I own a book monster. I take her to library, she gets out ten books, and two days later, she’s read them all. I usually find her roaming around the house at night, picking up newspapers and magazines, desperate for something to read until she can get her next library fix. (Which is why she keeps saying things like, “Mum, I read this thing about Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik in Grazia the other day and you know, Gigi looks really like Perrie Edwards, who Zayn used to go out with – isn’t that mad?” Indeed it is, but I need to get some proper reading material for her now.)
Bringing three kids to the library every second day isn’t sustainable, so I needed another solution. I had been thinking about getting her a Kindle, but wasn’t sure – she doesn’t have a tablet and apart from the occasional random “Mum, can I have an iPad?” request, she’s perfectly content without. So for a girl who’s happy to read and play made-up games and draw pictures and cycle her bike, going digital might be an unnecessary slippery slope.
But this summer, with all that extra free time for reading, it became impossible to keep the book monster fed, so I decided it was time to go electronic. I suggested we go halves on a Kindle, using some money she has saved up, and she agreed. The excitement was high as she handed over the money and waited for her new toy to arrive. It turned out that the Fire was cheaper than the Kindle, meaning it’s a tablet rather than just an e-reader, so that’s what we bought – but we agreed that it wasn’t to be used for games; it was for reading and nothing else.
She borrowed some books through Overdrive (a fantastic free library app) and got reading. Hurrah! The book-worm was sated, and we could get back to weekly library trips. (Because of course I still want her to read real books too.)
The following day, she read all morning, then went up to my room to recharge the battery when it ran out. She stayed up there to read. A while later, my husband rang to say he’d just got an email notifying him that someone using his account had downloaded Angry Birds about an hour earlier. Up I went to see what was going on. She closed the Kindle. I asked if she was reading. She didn’t reply. I got her to unlock it and show me. She apologised and said she didn’t mean it and just got sidetracked and wanted to see what was in the games section and suddenly loads of time went by. Who can blame her – devices are addictive (try taking my phone from me for any length of time) and games are addictive. She’s a kid – of course she clicked into the games. But it still makes me a little bit sad, that within hours of going digital, my book monster had forsaken her beloved Jacqueline Wilson for Angry Birds.
And I admit, although I love my phone and my Mac and every form of social media, I’m in no rush for my kids to go online. Technology is wonderful but it’s also a time-thief, and now a book-worm thief too. No doubt, eventually something else will steal her reading time – exams, a social life, or (as in my case) getting a car space at work and no longer taking the bus. But until then, I want to keep her love of books alive.
I can’t delete access to apps and games on her Kindle, so instead we’re going with agreeing what’s allowed and building up trust. Which I guess is all part of growing up, and sending her out into the digital world. Well, a little trust and a strong, impenetrable parental password. Into the scary unknown we go.
On the subject of reading – if you’ve ever wondered whether it’s really important to read to kids and what they get out of it, I wrote about it here for the Independent: Word Up: You can never start them too young when it comes to reading.