The Case for Picture Books

A few weeks ago, I read the book The Case for Books by Book Historian, and head of the Harvard University Library, Robert Darnton. It was a rather heavy collection of essays, but they made a very good case for both the printed book and e-book to coexist. Darnton’s book had a lot to do with Google’s Book Project, and why Google – though their motto says, “Don’t be evil” – may actually be doing evil. As a librarian, he had no objections to sharing and openly lending resources. What he objected to was the potential for a company with a monopoly to profit off these resources to satisfy their shareholders.

The internet has certainly disrupted many industries such as the newspapers (we lost one of our major ones here in Seattle last year), the music industry, and the traditional encyclopedia. Still, the book, according to Darnton, has staying power.

My personal experience is that beautifully illustrated children’s books cannot be replaced by a glossy iPad or Kindle. Maybe I’m projecting, but I think kids need the tactile feel of the page in their hands. They physical motion of turning the pages, scanning the illustrations before reading the text don’t seem to work with e-readers. At least I don’t see the appeal.

For adult books, however, I have found that my reading habits have increased with an e-reader. The ease of downloading a book without leaving your home is easy. I worried, at first about the inability to write in the margins or leave sticky notes on pages, but the annotation tools are quite easy to use. What about borrowing e-books?

I’m a heavy public library user both personally and for books to complement my classroom library. I tried borrowing ebooks before I had an e-reader and reading for long periods of time on a computer screen is definitely not ideal. Now, however, there’s an app/service called overdrive that works with the Seattle Public Library which I tried. The list is rather limited, but there are some good ones available: Daniel Pink’s Drive, the Heath Brother’s Switch, and Gladwell’s Blink. I searched for books on education and only a handful of decent titles came up. Unlike the library’s traditional books, when an e-book is unavailable, they don’t tell you how many holds there are ahead of you. There are also several audiobooks available through this service that you can directly download to your mobile device. After 21 days, it will magically expire. Some titles, like David Brooks’ new book were not available, so I just went to the Kindle store and bought it. As much as I want to support my local bookstore, it was too easy to purchase from the comfort of home.

The public library’s juvenile fiction section is ok. I assume they’re building their collection. There were a few popular titles of children’s book series like Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, or Katie Kazoo. But very few classics were available. Here were some I found: The Phantom Tollbooth, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, and a few Magic Treehouse books. This year and last year’s Newberry winners were available, but Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or Louis Sachar’s Holes, weren’t, nor were any Lowis Lowry books available to be borrowed in this format.

As for picture books, I’m guessing the public library has the same feeling I do about the tactile nature and visual quality of a great picture book. Either they’re not spending any money on them, or they don’t exist as e-books. I would say there’s definitely a case for picture books.

On a somewhat related note, the WSJ reported that Random House was changing it’s pricing format for ebooks purchased from libraries to lend out. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

I hope both formats continue to exist, but it’s an interesting time in the book publishing industry. Nonetheless, despite budget cuts, public libraries continue to innovate and aim to be centers of learning for all. Our schools need to be too.

Best of the Year

The New York Times recently posted their top ten list of books for the year, and only one that I’m reading made that list: Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim – if you’re a fan, you’ll appreciate his genius lyric writing and his sometimes self-critical commentary on them. He also comments on lyricists such as Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, and Cole Porter. It really is a great book and one that is made better as you listen to the music as you read it. On that same list is Jonathan Franzen’s new one Freedom, which, if like The Corrections in anyway, will be a spectacular read (I’m just waiting for either the paperback version or an e-reading device of some kind as it’s very thick and heavy).

Anyway, here’s my best list for a variety of things.

Top 10 Books somewhat related to teaching (in no particular order):

  1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  2. Brain Rules by John Medina
  3. Catching Up or Leading the Way by Yong Zhao
  4. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson
  5. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson
  6. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin
  7. Transforming Professional Development into Student Results by Douglas B. Reeves
  8. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life (various authors)
  9. The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning (various)
  10. Mindset by Carol Dweck (Even a couple of years old, I read it again, so it counts and beats out Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, the Heath Brother’s Switch, and Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap)

Top 10 Chil

dren’s Books

  1. It’s a Book by Lane Smith
  2. Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
  3. Art and Max by David Wiesner
  4. The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
  5. Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
  6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (thanks MB for the recommendation before it was even a Newberry winner) – one of my favorites
  7. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
  8. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
  9. The Odyssey (by Homer) but the graphic novel by Gareth Hinds
  10. Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot by Silvey and Minor