iPad as picture book

March 18, 2011

For generations, reading a picture book worked one way: Place a child on your lap, crack the book’s spine, turn the pages and begin narrating the story of Curious George, Max and the wild things or Sam-I-am and his dislike of a certain breakfast.

Now that ritual has been upended by the soaring popularity of young children’s book apps for the iPad. Earlier this week, eight of the top 10 paid book apps on iTunes were picture books. Today’s digital-native children seem keenly interested in a story told to them on a 10-inch screen with a finger’s swipe to reach the next page.

But wait, there’s more: Pop-ups! Music! Puzzles! Matching games! You can hear a background of squeals during Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (Oceanhouse Media, $2.99). With classic Dr. Seuss books, you touch an object on the screen and its name appears 3-D-like as a narrator sounds it out.

It’s a different experience for the reader used to bound books. Will they soon be obsolete as children crave more than just text from their stories? Parents also like the convenience of whipping out an iPad to entertain a bored child. As the tablet’s popularity soars, predictions of the picture-book industry’s doom are inevitable.

But industry experts, including Jewell Stoddard, a children’s book buyer at Politics and Prose in Northwest Washington, are not convinced that the rise of iPad picture book apps means the demise of book publishing. Stoddard reads four newspapers a day on her iPad, but no books. “For one thing, the interactive features are very distracting,” she says.

Carisa Kluver, editor and founder of Digital Storytime, a three-month-old Web site that reviews children’s book apps, says digital and paper books play an equally important role in her home. As bedtime nears, her 4-1/2-year-old son, Van, will ask: “Can I have two iPad books and three regular books tonight?”

Kluver spends about three hours with every children’s book iPad app she reviews, rating each one on animation, sound quality and readability, among other characteristics. The best apps, she says, don’t let interactive features get in the way of a good plot. “It’s got to tell a story that is meaningful after all the bells and whistles have stopped.” She gives low ratings to apps that stop the book in the middle of a story to play a matching game or provide some other distraction. “That’s for after.” She also resists book apps that are overly produced with the same “20 seconds of music played in the background over and over again.”

Here are a few picture book apps worth downloading:

The Going to Bed Book , by Sandra Boynton (Loud Crow Interactive, $2.99)
Sandra Boynton’s first digital book app is faithful to the board book experience, with interactive pop-ups on every page, almost too many. But children will love touching the hot water faucet and seeing the screen fill up with steam.

Dr. Seuss classics (Oceanhouse Media, $1.99 to $3.99).
More than a dozen are available for download, including The Cat in the Hat , Hop on Pop and The Lorax . Lots of pop-up words on every page may distract some children, but the words also may inspire early readers. Either way, the animation and narration are cool.

Miss Spider’s Tea Party, by David Kirk (Callaway Digital Arts, $7.99)

The lonely spider in the title doesn’t understand why bugs don’t want to hang out with her. This app has beautiful animation and a slew of interactive features, including puzzles and matching games that won’t distract the reader. Kluver gives it a less enthusiastic review, describing the narration as “syrupy” and nixing the plot. “It creeps me out a little that she wants to serve them tea,” she says. “The other bugs should be afraid of her.”

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit , by Beatrix Potter (Loud Crow Interactive, $3.99)
This beautiful app comes as close to a pop-up book on a screen as is possible. Slide the tabs and watch Peter squeeze back and forth under Mr. McGregor’s garden gate. Touch Peter or one of his siblings, and they’ll squeal or gurgle. British narration and soft piano music strike the right tone.

Teddy’s Night and Teddy’s Day, by Bruno Hachler and Birte Muller (Auryn, $3.99 each)
These two apps have many interactive features you won’t be able to resist before swiping to the next page. Despite that, they are sweet stories narrated by a little girl who reveals her teddy bear’s secret doings. The animation is full of vivid primary colors to dazzle the youngest readers.

Liz Seymour is editor of the Post’s Local Living section.

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