Not yet out of print

15th March 2013 at 00:00

As I sat down to read to my grandson yesterday, a recent TES article came to mind. It asked whether we were looking at a completely electronic literary future ("Is the writing on the wall for print?", Resources, 15 February).

Certainly, there have been immense changes in a short period of time. When I was a child, books were a primary form of entertainment, and I loved them. Today, physical media is becoming a thing of the past and children have a bewildering range of electronic entertainment options. They can store a thousand favourite pieces of music on a matchbox-sized piece of kit and listen to them anywhere; they can stream films from vast online libraries; they can play complex electronic games and challenge players all over the world; they can social network; and if they need information, they can gather it from the web without going anywhere near a book.

Amazing, really, that children or their parents ever have time to read a book, and if they do they're likely to download it on a tablet. The doom-mongers tell us books will disappear because, well, tablets are so much more convenient. Look at how many books you can obtain for free and store on a microchip; much better than trying to turn pages on a crowded train. And books for young children are so much more fun on a tablet, aren't they, because they can include sound effects, songs and animation.

Interesting, then, that after an initial burst, sales of tablets for book reading are slumping and an awful lot of people, including me, still prefer their books in the format that has endured over the centuries. How many times have we been told that the cinema will disappear? It hasn't, because the big screen and a shared experience is infinitely preferable to watching a film on a phone. And yes, we can store lots of tunes on a stick, but people actually like to own a physical collection of CDs. Even the long-playing record has not only survived but is even growing in popularity again.

I can't imagine my home without shelves of books. They are my history. I can remember where I bought them, why and what I was doing at the time. And I believe the love my daughters have for books comes from being immersed in literature when they were young. Often, when we were eating our evening meal, my youngest daughter would enjoy testing me. "Who wrote that book," she'd ask, pointing to one on a shelf above her, "and what's it about?" Because I read to her every day, she quickly learned the words of her favourite books because she wanted to give that pleasure back to me.

And now I have the joy of repeating it all with my grandson. He's not yet a year old but when he visits Grandad he is surrounded by quality books. He's turning pages, pointing at the beautiful illustrations, staring wide-eyed at the tiny finger puppet popping out of the hole on the page, running his hands over the touchy-feely bits, and starting to enjoy the rhythms of our voices as we read to him. And despite being only at the cusp of book appreciation, his mother reads to him every evening.

When I was a toddler, the range of inventive, imaginative reading material was pretty slim. How lucky my grandson is. An enormous variety of high-quality, printed books exists to stimulate and enthral him. It's every child's right, and long may it remain so.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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