Paperback and hardcover books, magazines, newspapers and eReaders are tools, not the means to the end, for building an authentic reading life.
There is a rising surge in popularity in children and teens' purchase of eReaders. Before we get fired up on the sentimental notion that no longer will our children remember the mystical "smell" of books, or the joy of passing a book to a friend, let's take a moment to pause. Just as in writing, while I might have fond memories of the Number Two pencil, I can now write faster and more boldly with joy and purpose with the help of my smooth keys, I can communicate with friends in Kenya and the Philippines in a matter of minutes, so I don't miss my pencil. For the sake of our children, we must be able to both whimsically recall that old tattered book by our bedside and also acknowledge that the eReader is ushering in a new era of readers.
My goal always as a literacy activist is to build reading lives, not to protect outmoded forms of print, should the paperback become that. I believe it's a point of democracy to respond wholeheartedly and fully to this question: Who shall have access to print? With this response: Everyone.
If technology gives more people access, we must support it. And it does. I can communicate with people thousands of miles away on my cellphone. I can download 100 books in an hour. I can design for my student Daniel a personal collection of reading materials that suits his reading level and no one else's, that lets him read "Frog and Toad" privately to "practice" his reading, while his fellow 17-year-olds savor "To Kill a Mockingbird," each to his own pleasure, but each also to his own necessary levels.
The sentimental defense of the "smell of books" or the "stack of books" is fine; I get it. As a voracious reader since I was four, believe me, I get it. But far more important to me is that we shall all read. We must stand behind the notion that democracy thrives when we make the power of print, the power of stories and poetry and information available to everyone, everywhere. I believe technology is the Ben Franklin printing press of the 21st century: more people will get print because of it.
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