Up until now I have resisted any developments in children’s books which in any way might distract from the serenity and quiet of following a storyline in a traditional, printed book. My two children are avid readers and I put that down to the fact that we have no distracting and competing technology in our home (e.g. Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, etc). And then a close friend pointed out to me that perhaps I should consider these new developments and see them as just another way of engaging with a story. My friend also gently pointed out that I use technology a lot of the time (I write on my site, use Facebook, Twitter, etc). Point taken. So, I sat down the other day and read with interest the article on the Made in Me – blog : What is an iPad good for? Such a good article.
And it made think about another form of storytelling and book production which has been around for a whole lot longer than digital books – pop-ups. If done well, these too highlight key events, explain what’s happening and add drama to well-known stories and tales. All of which make a classic story accessible to a younger audience. Modern pop-up books are becoming increasingly sophisticated with amazing feats of paper engineering, sound-effects and some even bridging the gap between book and computer (Disney Cars: Augmented Reality Book by Ellie O’Ryan (Carlton)).
The point I am trying to make here is that perhaps we should consider digital forms of books as a way forward, which might engage a young audience, encourage reluctant readers and provide an additional route into more traditional forms of reading (just like pop-up books!). There is one huge caveat though, the digital application of a book must be done well. Here (below) is an example of one children’s book app which I think has been done well. It retains the integrity of the story, it has no whizzy features which distract from the storyline and it allows the child to enjoy his/her own version of the story … the best version.
I have always been a huge fan of Ladybird books. I had lots as a child and I hunt them out in the depths of local charity shops and second-hand bookshops for my own children. Made in Me is a children’s digital publishing company founded by a group of friends, artists, developers, teachers and parents and they have done something wonderful to classic Ladybird books – Me Books. Me Books is a picture book app which allows parents and children to interact with and personalise the classic Ladybird books in an entirely new way. By tapping words and text, the application plays narration, character voices and sounds. Also, a child can add their own, completely unique commentary/version of the story by creating audio hotspots. This is done by drawing an area with your finger and recording your own voice or sound.
I can see immediately that a child’s imagination could be really fired up by the storytelling opportunity that this app allows by putting their own words into the mouths of, say, the big bad wolf or Goldilocks.
Made in Me have also produced an award-winning desktop chapter book called The Land of Me, designed for children aged between two and six. Designed with leading child development experts, The Land of Me allows children to make creatures, construct buildings, choreograph dances, compose music, tell stories and much more. The Land of Me was introduced by Education Scotland to three local authorities to assess its impact on learning and to see how it might be used both in and outside the classroom, more information on this here.
I remain and always will a complete advocate of the printed book. Nothing can replace the joy of turning the pages of a picture book, gently following the words and rhythm of its story and being absorbed by its illustrations. But I accept there are other ways to engage with a story, pictures and text if done well and carefully.
Please note – we trialled the Land of Me products as described above and these are available for anyone else to trial on the same basis – see The Land of Me website. (FYI our house happily remains a Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox-free zone.)