Will your next bedtime story be on an e-reader? Two interesting blog posts about children and ereaders

Children Reading

(picture from Clipart ETC)

About a year ago, my sister sent me a link to a blog post by Eric Kimmel about whether we’ll be seeing e-picture books.

Mr. Kimmel was responding to an article in the NY Times which describes the development of color monitors on ereaders. The article’s author strongly believes that the spread of these devices will attract child readers.

Mr. Kimmel brings up many salient points, both pro and con ereaders for children. On the pro side: producing an ebook is much cheaper than producing a full-color picture book with glossy paper; children might be attracted to the format. On the negative side: whose device are they reading on? Is a small child able to handle an ereader independently? Is the gimmick of the format going to wear off? Is it going to become another excuse for publishers not to acquire and produce picture books (which is already a big problem)?

I recalled that post today when I read another article, this time on the Motherlode blog of the NY Timeshttp://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/why-books-are-better-than-e-books-for-children/
The author, KJ Dell’antonia, recently read a Time Magazine article about children’s literacy and ereaders. The Time article suggests that children interact differently with ebooks than with print literature–and so do the adults facilitating the reading experience. These habits negatively impact their ability to learn to read.

In the Jewish community, there’s an additional issue: a lot of relaxed family time takes place on Shabbat and Yom Tov. That’s when Ima and Abba have time to curl up with Junior and Juniorette and read. For many of us, that means no electronic devices. Sure, we’ll read an ebook, but not on Shabbos.

Maybe e-picture books do have a future–actually, I’m betting they do. But they’ll need to address at least some of these failings in order make them take over the picture book market entirely.


About six months ago, my sister sent me the link to an interview with Eric Kimmel, the acclaimed children’s author. The popular blogger at Homeshuling chatted with Mr. Kimmel about his retelling of the Purim story, which came out early this past spring.

(Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I’m actually a big fan of Mr. Kimmel despite what follows. I assure you that many of his books are perfectly appropriate for Jewish families, and urge you to purchase them or borrow them from the library.)

One of the central themes of the interview is whether it’s okay to alter the details of a story from the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) or a folktale. Mr. Kimmel feels that “You cannot be absolutely tied to the text or you are going to tie yourself into knots.” 

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/homeshuling/2011/03/an-interview-with-eric-kimmel.html#ixzz1eagiZr1n

He continues later,

I’m writing modern midrash. Because midrash continues to the present day. We are constantly reinterpreting and reinventing these stories. They are not locked in stone. I want children to learn that the stories of the Torah are great stories – they stand with the best of them – Anderson and Grimm – and it all comes down to the story.


Recently, my family purchased the animated movie, Young Abraham. This film incorporates many elements of midrash, dropping certain details and streamlining or fictionalizing others. I was a little uncomfortable with the tampering with tradition, but the overall message is the same as in the original midrashim and completely coincides with frumkeit so I don’t mind my children viewing it.

This is not the case with Mr. Kimmel’s The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale. The author plays fast and loose with the details of the original text, which is–after all–a sacred work from the Tanach. For example, he “glosses over” the deaths of Haman and his family. However, one of the central points of Book of Esther is that Esther and Mordechai are making a tikkun (correction) for the lack of follow-through King Saul demonstrated when he didn’t kill King Agag of the Amalekites despite HaShem’s instructions to do so. Additionally, it’s very important to a true understanding of the Book of Esther that Achashveirosh is a drunken slob and that Esther doesn’t really want to be married to him. Mr. Kimmel changes that detail, too.

These are changes to essential details, and I wouldn’t want to read this book to my children.

Similarly, in Even Higher, a retelling of the famous I.L. Peretz story about the Rabbi of Nemerov, Mr. Kimmel wanted to give a little context to the story. However, the information he interjects to explain the battles between the misnagdim and the chassidim is incorrect. His mishandling of the chassidus vs. misnaged battles of the 18th and 19th centuries actually makes the subject more murky, not less (and is probably not age-appropriate anyway).

In the same story, Mr. Kimmel shows the Rebbe livening up an old lady by dancing with her. It is highly unlikely a Chassidishe rebbe would dance with a woman, and it sends a message that you can just ditch halachah (in this case, the rules against negiah) if your intentions are okay.

I think that perhaps there is a little “wiggleroom” when you teach children (and writing a picture book is essentially teaching)–but you have to respect the original message and not misrepresent authentic Judaism in the retelling. For this reason, my husband and I generally screen even Jewish books before they enter our home.

What’s your opinion?

And even more great bedtime reads!

While reviewing my site stats, I’ve noticed that lots of people want bedtime selections for their little sweethearts (or maybe for their little hellions…maybe THAT’S why they’re so anxious to get them to sleep). Here are some new discoveries in the Klempner household.

Product Details
This Little Chick by John Lawrence tells the adventures of a wacky little chick who would rather speak the languages of the other barnyard animals than that of his family. The woodblock print illustrations are just fantastic, and my children laughed at the chick’s antics. Ages 18 mo – 5 years.
A Book of Sleep
A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na has to be one of the most dreamily illustrated boardbooks I’ve ever seen. A wakeful owl watches over sleepy animals of all types until day arrives. The language is simple and lulling, and the pictures are filled with fanciful whorls and flowers and vines faintly sketched against the blocks of color. My favorite illustrations are those of the giraffe using the cloud as a pillow and the penguins huddled together. Perfect for ages 18 mo through 4 years.
The next Jewish holiday, a month and a half away, will be Chanukah. Here’s a fun story to celebrate the holiday:
Asher and the Capmakers: A Hanukkah Story
Asher and the Capmakers by Eric Kimmel isn’t precisely a folktale. This is a whimsical, darkly humorous story–about the mysterious adventure a boy has when he runs to the neighbor to borrow an egg for the family’s latkes–created by interweaving folktales from many traditions. I’d recommend this one for children 5 to 10 years old. It’s a little scary for the youngest readers. Also, some families might be uncomfortable with the mention of fairies and their magical caps.