Can Children Develop Adequately Without Books?

Child Reading

Clair-de-Lune / Flickr

It is a pleasure to bring you this lovely essay from April Line. April is a freelance writer and writing teacher. She lives in north central Pennsylvania. Visit her online at April Line Writing.


The theatrical performance of Max & Ruby: Bunny Party came to my town. I freelance for the arts and culture section of the local rag, and in covering the show, I got to interview Rosemary Wells. I was beside myself.

I hoped maybe some success juju would eke through the phone. I was eager to look inside the mind that penned Ruby, a character who I—as an oldest sister of four—find to be especially sympathetic.

I’m also the mom of a struggling reader and writer. My daughter is 6, in first grade, and she’s barely reading at grade level. Watching her write is painful. I want to share my love of books and writing with her, but she’d really rather play. Outside. In the mud. Or watch action-based TV shows. Like Adventure Time and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I want her to be who she is, not who I am. So I read to her, and help her with her homework, and ask her to do the work of learning to read, but I encourage her to pursue her own interests. Like this: she will soon be taking karate classes.

By the time I was her age, I would come in from school every day, lie on the couch, and read book after book. I was so eager to put words together that I practiced my penmanship. I chose books over TV early on.

Which brings me to Wells.

Here’s an unedited quote after I asked her if she ever imagined Max & Ruby would be on TV and in theater:

I’m one of those people who doesn’t have TV for kids. I don’t believe in TV for kids. I never once thought that it would be on television. I don’t think in television, I think in books.

And I think that books (and live theater by the way) are the basis for children’s brain development and their spiritual development and their imagination and powers of critical thinking. Very very little of it comes from computers and computer games and television and movies.

I emphasize this because we are fast entering a world where there is just so much screen time for kids. None of this has really been examined over the years. Whether parents really are making a good decision to allow so much screen time, and whether it’s just a progress in the technology, or if kids are just falling into it because it’s there.

I’m a conservative in this way, in that I think we should always do what we know works, and allow a little bit of the new stuff in. And only when it’s appropriate for children. And I must say that the Max & Ruby TV show is perfectly appropriate for children. They’ve done a really nice job.

The interview went on with lots of little speeches like that, with which my writer half was in agreement, and my mother half was feeling generalized and persecuted.

I agree that people (not just kids) should read more. That TV watching should be kept at a reasonable level. That there is a scary dearth of critical thinking ability all around me, every day.

But we are also increasingly digitizing media. Printed books are going the way of the wooly mammoth, so according them total responsibility for a child’s brain and spirituality development seems to be problematic.

The publishing industry is changing with such speed that even its executors can’t keep track. Before my first grader is a fifth grader, we will choose from the library of books on her eReader for bedtime literature.

Tablet technology is getting less and less expensive, and computer classes begin in kindergarten. iPads are being used as teaching tools all over the world. This stuff, these screens, are her medium. They will shape an ever-larger portion of her world, like it or not.

And she has absurdly easy has access to so much information. This can’t be a bad thing.

As the interview progressed, I felt the need to defend myself. “I read to my daughter!” I said, almost defensively, as Wells made a blanket statement about parents not reading to their kids.

Wells didn’t even seem to hear me.

“I do voices and everything!” I said.

“You have to,” she said.

In the wake of feeling belittled as a mom and affirmed as a writer and reader, I wondered:

What does the digital media revolution mean for children’s books? For children’s literacy? Are we heading down a slippery slope of oatmeal-minded buffoonery as a culture? Is Rosemary Wells just a curmudgeon? How do I navigate this transition as a mom? Do I go out and buy an iPad or a Kindle Fire? Boycott Wells? Cling desperately to my printed books and start buying up copies of all my favorites?

Not Answers

I think I landed somewhere between a self-scrutinizing panic and contempt for Wells’s arcane argument.

In the usually-less-than hour a day my kid spends in front of the boob tube, she’s watching higher quality narratives than I had access to in Avatar: The Last Airbender, with smarter writing in Adventure Time, and a massive variety of animation styles. And Netflix gives me the option to exclude commercials.

I am as excited to see how research happens for my child as I am sad that she won’t spend hours in the dusty stacks, jotting notes on recycled card catalog leaves and learning the Dewey Decimal system.

More than being concerned that my sweet kid will think too little, learn too little, read too little, I’m thrilled that she has access to so much. Now is historical nirvana for writers and readers and critical thinkers. And it’s my job as a mom to show my kid how to take advantage of it, regardless of medium.


Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Digital Media, Guest Post.

April Line's fiction appeared in Sou'Wester in 2005. She currently does copy writing, editing, and freelances for a number of regional publications. She is working on a collection of essays and fiction, and on her nonprofit project, Billtown Blue Lit. She lives in Williamsport, PA.

Join the conversation

13 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
Can Children Develop Adequately Without Books? | Jane Friedman | Digital Media in the Classroom | Scoop.itWhy Isn’t Literary Fiction Getting More Attention? | Jane FriedmanBilltown Blue Lit’s Excellent Journey « billtownbluelitInsomnia at Child Pageant in Nowhere New York « April Line WritingLisa Ahn Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

[…] Can Children Develop Adequately Without Books? Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Filed under April Line Writing, Media, Single Moms | Leave a comment […]

Heather Harshman

What an interesting turmoil as a mother and author.  Perhaps it all goes back to finding a balance between helping kids to come into their own yet living a life filled with bits of many wonderful stimuli (e.g., Avatar, reading, internet researching). 

As a writing professor, I am a big advocate of educating kids to effectively use the resources available to them, but also having them stay in touch with their creative, reflective sides.

Christine Grote
Christine Grote

We are in the middle of a reading revolution, I think. It goes hand-in-hand with the publishing revolution, as you’ve pointed out. I don’t think it’s a matter of should I embrace the new technology. I think it’s a matter of how do we manage the new technology. Our kids live in a different world than we did when we grew up. There is no going back.

Carisa Kluver
Carisa Kluver

Wonderful article April! 

I’ve had so many of the same thoughts/concerns as I watch my little boy develop a love of books but also of digital media. I am often torn about what is best for kids (and my kid most of all) as I review iPad children’s books. 

I wrote about it in March when I was just a few months into reviewing these new digital books: “How will iPad picture books affect young reader’s literacy?”

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!



[…] Can Children Develop Adequately Without Books? | Jane Friedman What does the digital media revolution mean for children’s books? For children’s literacy? Are we heading down a slippery slope of oatmeal-minded buffoonery as a culture? Source: […]


Dear April.  I feel you.  I have three intelligent, creative children who were raised on books and yes, some television, computers and now e-readers.  They’re fine.  Very smart, very worldly and very well-read.  My father taught me the following – read to your children from the moment they’re born, and we did.  They love books, but they they also love classic movies, good television and occasionally junk.  So what.  I’m serious…so what.  Mass media Nazis weary me as much as food Nazis.  Unless you want to live in a cave or under the sea, you’d better introduce your children to… Read more »

Diana Orgain

Oh Jane – As a mom and author – I HEAR you! I completely understand the dilemma. What I try to remember is the what NOT the how. I want my kids to be happy and fulfilled. Because I love stories -doesn’t mean they have to – although they do. And even if I love stories in books on paper doesn’t mean they have to -b/c as you said “wooly mammoth”. So take your first grader to karate class and enjoy!

T. K. Guthat

I love my iPhone and spend way too much time on Twitter/surfing the web. That being said, I have to disagree when you write, “according [books] total responsibility for a child’s brain and spirituality development seems to be problematic,” and “I’m thrilled that she has access to so much. Now is historical nirvana for writers and readers and critical thinkers.” Are you arguing the more information the better, and that technology is giving us a feast of information? Or that you *must* expose your daughter to the mass of information out there, albeit at a measured pace? Let me propose… Read more »

Lisa Ahn

Thank you — you make so many great points here. My kids are 5 & 7 and we limit but don’t completely exclude screen time. We’ve always read to them and still do, every day. My oldest is an avid reader and my youngest is learning. Piecing it out. Both of them adore getting caught up in stories (yeah!). They take stories and twist them in their imaginations, making up games and pretend play based on what they read. I will always believe that stories are critical to developing imagination and critical thinking and a sense of self. But stories have… Read more »


[…] after my super lucky guest post on Jane Friedman’s Blog, this lovely woman, Jamie Chavez, linked me to a post about her son learning to really love […]


[…] me that will both ask questions about book marketing, and bring folks here, to Billtown Blue Lit.  Here’s a link to the first one she ran on her […]


[…] April Line, a freelance writer and writing teacher. Read her previous guest post for this site, Can Children Develop Adequately Without Books?, and visit her online at April Line […]


[…] What does the digital media revolution mean for children’s books? For children’s literacy? Are we heading down a slippery slope of oatmeal-minded buffoonery as a culture?  […]