The market for e-readers is soaring. Last December, Amazon enjoyed its best Christmas sales ever for the Kindle and holiday sales of Nook products were up 70% compared with the previous year. More recently, you may have noticed that a growing number of ads for e-readers feature children. There’s a reason for that. In the North American market that accounts for 80% of e-reader sales worldwide, parents and children suddenly have a favorite new toy in common.

But is the e-reader a cool tool or just a distraction device? The debate over e-readers began way back when the first, clunky models emerged in the 1980s. Now that the technology has progressed light-years, so have the conclusions--parents and teachers alike are discovering that e-readers have tremendous potential to benefit children both at home and in the classroom.  Here’s how:

E-readers make the grade.  More and more teachers and reading specialists are putting e-readers to the test—and raising students’ test scores as a result. Built-in dictionaries help students expand their vocabularies, while the text-to-speech feature lets children listen or practice reading aloud. Children with dyslexia and other struggling readers benefit from being able to change the font size of the text and the number of words that appear on the screen.

E-readers won’t break the college fund. Kids may not care about cost, but parents sure do! The low entry-level price point for today’s e-readers –as little as $69 for a basic Kindle -- means that more families can have access to a global library of books.  E-books for kids are often cheaper than print books, too, despite their beautiful production values.

E-readers are convenient. With e-readers, you give up a lot—like neatening up cluttered bookshelves or searching for a lost library book. Weighing in at a mere six ounces—lighter than the average school lunch box --even the smallest e-readers bring libraries and bookstores to you. Online kids’ books can also be downloaded in an instant, very helpful when you’re waiting at the dentist’s office or at about to take a long airline flight with a bored or restless little one.

Today’s e-books are better than ever. When it comes to content, today’s e-books tell a whole new story. In place of plain scans, e-books now feature beautifully rendered pairings of text and images, graphics and sounds. PDP, one of the leading digital publishers, recently launched an entire series of Audio Enhanced E-books for young children under the “I Know My” label.

E-readers bring the best of tradition to high-tech learners. E-readers have given classic favorites a whole new platform--literally. Britt Allcroft’s Magic Adventures of Mumfie, an animated TV program popular in the ‘90s, is delighting a whole new generation as children’s e-books. The award-winning creator of the world famous Thomas & Friends and Shining Time Station, Allcroft has been widely acclaimed for Mumfie, a gentle elephant whose kindness and friendship help him tackle any obstacle during his epic adventure. “The belief that, I myself have the potential to affect the world is a profoundly important asset in every child’s development and self-motivation,” commented Ron Slaby, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Education Development Center on Media and Child Health, Boston. “As a brave and adventurous role model for children, Mumfie’s journey of friendship and discovery provides children with a vivid illustration of this successful approach to life.” Mumfie books are instantly downloadable to all e-readers at Nook Kids Books, Kindle Kids Books, and iPad Books for Kids.  

Safety features in e-readers offer parents peace of mind.  Publishers and e-reader vendors are responding to parents’ paramount concern for their children: safety. Nook Kids is an online shop at Barnes and Noble where you can purchase from a growing collection of classic and popular picture books. Meanwhile at Amazon, Kindle FreeTime is a subscription service that lets parents create individual profiles for their children and choose what e-books and other items their kids can access. Parents can even limit screen time.