Jasper, as I have noted previously in this space, loves the iPad. Like, loves loves it. He loves it with a passion that is rivaled only by his passion for trains. Which means, of course, that he usually brings the two together, in some cases for a little multimedia train play (set iPad on train table, queue Thomas tribute videos on YouTube, commence play), in others for a little interactive reading. Yes, reading. He’s only three, but he’s gotten pretty good at working the virtual storybook apps. The ones that feature trains, especially.
Kyle and I discuss Jasper’s ‘reading’ habits quite a bit, because we worry, sometimes, about whether Jasper spends too much time with the iPad, and then we worry about the worrying. Because, really, should we worry? He doesn’t watch television, like, at all, unless it’s Thomas on Netflix, and even then, he much prefers Thomas mash-ups and tribute videos on YouTube and Thomas games and Thomas stories. The iPad, in Jasper’s hands, is truly an interactive device: he lines up his trains next to it and works them alongside the story and adds to that story with his own exclamations and proclamations and variations on plot. He flips through the pages of a storybook app and really just gets into it.
But some might argue that that’s not really reading. It’s certainly not the kind of reading that I did as a small child. It’s not even the kind of reading that Emilia did at his age. Virtual stories – stories on tablets – sometimes involve sound, which is not really something that you find in traditional books, ordinarily. Virtual stories sometimes involve moving images, or clickable links that take you to another part of the story, or that produce pop-up images, which, again, are rare in hard-form books, unless you count actual pop-up books, which maybe you can.
Because here’s the thing: children’s books and children’s stories have always involved some sort of interactivity: whether you’re talking about pop-up books or nursery rhymes that are sung and danced or books like Pat the Bunny that allowed you to, you know, pat the bunny (I always thought that the bunny was named Pat. I didn’t fully grasp that ‘Pat’ was a verb, not a noun, and referred to the act of patting, until after Emilia was born and I read it aloud to her. This reflects badly on me, I know.) And virtual storytelling just takes this interactivity to a different level. Not a better one, necessarily, but a different one. An interesting one.
So we’ll continue to let him hog the iPad, and then, at some point, we’ll get him an e-reader, or whatever the kid version is of an e-reader, and see what happens. And we’ll continue to keep the bookshelf stocked with Eric Carle board books and my own worn childhood copies of The Velveteen Rabbit and Alice In Wonderland and the adventures of the Famous Five and the Bobbsey Twins and, of course, the Chronicles of Narnia and the works of Roald Dahl and I’ll pull these out for my children and we’ll read them and we’ll love them and if we end up also downloading the virtual versions of those stories, well, so be it.
It’s the story that matters, after all – not the medium.