Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kids Ebooks. The Good and The Bad.

I'm still not completely sold on kids ebooks.  I've downloaded quite a bit of books from various sources and my biggest problems are that the pictures are small, the text is small, the pictures are animated, the formatting is often poor, and they keep on trying to read the book for me.  

Small pictures and small text is an inherent problem and there isn't much that can be done about it.  Books are better, but still not great, on a tablet, though many times all the of the screen isn't being utilized due to formatting.  Either because it was scanned from a book, there is excess navigation on the screen, or it was formatted for a phone instead of a tablet.  I have found that ebook apps, versus ebook files (epub, kindle, etc) or web pages tend to have the best quality.

I'm probably in the minority here, but I don't like the animations, or as my daughter calls them, the "wiggly pictures", either.  I get a bit over-stimulated and it seems like the book starts becoming more of a television show than a book. Especially if the pages are being turned automatically, and the story is being narrated by the device.  However my older daughter seems to prefer it.  We were reading 50 Below Zero on Tumblebooks, a Robert Munsch book that we have read before, and my daughter asked me why the pictures were moving and then said, "That is pretty cool."  I know that lots of people expect some sort of interactivity when purchasing an ebook because I see the negative reviews when an ebook doesn't have it, but I personally prefer an ebook to be without it.

Again I am probably in the minority but I don't really like read-to-me functionality.   I know that you can usually turn it off, but it is often the default, and then my kids won't let me turn it off because they like it better.  I think that it takes away from the social aspect of reading and makes it harder to stop and discuss the pictures or the story.  When a kid pipes up with a question it is hard to answer it because you can't talk over the voice, and by the time you fumble to find the pause button it is on to the next page. The book Mind in the Making has a great chapter about how the social interactions, commentary and discussion that happen while reading, helps children draw connections and makes them better creative thinkers and problem solvers.  

Despite these issues I can see the promise in kids ebooks.  Ebooks overshadow their book counterparts when it comes to the immediacy of being able to obtain them.  Sometimes the books that you have in the house are just getting a bit boring, and it is nice to be able to open up your local library's website and be able to pull up Tumblebooks or Blio and read your kids some new stories.  The read-to-me functionality shines in the instances when you are not able to read to your kids, and you need them to be self-sufficient for a period of time.  Also ebooks are a great avenue for new authors (including myself) and illustrators to distribute their work.

We'll keep on exploring kids ebooks and look forward to them improving in quality, but we'll also maintain our regular trips to the library to stock up on new picture books.

What do you think about ebooks for kids?  Love them, don't like them, indifferent, or waiting for them to improve?  Do you think they could completely replace picture books?

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