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Ex-GalleyCat ed Jason Boog on raising bookworms
Reading » New questions arise with the advent of e-readers.
First Published Jul 05 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 07 2014 04:37 pm

Jason Boog was immersed in publishing for five years as editor of the MediaBistro blog GalleyCat. When he became a dad, he was curious how best to foster a love of books in his newborn daughter.

His solution was — what else? — writing a book about raising bookworms, "Born Reading," out in July from Touchstone. Boog, 37, lives in Los Angeles with his wife and now nearly 4-year-old daughter, Olive. He works for a film production company, connecting screenwriters with experts to assist story development.

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Boog’s book coincides with a policy issued Tuesday from the American Academy of Pediatrics asking doctors to stress that parents should read to kids every day, beginning in infancy.

Four questions for Jason Boog:

Isn’t there enough guidance out there on fostering a love of reading in babies and young children?

When I was just starting to introduce my daughter to books, the iPad, lots of digital devices, were swamping the market. They entered the marketplace so quickly that I don’t think we as parents, or even the child development experts — no one really — had enough time to process the whole change. There was this rapid shift in the way we read, so I set out in the book to speak to scientists, child development experts on how best to handle the new landscape.

Are parents too exhausted in children’s first year to read to them?

I started to read to my daughter from the very first few days of her life. On the one hand it’s boring to have these newborns. They don’t do very much. They kind of just sit there and you kind of need something to do to entertain them and entertain yourself.

Then when I started speaking to the experts about it, that act of reading, even if your child is not speaking and not pointing to things in a book, but the act and the sound of your voice is turning on switches in their brain constantly in those first two years of life. I didn’t realize that.

So I would set her up in her bouncy chair and as she drank her bottle I would pull out a board book and read it to her. Every single day you would see a little bit more light in those eyes and you would see her start to follow the story a little bit.

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How do you feel about the recommendation of no screen time for children under 2?

Some parents ban it completely during those first two years. We definitely let Olive grab the iPhone or the iPad when we were on airplanes or in long lines. We kind of used it as the pacifier of last resort. I still struggle on a daily basis with my daughter to balance my need for making her lunch, for doing my work or getting dressed.

She would play with the iPad all day if I let her, until she fell over and fell asleep. She has nothing in her brain that tells her to turn it off. It’s a constant struggle for 21st-century parents to figure out what the perfect balance is for their child and devices.

Realistically, you can’t have zero screen time the way the world works now, with parents using devices every day and children seeing them every day. They’re going to be curious. They’re going to want to touch them.

Do you think parents, pediatricians, day-care providers and others do enough to read to or expose babies and young children to reading?

Over the last 30 years we’ve developed this very rich body of research about the science of interactive reading. That is reading to your child in a way where you’re asking questions, where you’re having them compare it to their own experiences, where it’s a very active, participatory experience. You can use a device, you can do it while watching "Sesame Street," with a song, but it’s you and your child and not your child and a device.

So we’ve had 30 years of research telling us it’s just crucial for a developing brain to do this. I feel like at a time when books, maybe, are receding a little bit from the public imagination, it’s almost a public health issue to know this. People should be handing something out at the hospital saying it’s really important that you do this with your child, have this interactive experience. It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition — book over device.

It would be a terrible tragedy if the art of reading to your child is lost in the digital transition.

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