A book? Can it tweet? A mummy fighting for the protection of books and reading in a digital age.

“How do you scroll down?
“I don’t. I turn the page. It’s a book.”
“Does it need a password?”
“No.”
“Can you make the characters fight? Can it text, tweet, toot?”
“No, It’s a book”

[Lane Smith “Its a Book”]

What on earth is this? A book. Made from paper? Monkey is reading a book. His friends don’t understand what it is or what it does. “It’s A Book” by Lane Smith is a funny, but scary commentary of books in our increasingly hardwired social networked lives.

As I sit in my little study, surrounded by my rotary phone, Oliver typewriter and piles of books, I feel grounded and calm. Ok, I have also been staring at my MacBook Pro for the last two hours, but I feel I have counter-acted some of its power by wearing my latest glasses to remove the evil blue-light glare, intent on destroying my melatonin and squashing my brain cells.

My husband doesn’t understand my need for books. He doesn’t understand the need to touch them or the comfort they bring on a bookshelf. Neither does he share my sense of peril about technology. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I spent the last 5 years implementing massive technological programmes into companies and changing their ways of working with new software. However, even as a technophile, I have always had a healthy suspicion of technology.

Perhaps it was my reading of “Fahrenheit 451” as a young adult. The idea of zombie-like families standing in bare rooms mesmerised by the virtual reality television images and adverts displayed on all four walls, definitely scared me. As did the firemen burning outlawed books.

And now, as I listen to my husband wax lyrical about the sublime beauty and joy he got from trying out the latest VR technologies of Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, it feels as if Ray Bradbury’s world is becoming a reality. He was fully immersed in a world that he said was even better than reality. He even had an appreciation for how he did everyday things – like – pick up an apple without even thinking about it, but that in the virtual world he had to almost re-learn this skill. It was euphoric and life affirming. Can a book compete with that?

But its not us I worry about so much, as the new breed of Techno-Toddlers. As a watch a 5 year glued to Minecraft, or hear about a friend’s kids watching you-tube videos of other people making toys – I worry for my own children.  I have some mummy friends that haven’t even been to a library with their children yet. I see parents walking in the park with their babies and an iPad mounted in the hood! My toddler already ‘reads’ the language of technology better than her grandparents. When they have forgotten their passwords or succumbed to a mountain of spam I just point them in her direction. She understands a ‘tick’ means to progress and how to swipe and scroll. And so, I militantly and naively give books to all my nieces and nephews as presents, thinking I can counteract this technological childhood onslaught.

But do I worry because I still remember a world without digital enhancements and think it superior?  Have I already reached that age where I harp on about my good old days? Bah Humbug.

Science seems to back up my innate worry, with constant studies being published about the effects of screen time on our children’s development, social skills and the potential loss of concentration, attention spans and imagination. There are those who warn that the onslaught of memes, hashtags, text-speak will ruin language. We even shortcut our emotional statuses by using Gifs.

Will all of this prevent our children from being poets and authors themselves? And growing up into Vloggers and Bloggers instead.

But, then there are others who say that we cannot disadvantage them by removing all exposure. While Baroness Susan Greenfield even said that technology could literally blow our children’s minds, Oxford researchers said this was rubbish. In fact they argued that social networking was good for developing real social relationships. My husband even credits his surgical skills to his childhood gaming.

And so it continues. No screen time before age 2, now the age of 3, well maybe a bit of exposure, and a tiny bit of smart phone interaction, but no blue light before bed. Aaarrrghh! I feel like I’m lost in a box of my husband’s cables with the confusing amount of contradictory information being pumped out daily to my mummy media feeds. Insert confused smiley face.

So can today’s picture books compete with the omnipresent social media platforms, the multiple offerings on children’s TV and the multi-dimensional interactivity of games?

Antonio Faeti, President of the Jury for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair believes that there is a new “global urgency” to connect our children with books. And today’s authors and illustrators are definitely trying. With their use of mixed medias, beautiful imagery and mesmerising graphics there is a new generation of books that are simply stunning.

The books coming out in the last few years are definitely of a different quality. They are immersive, tactile and lyrical and works of art in themselves. Think Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer, Wild by Emily Hughes, The Day the Crayon’s Quit, Oliver Jeffers, This is Not My Hat, John Klassen,  Flotsam, David Wiesner, The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield and the Jennifer Adams’ ingenious BabyLit Series.

david-litchfield-the-bear-and-the-piano2 david-litchfield-the-bear-and-the-piano

I love the new Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s A Child of Books. It seems to encapsulate this new fear and a renewed vigour to show how stories are part of what make us human – and we should fight to keep that link with our children.

“I am a Child of Books.
I come from a world of stories,
And upon my imagination, I float.”

I truly believe that the books I read as a child have shaped my future, my morality, my desires, my empathy and my confidence.  They definitely crop up in my psyche in odd situations. I still think of Roald Dahl’s cloud men when I fly and it makes me a little less scared of turbulence.matilda

I feel the new children’s authors and illustrators offer a real glimmer of hope.

I am also comforted by the fact that my own techno-toddler who adores endless hours of Sarah & Duck cartoons and online games, also loves to sit and flick through picture books on her own. She laughs and screams for more Please Mr Panda (Steve Antony) when we wave the funny faced lemur at her. And when I’m not looking she likes to make up her own stories to the pictures that she adores. Our favourite is one of her earliest creations; Little Chick…”Once Upon a Time, a little chick, the end.” Short, yet profound.

Even as my back aches arching over to read Little Red Riding Hood for the eighth time this evening, my heart glows, because this little person is growing up to love books. She may also grow up to love Grand Turismo as her daddy likes to have her on his lap while driving. But this balance might not be the end of the world. However, as a secret luddite, I must keep up my end of the resistance against my techno-husband. So I’m off to the library.

Just like the Jackass in “Its a Book,” hopefully our children will still find magic in being lost in a book even if they do look for their VR headsets later.

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