Our guest post is written by Shoham Drori, a mom-with-app from Tel-Aviv who created “The Magnificent Traveling Place” storybook. Her article addresses the debate on the purpose of interactivity in storybooks. Thanks Shoham!
Following 18 intensive months of producing my book app “The Magnificent Travelling Palace” I have finally reached the hardest part of promoting and marketing the app. As previous stages in the development, it is challenging, expensive, and filled with opportunities for mistakes. But in addition, for me, it is the most unpredictable part of the process.
So far the responses for the app were really great, showing a lot of enthusiasm and support. Nevertheless, one of the comments really stirred up my emotions. It said: “We have decided not to review the app; our editor felt it was not interactive enough to fall under our review scope”. A simple, sentence yet I found it to be a cause of concern.
“The Magnificent Travelling Palace” is an experience-based app where you can move and drag the characters, paint, cause objects to fall by tilting the screen, learn new terms, prepare a sweet traditional Indian desert and many more interactive opportunities . Implying the interactions are not enough made me wonder how we interpret interactivity (and specifically, the way we interpret book app interactivity) in this era.
Why create an interactive book app?
The last few years introduced us to amazing interactive devices creating a new reading experience for children. A storybook app can bring life to a written story by enhancing the sensory stimulating experience. In my case, my goal was to create an experience based story which will introduce children to exciting worlds of different cultures. When the iPad was first introduced, I understood this was the perfect platform for sharing the experience I was hoping the “magnificent travelling palace” would be.
Why stay nostalgic for regular books if we can create something new?! This is the essence of the term progress. We can enjoy both old and new worlds of book reading. Moreover, interactive books may be valued for their ability to prompt less motivated young readers toward books reading, communicating in their own new language of images and interactions. But what is the best way to incorporate these advantages? This is a complex controversial question.
Incorporate interactivity into a storybook app
Generally, interactivity is a term representing the ability of a system to communicate with its operator. iPad is an interactive device, not only because the hardware interface includes sensitive touch screen, but because it enables almost a multi-sensory experience (excluding of course smell and taste which in some apps can be almost felt and imagined). The desire to incorporate the iPad’s abilities into book apps is executed via the narrow definition of the term interactivity. The more the child needs to touch the screen, the book app is considered more interactive and in direct correlation is considered to be of higher quality. But when touching the screen becomes the essence of the book’s experience, this is where developers, reviewers, and parents should take a standpoint.
What is wrong with nonstop screen touching in book apps?
We live in a world filled with non-stop rapidly changing stimulation. Our children are flooded with non-relevant information. When it comes to apps, there are no exceptions. People tend to use apps in a hectic way,” jumping” between apps looking for interactions. When developing book apps there is a tendency to supply this demand for a non stop screen touching, while trying to tell a story. The story itself becomes a fair decoration for a game or continuous screen touching without any contribution to the storyline and its progression. This way, we are endowing our children with the same values of frantic behavior, lack of patience, tolerance, and ability to experience a storyline from its beginning to its end.
Researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center wondered how enhanced e-books (e.g. iPad’s book apps) might relate to parent-child storytelling, otherwise known as co-reading. In there research they found that an enhanced e-book was less effective than the printed and basic e-book version in supporting the benefits of co-reading, because it prompted more non-content related interactions. Moreover, enhanced e-books distract adults and children alike from the story, affecting the nature of conversation and the amount of details children recall. Children who read enhanced e-books recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the printed version of the same story.
Is there a right thing to do?
I can’t make a general conclusion representing every aspect of this issue, but I can share with you my beliefs. I strongly believe in preserving the balance between books in their classic form and integrating the amazing advantages introduced by the iPad. “Classic” form means to stay loyal to the benefits of books reading like social and /or emotional values and benefits, sense of adventure, imagination and the integration of positive literacy experience, storytelling, and imaginative thinking. Doing this means that if an active “interaction” does not create another dimension through which the child can deepen his/hers experience, then it is unnecessary.
There is no need in trying to add more and more of these unnecessary interactions. When children focus only on touching the screen looking for the next interaction, the story and values it represents lose their meaning, turning a possibly good children’s book into another interactive non-stop touching activity. When creating a new app we should examine our choices inside the context we live in, not just reflect an existing hectic realty, but rather create a better one. Let us try to do our best creating an interactive reading experience which combines not only story related screen touching but also high quality illustrations, appropriate music, sounds and narration, stimulating the imagination while creating emotional empathy during the story reading process.