St. Joseph students explore what makes a book a book
Ember Dooling's creative writing class at St. Joseph High School is a sanctuary for young readers in Victoria.
I visited with the class to talk about the American Book Review reading series, interactive e-books and anything at all in relation to literature that struck their fancy.
After only a few minutes among them, I knew I was in a room of intelligent and eloquent young people who truly valued books.
As they went around the room introducing themselves to me, they told me their favorite or most reviled book.
I learned that these books included "Frankenstein," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "Soul Eater," "Same Kind of Different as Me," "Point Your Face at This," "The Great Gatsby" and many more.
The students talked about an interactive Sherlock Holmes book on the iPad, the beloved children's book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and, for one student in particular, a strong dislike of "The Old Man and the Sea."
E-books, I found, did not appeal to most of them. These students vehemently championed paper books. They want to feel stories solidly in their hands. They want to turn the individual paper pages one by one. They don't want to swipe an iPad screen or worry about battery life; they want to smell the parchment and feel the imprint of ink beneath their fingers.
A.J. Calvo said he likes the sense of it being a race to the end of the book. He believes this experience is changed in e-books, since you can't see yourself making progress in the same way. "I like the actual feel of knowing where you are in a book," he said.
Alex Sigtenhorst said she prefers real books to the interactive books that the class looked at. "I thought it was more of a game than a book; it detracts from my ability to take the story and run with it," she explained. She felt that interactive books, with all the moving pictures, music and choices, limited the reader's imagination.
From here, the conversation delved into whether these interactive, noisy, hyper-visual creations are good for children.
Are we teaching them that books are like movies or games? Or are we just exposing them to a love of reading in a new way? Could we be, in fact, limiting their imagination or keeping them from developing the ability to read books that consist of just words?
Sterling Lykes said that he thought the interactive books were a good option for children. "It's at least exposing them to vocabulary and reading," he insisted. One interactive piece, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," struck him as a great example of this. "It gives children the opportunity to become engaged in reading; it lets them become a part of the story," he said.
Their teacher, Dooling, added that she loved "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" not because it's digital or interactive. She loved it because of its beauty. "It's about the love, nurturing and foreverness of books," she said.
A short silence followed this statement; I could see it sinking in on the young faces around me. Did it really matter whether we read from a e-book or on paper?
Sometimes, we all need that gentle reminder that books, whether on a device or not, are still books.
The significance is the story itself. It is in the words that create that world that we escape into.
After an afternoon of conversation with these students, I departed completely content. I knew that regardless of whether it's on a Kindle or in a paperback, these students would continue to read, debate and be inspired by great authors.
In that classroom exists more than students learning their lessons for college and a grade at the end of the year.
There exists a community of true readers with a love of the written word.
A community helped along by Dooling, who will leave them with a varied and educated passion for that indescribable and so incredibly important "foreverness of books."
Kat Duncan is the photo and video editor at the Advocate. She loves to read, travel, run and play with her pup, Panda. Chat with her about books on Twitter @Kat Duncan_VA.