When my daughter turned nine last week, I contemplated just how many trees would need to be sacrificed to produce her birthday presents. She is drowning in books. She has books about space and books about horses and books about wizards and books about adventures. She has books about books. Sometimes I literally can't find her because she's lost under a pile of tomes up to the ceiling. Literally.
Rainforest guilt turned my thoughts to an eBook reader, and I immediately liked the idea. My daughter would be able to carry as many books as she liked without straining her girly arms, and I would save a fortune on paperbacks that were finished in mere hours. I asked the Twitterverse for its opinion: was nine too young for a gift like that? Should I stick to the paper version? To my surprise, it was widely championed - but with so many options, which was the best for my tween?
iPad - retails from $499, apple.com.au
The iPad is much more than an eBook reader, and boasts a huge full-colour, high resolution screen and a 5MP camera, amongst other things. As with all Apple products, it is beautiful and may cause you to make involuntary squealing noises. The range of apps available for Apple's operating system remains unbeaten, and the number of kid-friendly options grows and grows.
It does make an expensive toy, and for the child who's easily distracted, the iPad offers a multitude of excuses not to read. The glossy screen, whilst excellent for looking at photos and watching movies, reflects a lot of light and can make reading difficult. It's a bit like trying to read from a book with glitter all over it. However, no other device can hold a candle to the way it brings picture books to life.
My daughter would be able to carry as many books as she liked without straining her girly arms, and I would save a fortune on paperbacks that were finished in mere hours.
Kindle - from $139, amazon.com and selected retailers
The Kindle is the obvious choice. It's the king of carrying books around in a computer. The six-inch device comes in a touch version and a non-touch version, with free global 3G or without. The base model will do everything a child needs, without distraction. A Kindle is a true reading device. The e-ink screen looks like paper, feels like paper and might even be made from actual trees (it isn't). It is reasonably scratch-resistant and robust. The non-touch version is great for avoiding sticky fingerprints.
For a little extra, you can treat your child to a Kindle Fire, which features not only a colour screen but also access to movies, apps and magazines. It's not quite an iPad, but it's a cost effective alternative. All Kindle devices have at least a basic web browser, which can be handy if you can't get to a smart phone, laptop, desktop or any number of other web-enabled devices.
NOOK - from $99, barnesandnoble.com (import only)
Barnes & Noble's offering is the NOOK (capitals mandatory), and the range has something for everyone. For the tween, the NOOK Color is a great option - the screen is fancy, but the gaming and other non-reading related apps are limited. Your child will be able to chat about Angry Birds with the best of them, but the gameplay won't interrupt his reading.
The NOOK is not stocked in Australia, so buying books for it requires a little white lie in the form of a US address. However, Barnes & Noble has an enormous kids' book offering, including a whole range of "read to me" titles for beginners and a series of "read and play" 2-in-1 game books.
Kobo - from $138, thegoodguys.com.au
The Kobo is the only independent reader on the list. Formerly stocked by Borders and Angus & Robertson, it is now sold completely separately from book retailers. In theory, you can read anything you like on a Kobo. However, the support and resources available online are not nearly as widespread as they are for the other three devices listed here. There is no specific library for children's books, nor games designed to run on the device. The top of the line Kobo Vox is hot to trot, but at $250 it is heading into dedicated tablet territory.
So although it can't touch the quality of the iPad, the Kindle wins out on price, range and child friendliness. Other parents agree. Mum of 8-year-old Sarah*, Allison, says that she chose the Kindle because of Amazon's reputation and the large number of kids' books on offer. "I would definitely recommend it to other parents," she says. David, who also has an 8-year-old daughter, agrees. "Ultimately I'd recommend it just as much as I would physical books." And of course, the real benefit is obvious: "It's reading that I'd recommend most of all."
My daughter's verdict? The Kindle - in its rainbow faux-leather case - is definitely a winner in her books. Pun intended.