Does the term “bookworm” apply if it is digital media? by Ellen Senisi

March 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

I spent my childhood as a bookworm. I remember not just the content of favorite books, but what the book itself looked like, what it felt like to hold it, where I was when I read it. I had a favorite second-floor window seat to read in and, when I would pause to think about what I just read, would look out on trees and sky. I loved, and still love, print books – even though adulthood doesn’t leave me nearly enough time to read as I would like.

I went on to become a photographer and writer of children’s books – yes, print books. But I now also read and love to create digital books.

So I’m wondering how the debate over eBook/apps vs. print books for children has become so contentious. There are homes where print books are in short supply and, from infancy on, children read (and play and game) almost exclusively on electronic devices. At the opposite end of the spectrum are print-only people, who, like Waldorf schools, shun digital devices. Waldorf schools offer a valid and superb curriculum for intellectual and creative development – but they insist on doing so without technology, even at the higher grade levels.

The anti-technology reaction stems from a very real concern, which is that children can be drawn in to digital media to the exclusion of, not just print books, but also of normal childhood play. Play (especially open-ended, non-directed play) is critical to human development and is increasingly under siege at home and in school. But technology is by no means the main culprit for decreased playtime – check out a short video I produced called Free Play in Free Fall that is a brief introduction for parents on this.

But, honestly, it’s like apples and oranges.  A balance of both digital and print media (with generous helpings of free playtime) is healthy for kids .

I totally enjoy working in both media. However, multimedia is newer to me so I am still discovering new qualities in it. As a photographer, my art requires me to work directly with children, not in isolation from them as an illustrator does. This keeps me on task and tuned into their perceptions.  Using different forms of media, I can give them a voice, and I mean that literally!

For example, the use of children’s voices in this video on separation anxiety (produced for both parents and children and called I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye) is absolutely essential to how the piece works. I created this initially as a picture book photo essay but found it was much more powerful as a multimedia video. The voices and music ramped up the emotion – and parent-child separation is all about emotion! Using voices, along with sound effects and music, greatly expands my toolbox as a creator of media for and about children.

I Don't Want to Say Goodbye title image

Link to I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye video

Writers and illustrators can give children a voice in so many ways. In whatever way they are gifted to do so, go for it! And in whatever way children are listening and reading, let them! After all, the definition of bookworm (one who spends much time reading) doesn’t say anything about the medium – it’s the reading that’s important!

BIO: Ellen Senisi is an author and photographer of 16 children’s photo essay print books. Auryn published her first app, Hurray for Pre-K!, in 2011 and more are in production. See the Hurray for Pre-K! trailer here. And look for Spring Changes from Auryn as winter 2012 ends! More info can be found on Ellen Senisi’s books website and the Senisi Multimedia website.


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