleasantly surprised by it.”

I can see what it means for parents like me: I’m driving on our annual 11-hour roadtrip to Grandmom’s house, only this time, instead of toting a bag full of bulky picture books to keep the troops happy in the car, I download an entire library of them. In app form, those picture books are accessible at all times – whether we’re waiting in line at the St. Louis Arch, waiting for lunch at yet another Cracker Barrel, or trying to fill the endless miles.

As parents, we want our kids reading and engaging with books. So as iPad and other platforms enter the market, are parents ready for this new medium? Will they believe that their kids are getting the same out of this new experience as they are from traditional books?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bright idea: iPad and Children's Bedtime

It’s bedtime, and part of the nightly ritual is reading a family favorite together before tucking in for the night. But the new routine might mean calling up an electronic book rather than pulling a traditional one down from a shelf.

But reader, beware. According to a recent story about sleep on CNN, the light from an e-reader might do exactly the opposite of what you want that nighttime story to do. Junior’s brain might be fooled into thinking it’s daytime, the researchers warn. So instead of slipping off to the land of nod, his brain might be sending him toward the land of naughty. As in our house:

Me: Look, Mr. Popper got a penguin!
Junior: I can touch my toes to my ears.
Me: Listen, Mr. Popper’s kids are going to meet the penguins!
Junior: . . . twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four. . .
Me: Stop jumping on the bed. Don’t you care about Mr. Popper and his penguins?
Junior: Who’s Mr. Popper?

As the CNN story reports, “. . . that light can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep.” That’s a quote from Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience professor at Northwestern University and director of the school's Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology.

And if there’s one thing that strikes terror in the heart of any parent at about 8:30 p.m., it’s a delay in someone’s ability to sleep.

The biggest culprit for the nighttime shenanigans appears to be the iPad, which features LED back lighting. Great resolution, the New York Times looks terrific, but you won’t be able to enjoy it tomorrow morning at breakfast because you’ll be too tired from trying to get Junior to finally fall asleep!

At bedtime, you’re better off using another e-reader like the Kindle, which shoots far less light into the eye. Or, that other thing that’s been on the market for a while.

A book.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Children's Book Week, Red-Hot Flamingnet

More on Children's Book Week, which began yesterday and runs through Sunday. I got a wee bit fired up about kids books and new technology when stumbled across Flamingnet, which the rest of the world out there might already know about. I tend to come late to things -- discovered The Sopranos in season three, got my first countertop mixer after a good 10 years of baking, and I still haven't gotten around to rollerblading yet. But Flamingnet represents more than just another website with a book angle. It's a wonderful virtual world of and for book nerds! A vast community of readers who speak and celebrate children's lit. How cool is that?

Flamingnet was begun by Seth Cassel back in 2002, when he was but a wee fifth-grader! It is devoted to promoting reading and writing among teens and tweens and includes reviews of children's books written by kids from all over the world -- in the United States, England, and Australia. And as if this weren't enough, Seth has developed a charity angle as well, donating books and money to organizations in need. Here's what they have to say about themselves:

Flamingnet is currently a growing young adult book website, and my father and I are kept very busy spreading the word about our site and working with all the reviewers, underwriters (adult volunteers that assist our student reviewers with their writing), Flamingnet members, authors, publishers, and publicists that have become part of our Flamingnet community. My grandfather in Florida is also very busy sending out letters to libraries telling them about my website.

Even Grandpop is in on it? I'm getting misty! What a wonderful family affair. It's an organic outgrowth of this boy's interest in books, supported and fostered by his father (a computer programmer) and grandfather, and now shared with the rest of the virtual reading world. Flamingnet's formula of having kids review books online and participate in the greater book community brings so many people into the conversation -- teens and tweens, classrooms, teachers, librarians, parents, and even grandparents. It's a wonderful digital age success story, and makes for another exciting chapter in the history of Children's Book Week.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Children's Book Week, Then and Now

We've come a long way, babies. Children's Book Week, which celebrates the best in children's literature, is close to 100 years old. It kicks off Monday and runs through May 16, and features author events in bookstores and libraries around the country, as well as online celebrations.

In many ways, this year's celebration is not too different from past years. Kids are still wandering the stacks at their local or school libraries and pulling books off the shelf. They're still discovering "new" authors and books, like Treasure Island, just as they did in 1919 when the first Children's Book Week was celebrated.

But a few things have crept onto my radar recently that are giving me grins about Children's Book Week. One was a teaser to help get kids excited: Parents or teachers can send kids a personalized Children's Book Week e-card. I couldn't help but think that those digital darlings who would enjoy the card might also like downloading their book as well.

Then I read an Amazon ad that pitched downloading free Kindle copies of classics like Treasure Island onto the iPad, Blackberry, or any other e-reading device. And that's when I realized how far we've actually come.

Kids today have so many avenues for accessing quality media. And the ease and convenience of getting books into their hands is unprecedented. Sure, those hands might already be holding a video game. But a classic or contemporary novel is merely a click away. Think about it -- as these kids (or Mom and Dad) tote around their iPhones, iPads, Kindles, or the like, they're also carrying around a vast library of books.

They have a world of wonderful reading available to them, literally at their fingertips.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh, The Places You (and Your iPad) Will Go!

Reading an AOL News story today that 13 of the 16 top book applications for the iPad are children's titles, I began getting a little light-headed. That time, "somewhere down the road," when kids will be reading picture books on handheld computers and we'll all be flying jetpacks to work, well, it's here. Mostly.

But I still couldn't wrap my brain around what it all means. So I got in touch with Oceanhouse Media, the publisher of the Dr. Seuss apps that are among the most popular downloads. Surely he could calm me down about the iPad, picture book apps, e-books, and what this all means.

"It's a complete revolution in the way children's books will be published," said Michel Kripalani, president of Oceanhouse.

Okay. Now that we've got that straight.

"A lot of the old skills won't apply anymore in publishing," Michel said. "I won't have to ship from China anymore, I won't have to deal with resellers, or with brick and mortar stores."

That echoes what Stephen Roxburgh said recently when he spoke at 57th Street Books about his new publishing venture, namelos, which prints books in hardback, paperback, and e-formats all on demand. From a publishing standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. No paying to move freight, no gambling on how many books to send out and how many get remaindered, no grinding down unsold books into pulp. The Lorax (another recent Oceanhouse release) would be proud.

I was especially excited to look at Michel's version of Dr. Seuss's ABC since it is the very book that my five-year-old is actually reading to us right now. So for me, after years of reading about Little Lola Lopp and the lazy lion licking a lollipop in the traditional paper and glue format, it was a bit of a rush to hear the narrator's voice in the iPad app. (This is a book that came out in 1960 and probably taught me, my husband, and these app programmers how to read!) Besides hearing the narrator read the text, I could tap on Lola and see her name cross the screen as the narrator read "Little Lola Lopp." I could tap on the lollipop and see that word come up as well, accompanied by the sound of a creature happily licking.

Oceanhouse plans to produce one to two Dr. Seuss books per month until they've gone through the entire Seuss library of 44 books and stories. Michel began to explain that it takes just a couple weeks to produce an app. I missed what he said next because I'd begun choking on my chai and dropped the phone. A couple weeks? Surely I'd misheard the man.

"That's assuming we have the source content -- the original digital art files of Dr. Seuss books," he explained. "We do a recording session for the narration in a professional studio, create a new set of sound effects for each book, pull it all together in our proprietary engine. . ."

Slow down there, Tex. I get what galleys are, F&Gs, and I can tell my ARC from a hole in the ground. But I don't speak this lingo. What's a proprietary engine?

"It's what we call the code, or the technology that everything is sitting on," he explained patiently, clearly aware by this point in our conversation that he was dealing with a 20th century book gal (or is it more like 15th century? How long has this model been around?). "It's the core technology that's under the hood for every book. Because essentially we are a software company more than a book publisher."

And that's a great point. Because for picture books, more so than any other electronically delivered books, the interactive element will require much more equipment under the hood. Michel said Oceanhouse wasn't interested in too many whistles and bells in their books, but there are interactive qualities.

"The fact that we started with Dr. Seuss guided our direction. He was all about teaching kids to read, so we use that as our litmus test. 'Will this feature help a child learn to read better?' If we highlight a word, it will help."

So how long did he say it takes to get the app to market?

"It takes a couple weeks to pull all that together, then we get Seuss approval (from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which handles the licensing of all things Seuss), then we submit to Apple for approval. From the time we get Seuss approval to the Apple store is less than 100 hours."

And as if that weren't enough to make you want to sing like one of the Whos down in Whoville, he added,
"Then we're immediately available for sale in 70-plus countries."
So what does this mean for authors? Looking at Oceanhouse's model, they're going with a proven winner in the traditional format and adapting it to the new market. There's no editing and revising of the text, no working with an illustrator to bring that text to life. But will other houses take a risk on an unknown author? I think the answer is yes. But it will take time.

"It's hard to say what it means for authors," Michel said. "In general, the author's cut could be higher in this model than the old one. Traditional publishers have a lot of overhead; they have to print all those books just to get them into, say, 100 bookstores.

"But with this model, you have hundreds of thousands of people seeing your book. What iTunes did for music it is doing all over again for books, without a doubt."

So what's next for Oceanhouse? Michel and his wife are looking to have a baby any day now. And beyond that, we can look for One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish in June. And just in time for graduation, they'll be releasing Oh, the Places You'll Go!

And with an iPad, that could be just about anywhere.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boy Scouts as video gamers

The Boy Scouts of America has announced it will offer two awards -- a belt loop and a pin -- for video gaming. While at first blush, this sounds a little sad. When we hear Scouts, we imagine tents and nature and slip knots, not Diddy Kong. The CNN tech blog where I read this announcement was skeptical:
". . . you still have to wonder if this isn’t a misguided attempt by the Cub Scouts to stay relevant by pandering to boys’ interests. Seems to me the Scouts should be getting kids outside and teaching them practical skills beyond the bubble of their everyday lives instead of how to read the back of a video game box."

But what should the Scouts do? Ignore video gaming entirely?

The Kaiser Family Foundation's recent study on media and children says 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day. That's like having a full-time job! And as for gender, the study comes as no surprise: Boys spend more time than girls playing console video games (56 minutes per day for boys, 14 minutes for girls).

It's the Scouts vs. Mario and Luigi!

I applaud the Scouts' effort to try to harness all this frenzied energy for video gaming and contain it. This generation of kids has been called "digital natives," and as parents, we often don't come anywhere close to speaking their language. So if an organization like the Scouts steps in and tries to help translate, I'm all for it.

What do you have to do to earn the Scouts' belt loop? Kids have to explain why a rating system is important for video games. That can prompt some good discussions. What else must they do? Create a daily schedule to see where gaming fits in after chores and homework. What's not to love about teaching kids time management? And when there is a daily planner hanging on the fridge, it makes parenting that much easier. "I'd love to let you play longer, but the chart shows it's time for homework. . ."

And to earn a pin? Among the nine requirements are two that I think every parent should be doing when the Wii or other game system enters the house: Have Junior sit down and teach us how to play a game. The other requirement I wholeheartedly back is having him choose a game that helps with math, spelling, or another skill related to schoolwork. "Can't talk now, Mom. I'm practicing fractions!"

It's all about having the vegetables along with dessert. Kids, especially boys, want to game. There is a place for it, and they should play within reason. There are ways to teach them to use gaming intelligently. And if a venerable organization like the Scouts tries to teach them the healthy ways to incorporate gaming into their lives, all the better.

Take that, Mario!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Have you hugged your screen today?

I’m done apologizing.

My days of hiding my kids’ Wii remotes when unexpected guests knock at the door are all behind me. The era of ushering the little darlings away from the computer screens when the neighbors stop by is history.

I’m now embracing technology, that 2.0-pound gorilla in the room. I’m getting more comfortable with the place it’s found in my home. While I used to cringe at how tech-savvy my five-year-old was (“He should be reading more books!”), now I’m all right (and a little impressed) with the way he can move so fluidly from beating his big brother at basketball on the Wii to downloading a free game on the iTouch to picking up where he left off playing Spore on the laptop.

What’s made me stop apologizing for all this tech play at my house? It might have something to do with a recent job I started, working with an academic whose area of research is digital media and urban schools. Or maybe it's from reading stories about serious institutions like the MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to digital media and young people’s learning.

But most likely it has to do with a talk I heard Thursday night at 57th Street Book Store in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The speaker was Stephen Roxburgh, a former children’s book editor and publisher who is at the forefront of the e-book revolution. Having recently founded a new publishing venture called namelos, which can deliver a children’s novel in the click of a button, Stephen talked to us about the current convulsions in the book publishing industry. He likened it to Gutenberg’s arrival on the scene back in the mid-1400s.

“Screens are the future of content delivery, not ink on paper.”

Stephen (pictured here at 57th Street Books) says this on his blog, but it was also the essence of what he discussed with the bookstore audience, made up mostly of SCBWI-Illinois writers and illustrators who have an enormous stake in the conversation. When I heard Stephen – legendary editor of such distinguished children’s authors as Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Carolyn Coman, and Uri Shulevitz, to name a few – talk about embracing the book delivered via computer screen as closely as the one bound in leather with gilt pages, I began to question my own thinking.

Technology is changing so rapidly, every day offers tremendous change from the one before. It’s all a bit dizzying. But there is no mistaking that products like Apple’s iPad are revolutionizing the way we live, work, and enjoy our leisure time.

Says Stephen, “. . . a powerful tablet computer with a high-resolution screen and intuitive operating system is the face of the future of reading. . . .”

And when I look at my kids – my five-year-old especially, who has used his daddy’s iTouch like a pacifier, tucking himself into a big chair in the corner of our family room when he needs a little quiet time – I couldn’t agree more.

They are perfectly content to enjoy a picture book delivered by one of the many screens in our house as from the glossy pages of the hardback book they pluck off the shelf. They are equal opportunity consumers of media right now, but I have a feeling that they are going to prefer their books online soon. Because that’s where they have been going for information and entertainment since they could toddle over to a chair, clamber up at a desk, and click the mouse to bring up the Sesame Street website. PBS Kids’ online games have been as crucial to their reading development as the dog-eared copies of Dr. Seuss’s ABCs.

So it’s official. As of Thursday – which was Earth Day, I might note – I am done apologizing for my kids’ screen use. Though we still love paper books in our house (they are everywhere, even wedged beneath the cushion where I am sitting), I am comfortable with my kids reading new ones as well as the classics via a screen.

And if it means we save a few trees in the bargain, all the better. It’s one less thing I have to apologize for.