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Tech Report – Disney Digital Books

By Michael Connolly

Disney today unveiled a new service from its Publishing division that it hopes will revolutionize how parents and young children interact with its library of classic storybooks.

Disney Digital Books is a subscription-based web site where families can access over 500 of Disney's titles in digital format. Everything from Beauty and the Beast to Toy Story to Wizards of Waverly Place is available at the touch of a mouse and can be read – and in some cases listened to – right there on the computer screen.

The service is aimed at 3 to 12-year-olds and is organized by reading level. Level 1 has over 230 titles and includes all the classics that young children know so well. Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Tinker Bell and Sleeping Beauty are all there, along with books from recent Disney movie successes such as Ratatouille, Cars, and Wall-E. Levels 2 and 3 have 154 and 124 titles respectively, although older kids can expect a heavy diet of Hannah Montana, Pirates of the Caribbean, and High School Musical.

There are also 20 titles under a "Look and Listen" category for very early readers, where the books are read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music and sound effects. The pages of the books for younger children are beautifully illustrated and many of the titles come with trivia questions where kids can earn points for correct answers.

Once a book has been selected, it automatically opens and an interactive pen appears. The pen is used to turn each page and can also help children understand individual words. Click the pen on any word and a voice will pronounce it, even where there is no read-aloud service. Open the dictionary in the top left-hand corner and a click will pronounce the word and bring up easy-to-understand definitions.

Children can track their personal reading history on Disney Digital Books, as well as use the Story-Builder feature to create their own Disney stories. Parents can log-on to check their child's reading activity and leave encouraging messages. There is also a points system, which awards merits for completing books and answering trivia questions, although it appears you only have to click on the last page to be credited with finishing the whole thing!

Disney currently has a free trial that includes 7 titles, one Look and Listen book (Toy Story), and one Story-Builder activity. Annual membership, which allows up to 3 children to log-on separately, is $79.95 or there is a monthly option at $8.95.

As a Disney spokesperson said: "This isn't going to replace snuggle time with a storybook" but if you want to encourage your children to read and don't mind a healthy dose of Mickey and Friends, then this is a great site to turn to!

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