Occasionally (and more and more frequently) I have been asked to read and review a children’s book in its e-version, but I don’t consider it a very satisfactory way to do it. The reason is umami.
Umami is the name given to the so-called fifth category of “taste” capable of identification by the human tongue. The other four are sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.
The Chicago Tribune described it well:
..a sensation on the palate, a rich, meaty, full-bodied savoriness associated with foods rich in glutamates, such as soy sauce and aged cheeses…”
[More scientifically, umami is the word for the taste sensation we get with foods that react with the L-glutamate receptors in our tongues. (Umami is the Japanese word for “yummy,” named by the Japanese chemist who discovered it.) (You can read an entertaining article by Malcolm Gladwell about umami and ketchup here or read about the history of the discovery of umami on NPR.)]
So what does all this have to do with children’s books?
When I look at a children’s book, whether now as an adult or way, way earlier as a child, I too am looking for something extra, something that adds a je ne sais quoi. I am interested in the size and feel of the book: is it big enough for the pictures to take me to another world? Is it glossy so that I enjoy touching it? Are the colors bright and vibrant, or soft and comforting? Is it too heavy? Too light? Does it hold up to my opening it a million times and running my grubby hands over the pages? Is it best for reading in a chair or a lap, or carrying out to the yard? Can it go into the bathtub?
Does it have tactile features like multiple layers, bumbs or little flaps or holes, and how sturdy are they?
E-books give me some idea, but I really need to hold it in my hands to see whether it has that sense of umami. And what about kids? I would hate to think of my childhood without having had actual books to hold in my hands!
I get the impression most of us are still awed by pop-up books, at the very least, but I’m wondering what others think about e-books versus even non-pop-up books. Do they work for kids? Do hypertext links or sounds or videos make up for the real live experience of interacting with a book? Or is “experience” a term that needs to be redefined in the modern age?