The bigger picture

Last week's Bologna Chidren's Book Conference saw the resurgence of the "children's books don't belong in apps" debate, fuelled by bestselling author Julia Donaldson's admission to to vetoing a digital version of children's all time favourite book and character, the Gruffalo.
 
According to the event tweets and press, this debate certainly got a few people talking both at the conference and even on Saturday morning's BBC news back here in the UK.
 
This discussion isn't exactly new. It's been going on for several years with arguments both for and against, and I won't be the first to liken the situation to the music industry a few years back (and we all know what happened there).  
 
What's clear is that apps for parents and kids are a growing industry and certainly one that loving parents are happy to part with their money for. We shouldn't fear e-books as a pandemic that's going to see the death of the paperback.  Unlike the abolition of the net book agreement, e-books are an emerging source of revenue.
 
A majority of concerns we've both read and heard have centred around quite powerfully emotive words when it comes to our kids, such as "cosiness", "bonding" and even "magic". There's an overarching fear that the digital screen can reduce the ‘art of storytelling' to nothing but pixels and square eyes, and that interactivity may deviate from the original story so much that the resulting product resembles something more like a computer game than a lovingly created piece of literature.
 
I can understand that last point to a certain degree. In the world of print, there's a big difference between a story and an activity book. Just because digital can blend the two, doesn't mean it should. Getting it right relies on open discussions between author, publisher and developer, and on all three agreeing on which opportunities presented by the device they all feel are most appropriate to create an enhanced storytelling experience for kids and parents to enjoy together.
 
It's that togetherness we feel seems to be lacking from these discussions. Just because tablets and apps are here, doesn't mean that children will simply be handed an iPad and asked to put themselves to bed from here on. The iPad does not offer an alternative to parenthood, and it seems very odd to be demonising an inanimate object in such a way. Ask any one of our team that has kids and they'll explain the difference between reading the Where's Spot? book verses and playing with Smelly Sprout the app, and the wonders that both bring to everyday family fun. For want of a better phrase, iPads don't stop kids from reading, parents do . . .
 
Ultimately, new technologies only serve to present new ways by which families can enjoy the content and characters they love. They are an ‘as well as', rather than ‘an instead of'. Content creators would be better served to embrace these channels rather than cut themselves, and their characters, off from them.