This article was first published on Medium. This is a reprint of that article.
Technology transformed children’s books — Are you up to date?
If you have children in your life, you need interactive children’s books or book apps on your devices. Here’s why:
Technology has leveled up Story Time
Children’s picture books hold a special spot on my bookshelves. I love holding a child in my arms and reading the full-color story aloud as dramatically as possible. Certainly traditional books will always have a place in my house. But technology has transformed the children’s book landscape, and you should know that interactive books and book apps offer an earlier increase in vocabulary, more widespread literacy, as well as a huge dose of engaging fun!
Let’s Start with the Stats
This Cambridge study compared vocabulary learned from static ebooks versus interactive ebooks.
Children “gained most in vocabulary after reading interactive animated e-books.”
Interactive ebooks, with their animations and sound effects, teach vocabulary better than a static print book, because they’re interesting and repetitive.
With a touch, children control when the interactive story begins or an animations starts its motion. Children participate in the story. And they hear and see the words, over, and over, and over. This is one reason to download iBooks or book apps onto your phone and tablet.
Interactive stories also benefit the story read-alouders.
By the end of the day sometimes Bedtime Story time suffers from my weariness. With interactive books, my child taps the narrations (and all the other effects) and I can just cuddle with him and enjoy the moment, rather than shortening our bedtime routine.
Unlike humans, the digital narrator NEVER gets tired of reading the same book again and again. This is another reason your phone or tablet should have interactive stories. But there’s more.
Myth: Learning from print books is better than from digital books
It’s common knowledge that reading aloud to young children is beneficial (see supporting studies here, here, and here).
But more important is this Cambridge study, which shows that whether learning from an ebook or a print book, long term learning is retained the same.
Why is this so important?
In part because sometimes we get concerned that print books are somehow better than a digital book. Turns out, a printed book versus a digital book is not a moral decision. Lessons learned are remembered equally, regardless of the source.
Did you know — ebooks bridge the socioeconomic gap
In the past, children’s access to books depended on their family’s wealth:
- In 2001, middle income neighborhoods had about 13 titles per child, but low-income neighborhoods had about 1 title per 300 children ( Research Compendium).
- And yet the more books in the home, the better a child’s reading score. And vice versa (Research Compendium).
- This Oxford Academic abstract explains that a home with access to only 25–50 books improves reading test scores by up to one grade level! We are talking about enough books to fill a shelf, not even a whole bookcase. But at-risk families, understandably, tend to spend more money on food and shelter and less on books.
- However, this book gap is closing. Nearly all children in the US between 0-8 years old have access to at least one mobile screen device in their home. And a mobile device equals access to books — ebooks, interactive books, and book apps.
Because of almost universal access to mobile devices, the have and have-not library divide is closing!
So a third reason to download the latest book technology: it increases the number of digital books in your home and increases the reading and achievement of the children in your life.
My experience with interactive books
I have an insider perspective of the digital book industry. My illustrator and I first published our children’s picture book series on the Amazon platform as static ebooks and paperbacks. After winning an award, we decided to try out Apple’s iBook platform.
On the iBooks platform we transformed our static books into interactive books. We recorded full narration. Added music. Created animations and sound effects. It took a lot of work — but it pushed our children’s books to the next level.
And we found a tremendous benefit of interactive books: As participants in the story — starting the action and sound with a touch — the interactive books reached reluctant readers as static books could not.
Here’s an example of an interactive book. It’s not a photo. Photos are static — and the whole point of this article is that interactive books are not static books. So it’s a short video. This is a page from one of my iBooks, showing the narration, animations, and sound effects.