As you all know, I love picture books. So when I got this link for a digital picture book, I had to check it out. (The link is at the end, since I want you to finish this before you click. ) It heralds the possibilities of moving books from paper to digital form — possibilities for word play, matching, watching, and story telling. Young readers will be able to read not only left to right, but also see words moving right to left and up and down. Words can appear and disappear, or letters can glide into a word. Both pictures and words can move in any direction (often off the screen, so there’s a lot of scrolling to keep up with.) The producer of this book (Can I call him/her an author?) points out that paper picture books are limited to only one dimension, and are unidirectional and static. The producer tells us that two things can remain in the move to digital books: The reader reads and the reader controls the story. By controlling the story, I assume we’re talking about turning pages or clicking buttons.
So is the digital book better? I’m asking my self what the difference is between such a digital book and an animated story with subtitles. Picture book artists such as Thomas Locker, Ruth Heller, Patricia Polacco and too many more to mention offer not only a story, but a rich visual experience that would not seem to lend itself as easily to animation as maybe the work of someone who is simply bold and colorful. I would think it difficult for the subtle tones of work done in oils to come through as intensely in digital form as on paper. So I believe these digital picture books might rob young readers of a more desirable artistic experience.
As to the multi-directional feature, it seems to me that this sort of reading is not good preparation for learning reading fluency and developing the necessary skill of reading from left to right. I think reading from left to right is a good thing — especially for the young picture book crowd. Some of the multi-dimensional effects gave me a headache as pictures zoomed in and out. I guess, though, that today’s children are used to that.
One virtue of these books is supposed to be that they offer opportunities for word play, matching, and watching. I think paper picture books can match that. Check out Marvin Terban’s books on word play. Or try The King Who Rained by Fred Gwynne (This link enlarges the image at left.) It’s full of illustrated homophones that will promote a chuckle. (It can be found with other concept books here.) As to matching, you don’t really need a story. There are already many games in boxed or digital form that offer that. As to watching, that’s also been done very well on paper. Go back to one of my older blogs and read the review of Over the Steamy Swamp. In that book, every one is watching and being watched. Another book that involves watching is Rosy’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. It’s humor and irony will have young readers chuckling as they watch the fox watch the hen.
The last proposed advantage of the digital book is story telling. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Any decent paper picture book tells a story, though some are definitely better than others. If the idea is that it encourages a child to tell a story, there are books that do that, as well. A good example is Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. This wordless picture book follows a woman from the moment she gets out of bed, hungry for pancakes, until she finally eats them at a neighbor’s house. We watch her put on her apron, begin mixing ingredients, gather eggs, milk the cow, churn the butter, go out and buy syrup, walk home with dreams of mixing and cooking and eating the pancakes, and arrive back to find her cat and dog have spilled the milk and broken the eggs. As she thinks of the pancakes she dreamed of, flying away from the platter, she smells her neighbor cooking some and decides to go and visit. Have your child “read” you this story if he’s not a reader yet, or write the story to go with the pictures if he’s learning to put his thoughts on paper. It requires imagination to “read” this book.
I suppose though, that the main reason I prefer paper is that paper encourages a child to linger over the pictures to appreciate the details, anticipate what comes next, and maybe even discuss the book with the person who might be reading it to him. Digital books, at least in this example, encourage speed and constant moving to keep up with the action. Although the producer says the child controls the story by clicking the “next” button, I imagine the child is in the habit of clicking next as soon as he finishes a screen, rather than lingering. So which is the most interactive experience? Clicking the button or actually turning physical pages. Watching a screen and clicking, or talking to a real person who may be reading the book to you and discussing it as you go along. I’ll take the book, preferably on the mom’s lap with the child or children cuddling up to her as she leads them on an imaginative journey.
And now that link you’ve been waiting for to see the book.