In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The technology of reading

Dear Aunt Debbie,

First off, Happy New Year!  I hope you all rang it in joyfully.  We saved your Christmas box until last night, and devoured much of it immediately -- I'll post on a few soon.

I know exactly what you mean about that itchy preposterous feeling.  I'm having trouble as well coming up with more good examples, but my most recent one came while reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I otherwise found gripping and thought-provoking.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't read it yet -- you might want to skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know something about the plot, though I'm not giving away any of the book's biggest secrets.

For much of the book, Todd carries with him his mother's journal, which his adopted father Ben gives him when he's sent running away from Prentisstown, and which tells the story of her life on New World up to the day of her death, when Todd was a baby.  Ben also includes a map and a brief page of writing and tells Todd to read them when he gets far enough away from his hometown to be somewhat safe.  Trouble is, Todd can't read well -- it's serious work for him, and his macho instinct kicks in and he doesn't want to ask for help.  But when it becomes clear to Viola, the girl he ends up traveling with, that one of the things Ben has written is "You must warn them," I find it extremely hard to believe that Todd wouldn't immediately hand the book over to Viola and ask her to read the whole page.  And why doesn't she take it out of his bag and read it when he's comatose for five days and she's just sitting there watching him?  I spent much of the book wanting to know more about what was in that inner book, and the lack of use it gets feels ultimately uncomfortable to me --weirdly dismissive of Todd's mother and anything she might have had to teach Todd or Viola.

We spent much of the first day of the new year reading, and Isabel practiced for the land-speed record of pulling books off shelves as quickly as we reshelved them.  Eleanor played as well with one of her new Christmas presents: a Tag reader, a generous gift from Jeff's aunt.  Are you familiar with the system?  It's a chunky pen which you can load up with software and then use with special Tag books in astonishing ways: the pen will read individual words aloud, or make sounds when passed over an object, or read the whole story, or ask questions as part of identification games.  I am both awed by the technology and a little uncomfortable with it -- I'm an old-fashioned book person, with no interest myself in electronic readers, and I'm not sure how this kind of reading experience will fold in with all of Eleanor's others.  The pen also somehow takes in data about how Eleanor is using it, which raises privacy concerns for me.  It makes me feel pretty old-fashioned (she said, writing on her public blog).

The book we got with the pen is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault.  It's a nice alphabet rhyme of a book, and I like the fact that all the letters are lower-case, as Eleanor is less familiar with them than with capital letters.  She played with it a bit this afternoon, but spent the most time touching the pen to the sample page catalogue that came along with it, getting glimpses of a Tinkerbell book and jonesing for Disney Princess books.  We've ordered the interactive world map for her birthday -- not  what she most wants, but what we'd rather have in the house than sparkly princess noises.  I'm curious to see how this pans out.  I'll report back.

May the first days of 2011 bring you much joy.

Love, Annie

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