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Nicole Mulhausen

Staff Writer

After a childhood spent traveling around the country, Nicole Mulhausen landed in the maritime Pacific Northwest for college; finding it to be God’s Country, she never left. By day (and night) she manages a performance venue at a small liberal arts college, where she regularly rubs elbows with talented writers and musicians. Alongside the chickens, Artemis and Athena, she holds the fort at home while her two dashing sons galavant around the planet, flying airplanes in Montana and deep sea diving in Southeast Asia. With a nest now empty (aside from the chickens), she has more time to follow her sons' lead, exploring hitherto unknown wonders — like reading the works of authors-not-yet-dead. Twitter: @nicolemulhausen

Yesterday I read through a Facebook post about reading apps for children. After I’d slogged through the approximately infinity replies, elucidating the pros and cons of approximately infinity options, I was in a state of panic for approximately infinity minutes:

I should not be allowed to Internet!

I am able to recognize rising anxiety and then step back to assess my ridiculousness. (I’m old and have practice.) Once I gave it two thinking-thoughts, I realized that three things were bothering me about this convo. First, obviously:

  1. What the hell is a reading app?

I asked The Googs and found a bewildering array of words.

Award-winner (award-winner what?); streams on-demand; interactive read-along experience; record video of storytime; quirky sounds, animation; voting system; multilingual platform; personalization element…

Hey. I can read with quirky sounds. Shoot. That was my specialty when the kids were little. Ruth Buzzi? CHECK. Ernestine? CHECK. Elmer Fudd? CHECK.

But possibly my favorite: “flip-book usability offer a realistic experience and a touch of magic for toddlers and tweens.”



Like, the magic you feel all cuddled up with your adult, realistically experiencing a book, giggling and chatting?

Still. What IS it, this reading app?

I dug a little deeper and found slightly more humane and helpful information:

“No, they’re not a waste of time. Not the good ones, anyway. Used judiciously, and as a complement to physical books, good reading apps can help kids learn to read and practice reading. And they’re convenient for busy families who want to encourage reading engagement on the go.”

(Bonus: the font size here was large and easy to read.)

So. Okay. Helping kids to get more words and stories in their lives. I can dig that. And it’s probably more tidy than the canvas bags of actual books we used to haul around in the van when we were an “on the go” family.

(Although, the children might remind me that the physical books were good weapons when your sib was really pissing you off, and/or you wanted your parentals’ attention so they’d turn off that boring NPR on the radio.)

(Reading app bonus for parents—unlikely to be used as weapons with the sibs.)

So I started to calm down.

But only for a moment. Because.

2. The word APP. I don’t know why I have such a visceral reaction. I just do.

I can’t count the times we’ve had this conversation:

Me: “But what IS it? Is it like a program? What IS it, actually?”

Son: *exasperation*

3. Guilt. I started questioning every past tech purchase, and it was an easy hop-skip-jump downtown to guilt about every parenting decision ever.

Let’s face it. Parents have to navigate a lotta information. Consumerism! All the choices! How on earth do we know we made the right choice? Every tiny decision we make for our children means we have ruled out a different path. And then there’s the planned obsolescence thing.

*whispering* How can we know?

We can’t.

Once I realized I was essentially retroactively dying of mortification for having failed my children in every possible way and simultaneously dying in advance for failing my prospective grandchildren, I was able to calm down.

And then I remembered a scene.

When the boys were small, I would snuggle up with the Number One while Number Two would lie on the floor engrossed in worldbuilding with his Playmobil. As I read aloud, Two would appear to be utterly disengaged.

And then he’d suddenly leap up, flap his arms, and shout, “PAUSE!”

He’d run out of the room, thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. A few moments later we’d hear a crash, a flush, and running water.

Then, thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk.

He’d flop back down on the floor, assess the Playmobil situation, and, once settled, he’d calmly look up and say, “Okay. PLAY.”

That kiddo is home from college for the winter break, and his brother, all grown up, will be back over the Christmas weekend. This will be our second Christmas since the cancer blitz, and our first Christmas since we lost our friend Jane and I inherited an honorary daughter, Becca.

Bringing a young adult into your family means that you have to fill them in on all the family jokes, the family stories and rituals that make your family family. Like someone shouting, “How goes the work?” and someone else answering, “QUACK!”—a reference to Farmer Duck. Or saying niss-niss for Christmas. Or, giving a hard Paddington stare. Or, “speaking in a tiny little language that only children can understand,” like Astrid Lindgren’s Tomten.

I haven’t yet broached the subject with the kidlets, but I’m crossing fingers that they will indulge me, and we can read aloud my favorite chapter from Wind in the Willows, Dulce Domum.

(And I can’t wait to ask them, because it’s so delightful to watch their exasperated little faces: Is there an app for that?)

As for the reading apps, if you can’t afford or decide on the perfect thingy, there’s always the library. Whether you have extravagant or limited means, there absolutely are ways to provide All the Books, All the Formats.

And our Book Rioters are here to help you with All the Choices.