Interactive children’s books are those which require some participation from the reader. We are all familiar with the books from our childhood that had texture and movable parts (e.g. pop-ups, flaps, pull-tabs, pop-outs, pull-downs, and more). Nowadays modern technology is used with electronic or digital books to encourage reader participation via links or embedded reader-enacted functions. Text can be supplemented with beautiful rotatable images, sound and animations whilst alternative routes can be chosen through the content. The possibilities seem limitless!
Pros and cons
Interactive books seem to offer such tantalising advantages over traditional print that it’s easy to be seduced into thinking that they can only improve our children’s reading experiences. But does a good book really need interactive enhancement? Does the interactivity not distract children from concentrating on what they are reading or hearing? Some people are concerned that children will get so used to this interactivity that they could end up rejecting ‘boring’ conventional books. And besides, don’t our children get enough screen time already without replacing books with yet another screen? However, there are many tanglible benefits to digital interactive books. As well as being fun for our children (and great at keeping them occupied on long car journeys and such like), they open up a whole new type of reading experience. Good interactive books can improve comprehension of the story as children become involved in a way which is impossible with a conventional book. They can also benefit beginner readers who see a consistent connection between written words and the sounds they make. Perhaps the best approach is to use interactive books alongside regular print books and allow children to read a combination of both types? Not only should children enjoy cuddling up with a conventional book but they should also be able to play with the interactive features of a good digital book app which can make the words really come to life and help them connect more deeply with the story, particularly if you are sitting alongside them, helping them to keep focused on the tale and not just the wizzy features! It is also good for children to be comfortable using such new technology which is sure to become more and more ubiquitous as they get older. They need to learn to read and comprehend text in both digital and print formats.
Research on preschool and early primary school children has revealed both positive and negative effects of interactive electronic books. Adding certain information to electronic storybooks can facilitate multimedia learning, especially in children with language or reading difficulties. Animated pictures, sometimes enriched with music and sound, that match the simultaneously presented story text, can help integrate nonverbal information and language and thus promote storage of those in a child’s memory. On the other hand, stories enhanced with hypermedia interactive features like games and “hotspots” may lead to poor performance on tests of vocabulary and story comprehension. Using such features necessitates multi tasking and results in cognitive overload for the child
No matter how you may feel about Interactive e-books they are on the increase and the field is, for now, largely dominated by Apple. As most of the best children’s apps are targeted at early readers, children beyond the picture-book stage will find their interests in fiction less well catered for, but touchscreen devices can also transform works of reference and non fiction. For example National Geographic’s Ultimate Dinopedia app (£3), presents as much information as any dino-crazed child could possibly want, whilst Touch Press’s Solar System (£7.99), displays 3D images of the planets which can be spun and viewed from any angle, along with images from the Hubble telescope and various space missions.
Selecting interactive e-books
When selecting interactive e-books for children and young adults, first try searching websites such as Kirkus Reviews or Best Interactive Books for the iPad. Second, do a web-search using the name of the specific app that has taken your fancy. Results may provide additional reviews and movies of the app in action on YouTube. Next, go to the developer’s web site for more information and user reviews. Also, consider how the e-book will be used. For example, a growing number of teachers are using e-books with their interactive whiteboards, or you might be thinking about students using the e-book independently. Consider these additional points too:
- Is the app sufficiently intuitive for independent use
- Do the “bells and whistles” contribute to or distract from the story?
- Does it employ engaging interactions that maintain attention while enhancing the text
- Is the lettering large enough to read?
- Is the reading level indicated?
- Are multiple reading levels available?
- Can the sound be controlled?
- Can the story, page, and individual words be repeated?
- Is a dictionary provided?
- What about pronunciations?
- Is a bilingual element integrated into the system?
- Are games or activities provides to extend the experience?
- Is visual and auditory help provided for young learners to increase independence?
LIPSSEE members’ recommendations
Fiction Express for Schools: these exciting interactive e-books delivered in weekly episodes are a novel way to engage young readers because the children themselves decide how the plot progresses via a weekly vote. Chapters are written in real time.
Nintendo DS Flips: are an interactive, fun way for children of any age to read. The FLIPS range brings a selection of bestselling authors to the Nintendo DS including Enid Blyton, Eoin Colfer, Cathy Cassidy and the “Too Ghoul For School” range of books. FLIPS use the Nintendo’s touch screen and stylus to allow children to read on the screen and interact with the story by solving quizzes and activating sound effects. FLIPS are available from online booksellers such as Love Reading 4 Kids and Amazon.
Nosy Crow is an award-winning publisher of children’s books and apps. Their innovative, multimedia, highly interactive apps for tablets and smart phones are specially created to take advantage of the devices, in order to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways. Included are fairy tales, story books, rhyming stories and educational non-fiction.
Touch Press is a company in the forefront of providing animated e-books
Moving Tales is a Canadian company and an animation and storytelling specialist