E-Books for Kids: What to look for and what to avoid

Children’s e-books can be interactive tools that help younger children develop early reading skills. Mercer Mayer’s e-books, produced by the excellent Oceanhouse Media, help children associate words with pictures. I Just Forgot humorously recounts a child’s selective memory regarding his daily routines; he remembers his snack of cookies and milk, but forgets to pick up his toys. The book is a funny reminder that even the very young share family responsibilities, and children love to correct the forgetful Little Critter. Me Too! resonates with children exasperated by the challenges of younger siblings. In the “Read to Me” setting of these books, the words change color as the narrator reads the books aloud, so that children can associate the spoken word with the text. Touch any picture in the book and the word for that picture appears on the screen. Children can earn points by finding small recurring characters hidden throughout the story.

But for picture books, the buyer must truly beware. E-books can vary dramatically from their printed counterparts, and the variations are not always improvements. In contrast to text books where the e-book version can provide larger type font, most picture books display horizontally (in a landscape setting) in order to better view the double page picture spreads, which means the text can be tiny. The picture books that display vertically (in a portrait setting) chop the pictures up in ways that are often confusing, and don’t add to the experience of reading the text. Some e-books chop the words off the page, so some letters are missing, as in One Wide Sky by Deborah Wiles, a nice nature and counting book in print form, but a disaster as an e-book. Also, the “Read to Me” options on a few e-books do not actually read all the words of the book, such as in My Name Is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry (K-2 grade), the story of a young girl who imagines herself to be Rosa Parks and other inspiring women throughout the day. (My tests were done on the Nook Color.

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Others, like the e-book version of Bad Dog, Marley! by John Grogan, try to be primitive video games with animation components that have nothing to do with the text and little to do with the story. (Pick up the cookies! Watch the father’s pants fall down!) As a video game it is mindless.  But adults may think they are purchasing a book, not a video game. The interactivity does nothing to advance the story line or help children engage with the text. 

Shout! Shout It Out! by Denise Fleming turns up the volume on engagement. Children will gleefully follow the author’s directions to shout out the number and colors found illustrated in cheerful collages on each page spread. Ear plugs not included.

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