How Children’s Reading has Changed from When You Were a Kid

Jeff S. Bray
5 min readAug 19, 2021
Children’s Reading When You Were a Kid

When we look around at kids today, the popularity of anything electronic can be easily identified. From smartphones to iPods. From smart watches to the e-reader, the world is suffering from technology overload, and the only question is; What comes next?

The world has changed from when you and I were growing up. I grew up in an age where going outside was not a punishment, and you could always identify where the gang was by where the bicycles were at. There were no electronic devices that occupied our attention; video games just barely became popular. Using the imagination was a must to have any fun at all, and books were the triggering mechanism that unlocked the mind’s eye into worlds unknown.

Just like video games and playing with friends has changed over the years, so has the dissemination of anything that has to do with reading. Hardbacks and paperbacks are now tiny downloadable files that require no physical storage space at all. The definition of carrying your books around with you is no longer about the size of your book bag, but about the size of your internal storage. And finding your favorite book has become much easier.

Face it, reading has undergone a dramatic change since we were kids. It’s one of those, “back when I was your age…” stories we plan to tell the younger generation. And it all began with Mr. Dewey.

Reading 30 Years Ago

If you weren’t searching for a book in your school’s library or waiting for the Book Fair from Scholastic, you were visiting a local library. Schools even orchestrated field trips to the local library. When in High School, if your project required research and your school library did not have what you were looking for, you needed to go to the city library to check out a book on your subject.

“Check out a book?” You may ask.

Back in the day when you wanted to read a book you needed to go to the library. However, they did not have fancy signs over each section. They were labeled in the most peculiar way. It was a filing system that involved a series of numbers. These numbers were written on index cards with a brief description of the book it was attached to. These cards were filed in numerical order in long rectangular drawers, part of a much larger filing cabinet with many of these drawers.

To find the book you had to be familiar with the system. Each format of the book had a three-digit classification. That was split into subclasses that were separated by a decimal. For instance, if you wanted to find If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff your Dewey decimal would be 813.54 NUM; 800 is the Literature Class, 13 narrows it down to American/Canadian Fiction. The .54 further pinpoints it to 20th Century, 1945–1999. Then the NUM is the Author’s first three letters of her last name. This number is fixed and unless the system changes it will remain this way. Once you found the correct card in the catalog index box, you had to write down the number then look through the shelves to locate the same number which was attached to the spine of the book.

Crazy, right?

Reading 20 Years Ago

Remember walking through the mall and seeing a B. Dalton bookstore? Advertisements for the latest blockbuster with a picture of the cover and a life-size cardboard cutout of the Author stood out in the entry display. The stores were rather small with a limited selection, that is until the birth of the superstore brought on by the purchase of B. Dalton by the most popular chain out there; Barnes and Noble in the late 90s.

The birth of the Book Super Store brought in a new era for reading. With the library, you could only check it out; then you had to return it by the two-week due date. In a bookstore, you could buy the book and keep it. There were no forms to fill out and no waiting period for the Scholastic delivery. It was close to instant access for those who loved reading.

When Barnes and Noble noticed the growing popularity of coffee houses, they partnered with Starbucks Coffee. Even now you will not likely see a Barnes and Noble Bookstore without a Starbucks attached to it. You can buy your book, then sit at a table, or even comfy chairs, and enjoy a hot beverage as you read the latest book by your favorite author.

Reading Today

Today, it may seem the Book Superstore is on the decline. With technology advances, eBooks are becoming more popular. Amazon came out with one of the first mainstream E-readers, the Kindle, in 2008. Barnes and Noble released their Nook in 2010. Both were extremely popular and still are. Although if you have an advanced enough smartphone, you can download both e-reader applications and read books from your phone.

Even the bookstore has changed. E-readers have access to local libraries and major booksellers, like Barnes and Noble. These are also downloadable applications that with a membership, give you instant access to many books. Not only is it more convenient than having to visit a brick and mortar store, the book is often cheaper because of the cost of printing.

Even with the popularity of reading devices and mobile applications, something has got to be said about having a physical book in front of you. Especially for a child. You see many kids nowadays walking around with electronic devices; they are growing up without knowing what a book looks like, feels like, or smells like. You know what I’m talking about. Who doesn’t like the smell of a new book? You cannot get that from an electronic device.

It is kind of sad really, many of the beloved books we grew up on are no longer stored on shelves of a bookcase, but files on the hard drive of a mobile device. But to have a book to turn the pages physically; to open, close. And set it down without the worry of battery loss, has drifted off to somewhere in the past. Yep, it is definitely a different world than what we grew up in.

Final Thoughts

Technology does have a positive aspect; the world of reading is literally at our fingertips. Nearly every book imaginable is available with just a click of a mouse or a tap on the screen. The only limit is how large the internal storage is on your device. And even that issue can be solved with a cloud-based file system that will only download the book you are currently reading.

With technology seeming to take over, do not neglect the personal advantages of having a hard copy on hand. Books can be a bonding experience between an adult and a child. A book that was read to you by your parent or grandparent, you can read to your child or grandchild. Ebooks are handy yes, but you never have to recharge a physical book. And when the power goes out in your home, and you’ve forgotten to charge your device, you can always grab a flashlight and thumb through Where the Wild Things Are with your little one.



Jeff S. Bray

Christian Author and Freelance Writer specializing in helping writers excel in their craft and working with parents to develop a child’s hunger for reading.