Books You Can Play With and Games You Can Read: The New Market in Young Children’s Book Apps

Filed in: Family, Media Literacy, Mobile

Filed by Sarah Jackson


3.30.11 | NPR’s Lynn Neary reported this week on new children’s book apps for the preschool set. These enhanced e-books of such classics as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “The Cat in The Hat” include narration, animation and interactive features and are often aimed at children under 4.


Oceanhouse Media’s “The Cat in the Hat.”

Developers say they are creating a new art form: part book, part game, part website that is redefining the way children are reading.

“People ask, ‘Are you creating books, are you creating games or are you creating animations?’” said Rick Richter, founder and CEO of Ruckus Media, which develops storytelling apps for children. “The answer is, ‘Yes.’ That’s what we set out to do — books you can play with and games you can read.”

As we’ve reported, the app market for young children is exploding and a great number of these apps claim to promote learning and literacy. NPR reports some children may even get their first exposure to books on a digital device.

Michel Kripalani, president of Oceanhouse Media, which has the rights to develop the works of Dr. Seuss as digital books, says his company’s apps aim to use the interactive features to help children learn to read.

“As the app is reading the book, the individual words are highlighting,” he explains, “so the child is getting an association between what they are hearing and the actual word that’s being spoken at the time. They can also touch on any of the pictures and they get a picture word association, so if the child taps on the cat for example, the letters C-A-T float up and the narrator speaks in a clear voice: cat.”

We’ve written before about the innovative work going on in transmedia publishing to use games and websites to encourage reluctant readers and let young authors drive content. But works like “Inanimate Alice” or “The Amanda Project” are aimed at much older kids.

For toddlers and preschoolers, little is known about the ability of new technologies to help children learn. [See Learning, Digital Media and Creative Play in Early Childhood]

“The uptake of adoption here is far in advance of the research,” Shelley Pasnik, director of the Center for Children and Technology at the Education Development Center, recently told Spotlight. “But that’s not to say that we can’t be really thoughtful about what we do know about children’s development.”

Kripalani describes a common parental experience of watching in amazement at how well a toddler or preschooler can navigate the digital device that you are just barely learning how to use yourself.

“I just stand back in awe and I just say, ‘Wow, she is just going to be able to absorb so much, so much faster, so much earlier,’” he told NPR.

But experts caution about the need to think developmentally and to make sure that the media—and the amount of time a child is spending with it—are both age-appropriate.

Reading faster and earlier should not necessarily be the goal in the early learning years. Instead, well-designed media should emphasize creative play, discovery, and concepts such as sharing and turn-taking, Pasnik said.

One children’s librarian in New York City told NPR that for the app to have literary value, the artwork and interactive features should be well integrated into the story. The apps that get it right, she notes, can take a book to a new level.

You can listen to the full story at NPR’s website.

Plus: Stay tuned for more on literacy and digital media in the preschool years at Spotlight. Next week we’ll report on research that finds interactive media combined with quality professional development can help low-income preschoolers learn emergent literacy skills.


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