Literacy is no longer confined to a standard print format. There is an increasing integration and adoption of digital texts and ebooks in school libraries and classrooms across the United States. Compared to their print counterparts, ebooks are portable, facilitating the easy transport of sizable libraries with little physical effort. The mobility of ebooks allows them to be used in any place at any time via handheld or mobile devices.
Ebooks for young children are like storybooks we know and love in some ways. While features of ebooks mirror those we see in traditional children’s literature, ebooks add new, digital features. These digital additions to print are different in a manner that is profoundly changing the storybook as a piece of early literacy learning. As a result, ebooks can be used to develop transliterate practices in the classroom that address academic and cognitive diversity in learners.
Ebooks offer an engaging medium for young struggling readers, ease of implementation for classroom teachers, and opportunities for individual practice for all students. Early studies suggest that multimedia features in ebooks can improve inference skills in story reading and that game-like interactivity can stimulate story comprehension and word learning, especially when children’s attention is guided to these purposes. Ebooks have also been shown to motivate children to be active readers. When using ebooks, children tend to more naturally investigate words, images and interactives in the reading environment. It seems the ebook may invite play, and Gee (2003) indicates this is a powerful motivator for engaging with print.
Numerous theories of reading development recommend scaffolding as a foundational means to promote literacy development. In addition to features found in a print book, ebooks provide scaffolding through narrations, animations and interactive media, which support young children who are developing emergent literacy skills. Scaffolds in ebooks include searching capacity, hyperlinks, audio and visual enhancements, and in some cases, hot-spot pop-up definitions for words. For users with learning difficulties or disabilities, ebooks offer text-to-speech capabilities and print highlighting, as well as allowing changes in font size, features which are not possible in print books. Early readers and students with learning disabilities can benefit from the use of ebooks due to the ability to explore literature with digital scaffolding supports. The digital scaffolds found in ebooks provide additional opportunities for independent practice and interactive exploration of a text, available even when an adult is not present to read with a child.