July 4

The future of Children’s literature in the Digital Age

There is much discussion over the definition of childhood, when this occurs, and what the general characteristics of this are. Are they social, cultural, or ingrained?  Over time, different theorists have developed different ideas as to what these characteristics are. These characteristics categorise children according to different criteria, but all essentially agree that childhood is that time from birth to around 15-16.However, you can argue that the opportunity for this generations’ access to technology has changed many of the observable attributes of children’s behaviour.

Will this access to technology ultimately be a threat or an opportunity for growth in children’s literature?Reflecting on some readings which are all about the development of children’s literature (see below), it was interesting to note that some of the changes mentioned in access to children’s books had a large effect on me as a child. We did not have a large library of books, but we certainly had access to the Golden Books (around $1.50 by the time I was young) and being a child of the 80’s, I remember each of us children in the family having the treasured possession of a picture book that also came with a vinyl record.

So, the question is…are we simply making a movement from written to digital, similar to the move from oral to written? Does the availability of media and increase in children’s entertainment, changed the times and occasions that the characteristics of adulthood occur?  Does this mirror the introduction of the printing press as a time to reflect and redefine the meaning of childhood? Or, is it a time to set standards of what should be included within pieces of work defined for childhood, to ensure that along with engagement and entertainment, that the point of children’s literature, which is to engage the imagination, and to teach those lessons that society deems useful, still occurs?


Johann Amos Comenius’s Orbis Sensualium Pictus, Jeannie Baker’s Mirror and Arthur teaches spanish Computer game…do they really have different intent? It certainly is possible to include the same themes and ideas within digital technology as it is to have within traditional printed literature, however, like with traditional literature, it must be specifically designed to do so.

Digital technology now gives an opportunity to develop a non-linear narrative, in a way that was not possible before.  Is this similar to the fact that TV series have become more complex…are we as a society demanding a more complex and dynamic narrative? If you compare a TV series like Bewitched, which has a single storyline from start to finish of the series, with a TV series like 24, which has a complex and interwoven narrative, it is obvious that as time goes on, society is demanding a more engaging and dynamic storyline. Digital technology gives the opportunity for this to be developed.

Games really have the opportunity to be the next narrative evolution, however, does this take away from the imagination of the reader?  With the introduction of digital game based literature, are we opening opportunities for young people to read more, or are we relying on young people to use their imaginations less, as all features of the narrative is presented to us, rather than using our brain to “fill in the blanks”.

Is the development of online publishing todays’ version of chapbooks? Abundance of books can’t really be a bad thing, however, the search for quality, particularly for a busy parent or librarian, has become more difficult and time consuming. The opportunity here, however, is for a wider variety of publication, as it is clear that publishers are businesses, and are there to make money. Those riskier children’s literature that is likely to cause concern, or not sell, would not be published if not for online self-publishing.

The development of technologies that read to kids, such as the Leap pad can make reading books more accessible to busy parents, but does this mean that parents don’t need to read to kids any longer? How many adult readers have warm memories of reading books with an adult, whether their parents, teachers, aunts or uncles. Many adult readers I imagine, would attribute developing a love of reading to these experiences.Overall, as a digital person myself, I hear a lot of traditionalist derision for digital technology and digital readers. However,  there is, like any development, invention or new technology, including the development of the printing press, there is opportunity for growth or for decline, dependent upon how it is applied.


Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: engaging lifelong readers. New York: Guilford Press.

Madej, K. (2003). Towards digital narrative for children. Comput. Entertain. Computers In Entertainment CIE, 1(1), 12. http://doi.org/10.1145/950566.950585

Theories of Childhood. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from http://www.faqs.org/childhood/so-th/theories-of-childhood.html


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