Would you, could you with an app?

Screen grab from Oceanhouse Media

Lynn Neary contributed a story to NPR’s Morning Edition this week on the apps being created for children’s books.  More appalling than this development, however, was Renee Montagne’s introduction to the piece where she reports that “Some kids are getting their very first exposure to books on a digital device.”

Ah!  This is what I am worried about, even more than the absence of books: the absence of parents who take the time to read to their children.  Even Rosie the robot had a more nurturing spirit than many parents these days, whose idea caring for children entails sitting their kids in front of the computer or television alone. When I was growing up we had one t.v. that we watched as a family; we read and were read to; trips to the library were exciting.  Who can foster a love of reading better than a parent?

I’m honestly not too bothered by the children’s book app development–sad out of nostalgia maybe, but nothing more.  Interactive reading devices such as LeapFrog‘s LeapPad and sound books have been around for years and are helpful learning tools for children.  Spelling, pronunciation, and reading skills are all reinforced through their usage, and the apps downloadable for smart phones and the iPad are better versions of these existing technologies.  The voice emanating from the device is no longer the terrifying garble we knew from the Speak and Spell, but a clear, human-sounding voice.  Touch screens allow kids to point to objects on the page to learn more about them.  The enhanced picture books fall somewhere between books, computer games, and the educational programming you might find on PBS.  This is not a bad thing.  It is no replacement, however, for taking time out of your day to read to your child or watch an episode of Blue’s Clues, or whatever it is kids are watching these days.

Neary speaks with children’s librarian Elizabeth Bird on the subject of children’s book apps and she’s not averse to their evolution either:

Obviously, not all apps are equal, she says, but the ones that get it right can take a book to a whole new level.

“They allow you to do things that you couldn’t do before,” Bird says. “For example, there’s a wonderful Peter Rabbit app that’s out right now that sort of turns Peter Rabbit into a virtual pop-up book. And you can go beyond that. I mean, there are apps where you can touch a word and it will pronounce it for you, and it can also pronounce it for you in any language. You can learn a language a second way by using one of these picture book apps.”

Bird doesn’t believe apps are about to overtake books. She says kids move seamlessly back and forth between traditional print books and digital books all the time. If a parent wants to use a book app to distract a child, she doesn’t see a problem with that, either.”

So, it seems in this case I cannot gripe too much about technology encroaching on my bookshelf.  The transcript of this story omits another of Renee Montagne’s comments, however, which I think is very important to the true issue at hand and what we really need to focus on remembering:

“And of course, just like a good old fashioned book, an app works best when a parent and child can enjoy it together.”

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