Wednesday, December 28, 2011

eBook Readers for Children: Kindles for Lars and Anders, 6 Months Later...

8 year old Anders reading his Kindle
UPDATED 9/4/2013: If you're looking for information about the All-New Kindle Paperwhite coming out this month, you can find an updated post on the new features and enhancements here.

A little over a year ago, I posted here about my search for an electronic reader that would be appropriate for my two sons.  I looked at the Sony e-Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook (it had just come out in the color version), and the Amazon Kindle.  I was disappointed that none of the major players in the e-Reader field seemed to be thinking of children, and I was ticked off beyond belief that Barnes & Noble was marketing their color Nook device with Dr. Seuss picture books, yet they had not incorporated any parental controls for the Nook (which is wide open to the Internet, with no way for parents to even filter out porn.  Just what you want for a preschooler, right?!).

Based on the traffic I'm still seeing for those posts a year later, many other parents out there are still searching for an acceptable e-Reader for children, so I thought it was time for a follow up post to tell you about what we ended up doing for our boys and how it's working out.  I bought two of the Kindle 3G 6" screen devices with Wi-Fi at the beginning of last summer, for about $189 each.  I could have gotten the same devices for $139 each with "Special Offers" -- that is, instead of famous author portraits for screen savers, the Special Offers Kindles would have paid advertisements as screen savers.  Because I feel that children are assaulted by way too many advertisements already, I paid more for the ad-free versions.  Our Kindles also have the free 3-G wireless built in (no additional contract or monthly fee required) because I wanted to be able to download new content for the boys to read when we're out to dinner, driving in the car, out shopping, etc. 

Kindle 3G Wi-Fi in Charcoal, just like Lars's
Here's what I love about these Kindles for my boys, now that they've been using them for six months:
  1. My kids love their Kindles and use them every day.  I definitely got my money's worth.  Children in general are so much more comfortable with technology than adults.  They don't have the same biases and preferences for "real" paper books; in fact, they seem to prefer reading on the Kindles to paperback books (and these are kids who were reading a ton of books to begin with). 
  2. The boys are using the built-in dictionary to instantly get definitions for unfamiliar words.  They would never stop reading in the midst of a good action story to go find a traditional dictionary and look up a word, but the Kindle makes it so easy to just select the word, read the definition, and go back to the story.  They are also using the highlighting and annotating features, mostly to leave little notes for each other in books they are both reading at the same time.  Which brings me to...
  3. Every eBook I purchase is available on all of our Kindles, all at the same time.  My boys are good at lots of things; unfortunately, sharing books is not one of them.  Since both Kindles are registered to my Amazon account, all of my Kindle content shows up on both Kindles at the same time.  You have no idea how many fights we've had because this one is reading the book that belongs to the other one, or reading the other one's birthday present book before the birthday boy has a chance to read it, etc.  With the Kindle, it's like getting two copies of every book for the price of one.  My husband and I also use the Kindle app on our iPads, and we can access any of our Kindle books that way, as well.  When you open a book that someone else is reading on another device, the Kindle will ask whether you want to sync to the furthest page read on all your devices, so if you don't want it to jump ahead to where your brother has his bookmark, you just select "no."
  4. I was able to get two different color kindles, one white and one charcoal.  Some day, one little boy is bound to drop his Kindle in the toilet, and that little boy will not be able to secretly swap his soggy Kindle for his brother's!
  5. For kids, the limited functionality of the Plain Kindle (not the Fire!) is ideal!  I don't want them on the Internet, or playing a bunch of games on their Kindles -- I wanted an e-Reader that I could allow relatively unlimited access to, just like with traditional books.  Multifunctional electronic devices with email, video and web browsing are great for adults, but the Kindle only has chess, sudoku and a couple of other brainy, low-tech games.  It's mostly a reading platform, and that's the main reason I purchased Kindles rather than something else.
  6. The battery life of the Kindle is phenomenal.  Unlike their Nintendo DS game devices, which need to be plugged in to charge after just about every play session, we have never had a child unable to use his Kindle because the battery was dead.  With the wireless connection turned off, the battery life is something like 30 days.  There's no advantage to having the wireless on all the time anyway; you just need it while you're actively downloading content to the device.
However -- Isn't there always a however?! -- the Kindle still isn't a perfect solution.  If the head honchos of Amazon ever asked my opinion, here's what I'd ask them to change to make the Kindle into a perfect child-friendly e-Reader that no parent could resist:

1. Password protection only works to lock and unlock the device, with no separate password requirement when purchasing in the Amazon Kindle store directly from the Kindle.  For adults, this is convenient and makes sense -- you key in your password when you pick up your Kindle, and you aren't bothered with having to type it in again each time you download a new book.  One of my sons is great about following my rules -- no purchasing new books on your own, only with Mom's permission.  My other son has repeatedly been caught downloading all kinds of books without  permission, sometimes even when he's sitting right behind me in the car.  I find out shortly thereafter, because I get a string of emails from Amazon thanking me for all of the Kindle purchases that he has instantly downloaded (and effortlessly charged to my American Express account).  I was even getting these emails while I was in Paris in September, until I called Grampa and instructed him to confiscate the offending son's Kindle.  Every time Mr. Impulsive goes on a wild shopping spree in the Kindle Store I have to take away his Kindle for a couple of days -- and I didn't want to have to do that.  For parents of kids who don't have trouble with impulsivity, this won't be a big deal, but for me, it's a huge annoyance that Amazon could easily resolve by giving me the option of password-protecting the Kindle Store functionality on the Kindle device.

2. I wish there was more juvenile and young adult fiction content available for purchase on the Kindle.  It's getting better, but there are still a lot of books that I can't download for them.  For instance, none of the Harry Potter books were available for Kindle download the last time I checked.  However, the Percy Jackson series is on Kindle, and it was wonderful to have it preordered and then just instantly download on both Kindles the day the latest book was released.

3. Somehow, supposedly, there is a way to borrow digital books on a Kindle for free from the public library, but I haven't figured out how to do it yet -- or whether there are many children's books available this way.  This is definitely an area of growth opportunity for child users.  I am pretty sure I would have to use my computer to log in to the library web site with my library card number and password, and then I could browse the digital lending library and presumably borrow books by downloading them temporarily to my PC.  What I would love to see is a way for my kids' Kindles to connect directly to the public library database the way they connect to my Amazon account through the Kindle store, so that Mr. Consequences-Schmonsequences-As-Long-As-I-Can-Read could impulsively borrow library books instead of running up my credit cards.  An added bonus would be having the borrowed library books instantly disappear from the Kindle on the due date -- no more library fines for Mom to pay!

Charlotte Mecklenburg's Digital Lending Library Site
UPDATE 12/31/2011: I finally had a chance to figure out how to borrow Kindle content from the public library last night!  Here's how it works.  If you have a Charlotte Mecklenburg County library card, you access this website from your computer, not from your Kindle (if you aren't in Charlotte Mecklenburg, check your own public library web site for a digital e-Books link, or ask your librarian to help you).  Our library is using a service called Overdrive for digital lending.  Once you're on the digital lending web site you can browse for all kinds of goodies including e-Books, videos, and audiobooks.  There is content for all kinds of mobile devices, not just Kindles -- the audiobooks would be great for the iPhone or iPod in the car.  I found the site to be very easy to navigate. 

You can search by title, author, or keyword, or if you click on Advanced Search you can search by format (Kindle Book), language (English), and subject (Juvenile Fiction) to browse the entire Kindle lending collection for children.  Then when you're ready to "check out," you're redirected to Amazon to download the content to your Kindle devices free of charge.  So, good news, it's easy!  Bad news?  Guess how many books came up when I searched for all Juvenile Fiction Kindle content at my library?  35!  What's worse is that those 35 titles included everything from Dr. Seuss to teen romances and the Twilight Series.  There were four or five short Phineas & Ferb titles that Lars and Anders were interested in, and several novels we've already read, but the dearth of digital lending content for children was ultimately pretty depressing.

However, Kindle lending through the public library is relatively new, and I'm sure more titles will be added in time as more and more library patrons take advantage of the digital lending service.


Nicole Gamble said...

Great post ! This is the information I was looking for.

Tikaa Herridge-Cone said...

I found your blog from your sweet comment on Joni's blog, COTE DE TEXAS. Thanks for the nice comments on our closets (mine was the pink one). I love your post about the ereaders, my daughter MUST read it, she has been saving some holiday money to purchase one. GREAT information.
Happy New Year,

Suesan Hoffman said...

You are AWESOME!!! Please tell me, that they can not browse the web at all on this device? I am shopping for an ereader for my daughters 14th birthday and if I have to delete my CC# from amazon everytime I am done using it I can handle that, but I can't handle unsupervised un-parental-controled web browsing. Girls are curious too.

Suesan Hoffman said...

Nevermind... I found one with no internet access, "Sony Digital Reader Touch Edition - Red (PRS600RC)"
Electronics; $69.95
In Stock
used on Amazon :) Thanks for the read though :)