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The pros and cons of interactive picture books

One of the many reasons for the success of the iPad is its ability to reach across generations and appeal to every member of the family. Whether it’s mom or dad catching up on e-mail, or the kids checking Facebook or watching a movie, the iPad is the perfect device for that on-the-move, always-connected household.

Nowhere is this cross-generational appeal more apparent than in the phenomenal growth of interactive picture books. The easy-to-use touchscreen iPad is perhaps the ideal platform for moms and little ones to enjoy some quality time together and explore the sights and sounds of an exciting adventure.

The recent introduction of the Nook Color from Barnes & Noble – and the promise of at least a dozen brand name competitors for the iPad – will further fuel the growth of this potentially lucrative new market. In fact, with B&N also introducing Nook Kids for iPad this week, there are now hundreds of picture book titles available just from that one catalog.

But with this number of interactive picture books to choose from, how can parents make informed choices? What makes one type of interactive book better than another?

Writing in the School Library Journal, children’s librarian and blogger Elizabeth Bird recently proposed a set of criteria for evaluating and selecting picture book apps. Some of the benchmarks, like How well is the art integrated with the text?, would be the same questions that you would ask of a traditional picture book. Others, like Can you skip to different parts of the book with ease?, Can you turn off the narration?, and Can you select different languages?, are more technical and require a certain amount of expertise in navigating both the app and the reading device.

But perhaps the more important question to ask of interactive picture books is Are they going to deliver the same entertainment and learning experience as conventional picture books? and here the answer largely depends on the parent.

There is a huge temptation with iPads and similar devices to just hand them over to kids and let them get on with it. Instead of being a way to provide an additional learning experience, they become a distraction, allowing mommy a buy a little peace and quiet while her toddler enjoys the playful sounds and bright colors.

Used properly, interactive picture books can be a fun and rewarding experience, bringing new life to familiar classics and introducing exciting new characters. But in many ways, interactive books require more input from the parent than traditional books. Otherwise they become just another game.

What’s your experience with picture book apps? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Margaret, posted 1/13/2011, 9:32 AM:

I agree that nothing replaces parent interaction, but YES buying a few minutes to do a load of dishes or laundry with something that is fun and educational (rather than the television) sounds like GOOD PARENTING to me!
Comment by Bianca Severijns, posted 1/12/2011, 7:05 AM:

I believe that “good” Apps will still bond parent and child. We as parents are responsible for choosing an App that is both educational and “play fun”. There are some great Apps in the market, like the “Uqies” App that helps in the development of the child’s EQ in a playful manner. By posing an open question at the end of each chapter, your child is encouraged to discuss a particular emotion or life-quality. This app is a definite learning experience, bonding child and parent!
Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 1/6/2011, 6:56 PM:

Vook, I think is one of the first publishers of interactive picture books. I think they are great because they really do bring everything to life. If they require more input from parents than traditional print books, what's wrong with that? Could be a bonding thing for kids and their parents. Thank you.
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