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This is a brief excerpt from
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
(Penguin, 2013, 7th edition)

Now available as both a paperback and e-book.

See also Handbook FAQs.

Handbook cover 2013 edition



Chapter 7: Digital Learning—Good News and Bad

"B"ACK in September 1950, at the dawn of the great television decade, Motorola ran a series of national ads in which it promised a TV in the home would bring families closer and improve student grades. A half century later we all know how those promises panned out. In similar fashion, digital learning is being promoted today as the cure- all for the American (if not the world) classroom: Connect to the e-cloud and we’re saved and educated.

U. S. schools are now investing $2.2 billion a year in educational software, to say nothing of the e-tablet investments that parents and teachers think will put their children on a faster, smarter track to success. Can you hear the echoes of TV in the 1950s?

While the past decade has produced more than a few advocates supporting all things digital for kids (“At least they’re reading online, right?”), there’s been simultaneous growth in information on how humans of all ages behave and learn with digital devices. Since e-learning is an integral part of today’s home and classroom, I thought this edition should include at least the rudiments of the new findings.

image of two students reading ipad and traditional book
Not since Gutenberg has there been this
much debate about how we read.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to using digital technology daily: iPad, iPod, laptop and desktop computers, and digital cameras. In researching and documenting this edition, I added more than seven hundred articles and papers to what I already had from previous editions, except most of the new papers were accessed via the Internet, using my local library card to connect to professional journals through the Connecticut state library and department of higher education. And all the papers fit on a tiny flash drive. Good-bye clippings and file drawers.

I have tried to keep the information here simple and straightforward. If you wish to challenge the findings or explore them further, just follow the footnotes. I also urge you to keep in mind that whenever new technology appears, there are “experts” playing soothsayer: Socrates once claimed the alphabet and writing would be the ruination of the mind and memory; Edison said motion pictures would replace textbooks; and TV executives predicted Sesame Street would solve our literacy woes. All were wrong. I’m sure some of the findings here will be wrong someday. The question is: Which ones?

E-Book Advantages in Learning

The vast majority of arguments I hear against e-books involve traditional readers declaring how much they’ll miss the feel of the pages and the smell of the book. This is reminiscent of silent film fans mourning the demise of the pipe organ player. Smell or no smell, the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons.

image of packed-tight-backpack
Student backpacks have reached mega-weight status.

It is a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired.

For decades schoolchildren have been straining under increasing weight loads of textbooks. A fully loaded student backpack tips the scales at twenty to thirty pounds. As states raised academic standards, more pages were added to cover the possible testing material.1 No wonder school districts and colleges are moving to e-tablets that will hold all of a student’s texts in a space weighing less than two pounds. Moreover, a science or math e-textbook can be quickly updated without buying new editions, the same way computer operating systems receive security updates.

And then there is the added life expectancy. When tax laws changed and publishing houses had to pay taxes on the books in their warehouse, that were not consistent sellers went out of print faster. An e-book, however, has no physical presence (no more warehousing costs) and isn’t taxed as inventory. Therefore it can stay in print for as long as the publisher and author have a contract. This greatly extends the life of the book and allows publishing houses to instantaneously bring out-of-print titles back to life (as is happening now)—thus the Lazarus effect. In fact, most of the classics are now available as free e-books from

image of book disappearing into an ipadWhile the e-book version adds years to the book’s life, the e-tablet adds multimedia to the reading experience. Suppose the class is studying the civil rights movement. A hyperlink in the e-text on an iPad could bring up PBS’s American Experience “Freedom Riders,” a program that follows the trail of the four hundred black and white “riders” who set out to violate Jim Crow bus laws and make the struggle into a focal point for the entire nation.3

E-page hyperlinks will bring thousands of free tutoring lessons from Khan Academy to any student, anywhere in the world.4 The child in rural Georgia can have the same online tutoring lessons Bill Gates’s kids had.

Or think in terms of audio information available through e-book links— the voluminous archives from public radio. For example, almost as famous as Catcher in the Rye is its author, J. D. Salinger, and his reclusive lifestyle. Everyone told teenager Jim Sadwith not to bother reaching out to Salinger, that he didn’t welcome visitors— stay away! Besides, they declared, you’ll never find him. But the boy wanted to make a high school play based on the book and was sure Salinger would love the idea, so off he went in search of the recluse. More than forty years later, Sadwith told American Public Media’s The Story about finding Salinger and what the author’s reaction was. And as the adventure progressed, the boy dictated his exploits into a recorder and later submitted the tape to Harvard instead of the traditional college essay. (He got in.) Wouldn’t that interview add dimensions for anyone studying the book? It’s free online, accessed via hyperlink.5 Worried about the venerable tradition of autographed books? They’ve even found a way for authors to personalize and sign e-books.6 The resources are unlimited, and none of them would add either a dime to the cost or a pound to the weight of the e-textbook.



While the jury is still out looking for a definitive verdict on e-book reading with young children, there are some preliminary results and they don't bode well for the young. (The verdict is already in on technology and the older reading mind, as this chapter of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK attests.) For e-book findings with very young children see: "Once Upon a Time: Parent-Child Dialogue and Storybook Reading in the Electronic Era" by Julia Parish-Morris, Neha Mahajan, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, et al., Mind, Brain, and Education, Volume 7, Issue 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 200-211. See also: "Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?" by Douglas Quenqua, New York Times, Oct. 12, 2014, p. A1, online at:



Chapter Seven — p.1   p.2    Footnotes

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