How Do Books Affect Your Child’s Brain? 8 Questions

We all know taking away screens and reading to our children during their formative years is the best thing for their brains. Now, there is new incredible science to back it up. We asked Jessica Ewing, CEO of subscription book club Literati and graduate of Stanford University in Cognitive Science, every question we could think of about kids, brains, and books.


Question:  Every day we hear more about the topic of kids and books and screens and brains. Jess, your background is in neuroscience from Stanford University, and you founded Literati, the children’s book club everyone in the education community is talking about. What do we need to know?

JE:  Absolutely. It’s a fascinating line of research. Most recently, we’re learning from brain scans and fMRI that developing brains thrive on stimulation that puts brains in the “Goldilocks” zone. Let me explain what I mean by that. If you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, she needed to find porridge that wasn’t “too hot” and wasn’t “too cold” but was “just right.” We’re seeing the same thing in the brain. Media – like television and animation and screens – are “too hot” in the sense that we don’t see connections fire in children’s brains. The consumption is too easy for the brain. On the other hand, pure audio content is “too cold” for most kids. It doesn’t provide enough stimulation to the visual cortex to force new neural connections to fire. It’s just too hard for the developing brain.

Q: One last question just to circle back to the original topic. You believe strongly in the power of print for kids, as opposed to tablet and e-readers. Why is that?

JE:  It’s a great question. I’ll answer that from a scientific standpoint, and then a personal one. The science we are seeing with screens and kids brains is quite frightening. The exact same organized white matter we see in brains of kids who are read to frequently turns into chaos with screens and devices. It’s almost like the exact opposite effect.  The language centers of the brain are needed to support success in school. Replacing books with screens may put your child at a massive educational disadvantage. At this point, screens are a huge risk we’re taking with new generations.

Literati is a try-before-you-buy book club service for children. They operate 5 subscription book clubs for kids ages 0-12. To learn more about the service and become a member, you can go to

Brain scan of preschooler read to regularly by a caregiver. Red shows increased organized white matter in language centers necessary to support development in school.

A Literati box, Club Nova, featuring books and artwork for theme ‘Stars, Infinity, and Beyond.’ 

On a personal level, I feel we live in a world of increasing layers of abstraction. As adults, we can handle that, although we’re not sure where exactly this is taking us. We’ll see. But when you’re a kid just trying to make sense of the world, it’s important for things to be concrete. Holding a physical book gives the brain a way to store memory. It’s a tangible, weighty representation of something the brain is trying to process. There’s just a power and a magic to it. Remember the smell, the feel of walking into a bookstore and approaching all that vast knowledge? The promise, the aspiration, the excitement of it? I can’t think of anything more magical.

We’re trying to create a very similar experience to that, translated to a child’s level. There is a lot of technology in our business. We have a gigantic engineering team and a host of designers. Hundreds of thousands of lines of code power our platform. But we do all that to create a very analog experience – a magical experience – because we think that is important. I fundamentally believe we should be building technology that serves life, not the other way around. I want to spend the rest of my life building products that make life more meaningful, not merely more efficient.

Read the full article at PaperLantern