Thursday, January 24, 2013

Do Interactive Storybook Apps Enhance Or Inhibit a Child’s Reading Experience? by Gerry Renert

As both a writer of picture books in print and ebook formats (“Nathan Saves Summer,” “Nathan and the Really Big Bully”) as well as interactive storybook apps (“Brave Rooney” and the soon to be released, “Brave Rooney and the Supersized Superheroes”) the ever-changing world of digital books is a constant topic of conversation.  Rarely a day goes by when new tablet computers or new mobile technologies are not advertised or editorialized.  I’m not a child psychologist or educational expert, but I do have the benefit of insight gained through reading my print books and playing my interactive book in front of kids at various elementary schools, summer camps, etc.

Ever since I started writing for children’s television and books, I’ve always considered a strong story and relatable characters to be crucial, just as I consider them to be in any form of storied entertainment.  Having a child reader experience the travails of a story, the perseverance of its hero(es) and the satisfaction of achieving a goal has to be helpful in increasing the worldliness of the child, building social skills along with a sense of self-identify.  When I read my books or play my app for a group of kids, I always look to their faces to see how anticipatory they are as to what action they think (or hope) will follow with the reading of each page.  When I’m finished, I open the event up to questions, and I’m especially pleased when the children clearly were taken in by the story and even make up their own subsequent stories or expand on character traits they see in their favorite character. What I’ve noticed, though, is that children seem to appreciate the story and characters much better in an interactive book, but only when the interactive parts are organic to the storytelling and not interactivity that is added in for interactivity’s sake.   

My storybook app, ”Brave Rooneyis about an elementary school of superheroes where one kid, Rooney, happens to be a normal kid, but he ends up showing the superhero kids what it takes to be really brave.  To quickly demonstrate the unfamiliar concept to kids, in the opening of the app all the superheroes fly into school when the reader touches them whereas Rooney walks to school on his first day.  When the superheroes are frightened to read a poem in front of their classmates, they shiver in fear when the child touches each hero.  Expressing this obvious wish fulfillment and over-dramatized fear could never be achieved in a print or ebook.  However, had these interactions not been strongly relatable to the age group or integral parts of the story, they would have had less meaning.   I believe if my software developer, Bacciz LLC, had chosen to add in an interactive element like a game that was only peripherally related to the story, the game would have taken the reader’s focus off character and story – the very elements I see as being so crucial.

There’s no question that interactive books are the wave of both the present and future through increasingly exciting devices like the iPad Mini, the new Android tablets and devices we can’t even envision. Children will be exposed to more digital books and more sophisticated interactivity.  My hope is that publishers, app developers, authors and artists will not get so taken away with the newest software capabilities that the basics of children’s literature, so important to childhood development, will become secondary to the technology.

By Gerry Renert
January 12, 2013
©2013 Gerry Renert

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About Gerry Renert:

I’ve been a writer/TV producer for over twenty years.  I began my writing career when I was eleven years old (under protest) on the blackboard of Miss Peterson’s sixth grade class.  Once out in the real world, I wrote television commercials, which lead to my meeting a TV star who gave me a shot at writing TV sitcoms.  Luckily, I ended up writing episodes for two of the highest rated TV series in the history of CBS Television.  In 2002, I co-created the animated preschool TV series, ToddWorld, which aired in most countries around the world. The series has won three “Parents Choice” awards, an “iParenting” Award and has been EMMY nominated three times for “Outstanding Animated Children’s Program.” My two picture books in the “Nathan Series” have won “Mom’s Choice” Gold Awards.  I’ve been a long-standing member of the Writers Guild of America and am currently president of my own company SupperTime Entertainment.

1 comment:

  1. My son is almost 4yrs old and used to love going to the library and then coming back and reading everything straight away. My throat would get a little hoarse by book 12 but I loved this time together. Unfortunately, in the last year, unless its bed time he's not interested. He doesn't like to just sit and be read to, he needs more involvement. Even with his bedtime stories he asks questions on almost every page. Interactive e-books have been a way round this during the day because they are holding his attention and giving him something to do himself. I also agree that the interaction has to be relevant to the story and if it isn't he gets very bored with it very quickly.

    Anything that will get my son interested in reading and invested in a story is a good thing in my book, but bedtime should definitely be reserved for the physical copy rather than the digital. I see it as an important bonding experience.

    I will definitely be checking out your books, they sound great.