Bottom Line: The children’s e-book site MyOn is enjoyable, in the way a bowl of sugary cereal is. There are reasons to be cautious about it.
MyOn promises to spread literacy by offering any kid with an internet connection access to more than 20,000 books. But how does it stack up?
Every review I’ve read on the program has said nothing but praise. Therefore, I have to be the person that breaks up the parade.
I get that it’s difficult to critique MyOn because it’s a program kids love. They have smiles on their faces when the teachers give them their 20 minutes with it a day. It is a total lifesaver during standardized testing because it keeps the early finishers perfectly placated. For the lowest kids who can’t read on their own, MyOn reads any book out loud to them. So when looking for online learning programs to put on trial, MyOn has managed to slip by.
So where are the problems? Why do I get frustrated with a program that allows kids to read for free? The issues are: MyOn is mistakenly placed on the same level or higher to print books, is devoid of classic children’s books, is saturated with low-quality books, contributes to the fragmentation of our culture, and is sometimes used as a replacement for libraries.
Because the elementary students using MyOn have never seen a time before the program’s existence, the usually see it as equal or even better to reading physical books or books published by major publishers like Scholastic. (One notable exception is my student I’m a 1-1 aide for who finds MyOn books “boring”.) Students often prefer MyOn because it makes it easy for them to load up their queue with as many books as they want. For instance, if a student’s favorite subject is say, cars, they can spend the whole period looking up cars books, adding them to their list and scrolling back and forth through their covers (For any gamers out there, it’s like the famed people who spend more time adding to their Steam collection than playing the games they bought.).
A small sampling of the searching rabbit hole that kids find themselves in with MyOn. They can spend the whole time adding books onto their collections as if they were collectables.
Most of the books on MyOn are straightforward, with zany fonts and fun facts about the chosen topic. You aren’t going to find any world-renowned authors or proven non-fiction brands like National Geographic or TIME.
I once had a student pout when I pulled him out of MyOn time and into guided reading. I usually wouldn’t care to entertain him, but I’ve had the program on my mind. I asked him why he preferred reading books on MyOn. He stated with confidence that MyOn books are more educational. I asked, “How so?” He replied, “There are more history books. Like I just read all of the books on UFOs and I learned that though people sometimes don’t believe they’re real, they’re real.” I wish there was a way for students like him to distinguish these TMZ-like barely history books and more substantial ones.
When I say “substantial” books, I mean exposure to literary classics. As a woman of color, I know that often what is called a classic is based off of male Eurocentric standards. But this does not mean that all books have the same merit. There is such a thing as classics, and in my definition I include works written by women and people of color. American culture is enriched when students from disparate parts of the nation all have a common understanding of the classics, like A Wrinkle in Time, The Snow Queen, Winnie the Pooh and Their Eyes Were Watching God. These are stories with valuable messages and deep philosophical undertones that every child deserves to know about. With MyOn, it is too easy to skip over these works and get trapped only reading Where’s Waldo type hidden objects books or that 6th Bigfoot fact or fiction book.
My last concern with MyOn stems from some teachers and students believing it is a replacement to physical libraries, rather than a supplement. When faced with the problem of kids not reading enough at home, my teacher started giving out home reading logs. Because she was afraid that some kids wouldn’t have books at home, she said they could use MyOn or Get Epic! (A MyOn competitor). Not once did she recommend they get a library card.
Worse of all, USA Today reports that for the Emma Jewel Charter Academy school district, “a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ library was not financially feasible.” MyOn was deemed a good enough replacement for all of these kids. Even with the traditional concerns about too much screen time, this is an unacceptable solution.
Every child deserves exposure to the larger variety of books that MyOn does not offer. Being low-income should not mean not having access to the wonders of a library and to the brain-stretching powers of reading print books.
Luckily, my school has not gone that far; the above was more of a cautionary story. However, we can do better to promote a balanced literary diet that can have both the quick, sugary MyOn fix and the heartiness of cozying up to a book that inside contains a tale as old as time.