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>To Have and to Hold

>With my colleagues at JLG and SLJ, I’m working on an upcoming presentation on collection development, specifically, how school and public libraries should balance their print and digital collections. While the medium–it’s a Power Point webinar–is new to me, my part of the message very much blows the old horn for fine books for boys and girls, that is, I’m to speak about the importance of printed books. (P.S. Thank God. P.P.S. What is this Power Point?)

One thing I want to talk about is how much a particular book, as a physical object, can mean to a reader, perhaps especially to a young reader. You want to own it (or check the same copy out of the library over and over again), you want to stare at the cover, you want to show it off or carefully hide it, depending. Like a lot of kids my age (in my cohort, to use the lingo of the Power Point era), I felt that way about my Tolkien books–what’s doing it for the kids these days? I need some good examples–indeed, I need to know if this bibliophilic passion still goes on, or if kids, those who read, are happy enough with the digital download of Dune.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Roger,

    This is purely anecdotal so take it for what it's worth.

    My four thousand texts a month thirteen year old, says (without prompting from me). "I like the feeling of holding a book." Yesterday evening when I walked into her room, she was curled up with a book, propped on the pillow next to her.

    She is not media phobic. Facebook, texts and Youtube are in her life. But here is what it looks like to me, as the single mom adult in her life: Books, holding books, curling up with books are restful, quiet, a step away from the constant streaming distraction of screens. Books are a version of quiet. Books are islands away from media. Books let kids linger and drift.

    Lindsey Lane

  2. >When I was teaching 5th grade in a Brooklyn, NY public school, the girls in the class delighted in passing books around. Some they shared in secret, like passing on a secret handshake or clubhouse password. They did this with books like Are You There God…. (yes, in this case they were quite "old school," even though this was just a few years ago) and other texts that they thought might cause an adult to raise an eyebrow like Twilight, TTYL, and the Clique series. They slipped them into each other's desks and backpacks, and tried hard to keep them from the boys.

    The boys had their books, too. One year Stargirl by Jerry Spinnelli gained such popularity – among all the kids – that my two copies were seriously weathered in the course of one year. Every time I turned around another kid was reading it.

    Of course, there are the obvious ones, like the Harry Potter books which kids hid in their laps, inside math notebooks, anything just so that they could keep reading. And re-reading. And re-reading.

  3. >Liking the feeling of a particular book is why I have a hard time lending out my own copies–because I know several of them will not come back. In high school, I let two different friends borrow two copies of "The Princess Bride." By the time I never got the second copy back and had to get a third, it was a different edition. I missed the cover of that first copy!

  4. Rosanne Parry says:

    >When I watch kids browse in the library, they light up when they come to the familiar face of a series book they enjoy, just as they would if they'd seen a real friend in the hall. They see the lightning bolt P of the Harry Potter books or the Wimpy Kid notebook page and they know they are on familiar ground with a character they love and a story they will succeed at reading. I'm not sure how electronic formats would allow for this experience.

    Also I see the kind of reaction kids get when they are reading a doorstopper of a book. It's overwhelmingly positive. Even adults who know nothing about kids books will praise a child for reading something that looks big or hard or important. Most kids really warm to that encouragement. With an electronic book, they all look the same, so it's hard to see how you'd get that spontaneous adult recognition and praise.

    I'm not anti-electronic formats. I suspect we'll find they increase reading rates overall, but I do believe that a bound book is its own art form and functions differently just as live performance of music or theater functions differently than recorded performance.

  5. Rachael L. says:

    >I'm a library teacher who orders most books from a particular library binding company. My students love the covers on these books so much they will come up and say, "I want a book that feels like this!"
    So at least at my school, kids still love the feeling of holding a good book. I hope it lasts!

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >On the subway coming home from work today was a loquacious group of sixteen-year-olds, clearly the clique of weird smart kids wherever they went to school. One girl pulled out a thick, tattered paperback, missing its cover and clearly much-read, but not (yet) by her. It was Atlas Shrugged loaned to her by a boy, the girl's blushing admission of same causing much hilarity among her friends. It felt like old times.

  7. Claire Horowitz says:

    >At Powell's the other day, my 13-year-old complained that I was taking forever, so she went to find something interesting. She found a display of pop-up books. When I came to get her, she said, "Look at this, Mom, look at this one, this one is so cool. . ."
    The pop-up book, at least, will never be as fulfilling on an Ipod touch.

  8. Monika Schröder says:

    >Just today I had a kindergartner in my library who asked to get "Clifford The Firehouse" again. He had checked it out last week and liked it s much he wanted to take it home again. When I gave him the book he held it to his nose, then shook his head, and said, "No, it's not this one. I know the way mine smelled." So we found the second copy of the book and he walked out happiliy with that one.
    I guess you couldn't replicate that with a digital copy (unless, of course, they add smell to it..). Smell, just like the tactile feeling of turning pages, are unique to the printed book.

  9. >I have many times seen children at the library pounce on a particular book and hug it. It's partly the way they feel like it's theirs that I'm not at all sure they'd feel with an e-book.

    Then yesterday there was the reverse, when the mom introduced her son as the world's most finicky 13-year-old. I gave her our Guy's Read bib and she started giving him books, and he made a point of twirling them in the air to prove how casual/careless he was being with these books that were being foisted upon him.

    One other thing that strikes me is how much kids love the way the Wimpy Kid books are color coded–they very often request them by color rather than title or number.

  10. Lauren Baratz-Logsted says:

    >Little juds send my family pictures of themselves holding books in The Sisters 8 series. "The latest book came today!!!" It's tough to picture them doing that with an ebook.

  11. Lauren Baratz-Logsted says:

    >kids, not juds – No idea how my fingers did that.

  12. >This sadly reminds me of when the funding to the library I worked for was cut, and an Interim Director (who had an MBA, but was not a librarian) declared that children felt ashamed and debased if the library was full of old, worn books.

    Dumpsters were brought in, and literally armfulls of books that were not in pristine condition were hauled off. The Children's collection had been built up over decades, and many of the books were out of print: folktales, myths and legends, biographies, original editions of picture and chapter books, etc.

    The staff was forbidden to rescue the books. But we would grab as many as we could from the dumpsters, or those which we knew were doomed from off the shelves, and hid them.

    After six months, the Interim Director was gone, and the books were secreted back into the collection (having never been Withdrawn in the first place, I suspect).

    Our patrons never complained about old books. Many a child clutched our much loved copies of Ferdinand, Curious George, and the Clock Box Dragon, without caring if the corners were bent and the binding a tad loose.

  13. >A little French girl came over with her parents for Sunday lunch one day, so I brought out some of my picture books that I collect primarily for the illustrations (I play dumb when my partner mentions this collection if the child appears rambunctious…), and she sprawled out with them in the next room. As we were sipping a bottle of Monbazillac and nibbling foie gras, I remembered I had a new one. Her eyes lit up when I brought it in to her; she immediately started paging through it very slowly, examining all the details of the images and passing her fingers over them. I asked her if she could understand the story (it was in English.) She told me: "No, but it doesn't matter. It's really good."

  14. rockinlibrarian says:

    >I like what lindsey says in the very first comment– that books are an ESCAPE from screens. As I see it, there's no such thing as an e-book. e-NOVEL maybe, e-story, but a BOOK is a physical entity. What's the difference between reading a so-called "e-book" and reading a story someone (well-written) has posted online? If you make "e-picture books" interactive, as only makes sense, how is that different than all the book-related children's computer games that already exist? (The Baby Einstein videos already call themselves "digital board books"). Sure, it makes sense that many kinds of INFORMATION can better be delivered electronically. But a BOOK is a BOOK, and it's a different thing.

    I did have a middle schooler when I was librarian at her school, who had our copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond overdue for MONTHS– knowingly– she just didn't WANT to give it back. I actually offered to buy her a copy of her own, and she said, "No, I want THIS one!"

  15. >My son was hospitalized and gravely ill for 44 days when he was in 4th grade. Children's Hospital of Pgh has a library, and when we could manage the wheelchair and IV poles, the nurses allowed us to go. His relief at the normalcy of being surrounded by books, of finding the same editions he had at home, was clear both from his tears and his falling asleep with the books carefully settled on his bed. It was a physical, tangible connection to his "real" life, and proof that his world would go on. And it did. He owns copies of books his grandparents had, his brothers, his father…there's something immediate and visceral about holding something as beautiful and transporting as a book, a true connection to people and places that a Nook can't but pale-ly imitate.

  16. Library Mermaid says:

    >Fiction yes – the feel and heft of a book as you read it, get lost in it, I see that with patrons all the time and my own children. I would like to just toss in an opinion – nonfiction would be great on kindles and nooks – not that I want to get rid of nf books (I would be lost without flipping the pages of a Nic Bishop wonder like Frogs) but reference and textbooks – not only would it be easier on younger backs to not load up the backpacks – but there are children who do not have internet access at home and find looking up ref material difficult…I know, off topic, can't help it, urban librarian has gotta rant…

  17. Michael Grant says:

    >Playing the skunk at the picnic again . . .

    Do you suppose people had this same conversation when Gutenberg started printing? Think people reassured themselves that readers would always prefer an illustrated manuscript painstakingly copied by a monk?

    People liked horses and yet switched to cars. People liked ocean liners but switched to jets. People liked vinyl but it's hard to carry a record player strapped to your arm when jogging. Nostalgia does not trump economics and convenience.

    The price of digital will drop to a point half or a third of that of physical books and it will happen soon. Price matters.

    What's needed — in addition to an end to denial — is a way for bookstores to participate in digital. The great weakness of digital bookstores is that the reader needs to come armed with specific choices in mind. Browsing digitally is not very satisfying. What's needed is technology that allows a physical bookstore to sell digital alongside physical books. As it is I may choose to browse a physical store to find a book and then go home to download it. Why can't I browse the physical books at the brick and mortar store and download right there from an in-store system? Why make it an either/or? I may want some books in paper and others in digital, and if bookstores are to prosper they need to find a way to provide both. (publishers should be looking at luxury bindings and enhanced ebooks.)

    Even so the number of stores will drop but not as catastrophically as if they deny reality.

  18. bookballoon says:

    >I like the idea of bookstores making it easier to download digital books. I also think people, including publishers, should stop thinking that digital books will necessarily replace paper ones. It's not INSTEAD OF, it's IN ADDITION TO. Did movies end live drama? Recordings end concerts? No.
    And let's differentiate among readers' varying needs. Children, for instance, learn with their whole bodies. They need to touch and gaze and smell those books. Over and over. Let's embrace that.
    — from a librarian who reviews children's books at

  19. >I've been thinking about this–books as objects, for children today–as I watched the new Wimpy Kid appear this week. A new book, especially a popular one, is definitely a special object, almost a status symbol, for some kids. This fall I've watched students carry around their OWN copy of Mockingjay or The Ugly Truth, and it's definitely important that it's their own; they don't have to wait for a library copy. I think a lot of the importance has to do with it being new and novel, however; I don't think it will retain this cachet having sat around at home for a year.

    sdl above mentioned the Wimpy Kid color coding. It struck me this week that the book designer was/is a genius. Even I, who have never read a Wimpy Kid book, have no trouble keeping the order straight (unlike with other series, like Cirque du Freak or Ranger's Apprentice or The Clique). Red, blue, green, yellow, purple. I can glance at the shelf any time to see if the one a kid wants is in. This is also true, to a more muted extent, of the Percy Jackson books (and the Lemony Snicket, back when those were popular). But the primary colors of Wimpy Kid really pop.

    (BTW, I assume I'm not the only old person who keeps calling The Ugly Truth "The Awful Truth." I haven't bothered explaining to the kids that it's a Cary Grant movie; maybe I should.)

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