Books are remarkable objects. They carry children into imaginary spaces and offer parents a familiar script to settle children down at night. Books challenge readers’ minds to stretch their attention span, pause and contemplate, and take others’ perspectives. Early book sharing is promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of its clear impact on reading scores, which predict high school graduation rates.

Since the introduction of television, early childhood experts have wondered whether time spent in pleasurable but “minds-off” screen experiences displaces reading. Studies using time use diaries and surveys offered conflicting evidence2,3  but suggested that educational television was linked with more reading in stressed families.

However, the digital ecosystem has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Children can find their favorite programs on demand in any room of the house or moment of boredom. Myriad digital products marketed to children provide engaging...

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