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November 20, 2017
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The kids are alright (at the BA Book Fair)

By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald

Technology is taking an ever-growing role in our lives, but a quick trip to La Rural will show that for children, books trump screens when reading

While walking amongst the many pavilions at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, chances are you’re going to bump into more than one kid running around — and they’ll be holding at least one or two books.

Every year, parents flood the fair with their children in the hopes of inspiring them to become active readers from a young age. And it would seem that in this day and age, with technology making enormous advances by the minute and gaining an ever-growing role in our lives, this contact with books and the pages inside would be more necessary than ever.

And yet as you watch kids approach a book, screens don’t seem like a real threat as far as reading is concerned. Sometimes it is the illustrations that call to the youngsters; for others, it’s the different textures and colours on the covers. There are times when children who can’t even read yet are somehow attracted to books for teenagers.

In any case, there’s something about the physical contact with the actual book as an object, rather than using a tablet or a mobile phone, that takes on a different dimension.

“When you see a kid holding a book, you can see that it just works,” Natalia Méndez, an editor at Edelvives, told the Herald. “It’s like a fork: it’s a sort of irreplaceable technology, no matter the moment in history.

“Kids look at books here with the same interest than when they look at a screen, simply because they are right there. That’s why it’s good for books to be available to them.”

Méndez highlighted the importance too of having an adult not only provide books for them, but also to act as a sort of mediator in the reading process.

In the end, Méndez said, the richest thing about the reading experience is the quality time kids get to spend with their parent, or librarian or teacher.

“Adults who say that children can’t separate themselves from screens are usually those who don’t take the time to read to them,” said Adela Basch, a director and writer at Abran Cancha. “They need an adult to read to them with enthusiasm and love. If not, they’ll turn to the screens, and it’ll be our fault.”

Mariana Sardanelli, a saleswoman for publishing house SM, remembers with great tenderness and appreciation how her mother would always take her to the Book Fair and buy her a book of her choice.

“Sometimes I read it, sometimes I didn’t. But it didn’t matter. I was close to books from a young age, and I knew that they existed. That’s why I always tell parents to bring their children to the fair.”

Sardanelli became such a fan of reading that she was hired at the Fair for being a blogger and writing book reviews online, which is one of the main ways in which teenager readers and young adults relate to literature nowadays.

The importance of illustrations

One of the main things that attracts young readers to physical books over digital ones are, of course, the tangible illustrations.

“We are a publishing house focused on illustrated books, where sometimes there’s not even a written text,” Judith Wilhem, the head of Calibroscopio, told the Herald. “They are beautifully designed and put together in terms of paper and format; they’re almost pieces of art themselves, so it’s really hard to put that on a screen.”

In Edelvives’ case, illustrations also play a key role, it being a publishing house with outstanding foreign illustrators like Benjamin Lacombe and Rebecca Dautremer, where the art is so complex that some of the books they do are even targetted at adults.

On this matter, Ivana Gionocchio, who works at the stand shared by Limonero, Coco, Iamiqué, Pequeño Editor, Kalandraka and Tragaluz, said that “illustrations have a lot to do with books competing with screens, because they add meaning to a story. There’s a lot of books now where the illustrations can’t be read so linearly, and include things like dairy pages or comic strips.”

What kids read nowadays

Children might still choose books over screens when it comes to reading, but the content of what they read has most certainly changed, according to several editors and salespeople at the fair.

Firstly, Méndez said that “there’s a lot more contemporary literature being published rather than old tales being retold. Of course classics are still being released, but the work there is more aesthetic, more focused on illustrations than on writing.”

When it comes to the themes of the stories, children like to be addressed to in a smart and respectful manner, not in the sometimes condescending tone that children’s literature has been known for in the past.

“Children now look for more concrete and less sugared stories. They won’t allow themselves to be played for fools,” Basch told the Herald.

Gionocchio is very much in keeping with this thought. “Books for children are really different from what they used to be,” she said. “They allow themselves to deal with themes like death, abandonment, sadness, and freedom, which are things that most children’s literature didn’t dare to talk about a while ago.”

She also mentioned the growing trend of books related to gender issues. Kalandraka’s And tango makes three, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole, for example, is about two male penguins at a zoo who fall in love and desperately want to have a baby penguin, as all the other couples do.

The times may be changing, but books are still very much there for our future generations.

@verostewart

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