The Case for Interactive Children’s Books

Children today are more adept at technology than their parents, having more familiarity with devices that they have been exposed to since birth. Much is written on the dangers of screen time for children; however, in reaction to the reality of almost constant and unavoidable media exposure, investigating bodies have reevaluated this stance. With children having access to books within the palm of their hand, there are an increasing number of ways in which publishers can appeal to a new generation of readers. Interactive reading can change the manner in which children learn and is something that publishers must fully take advantage of in order to build new readers from a young age upwards. In accordance with research, digital reading in this essay will refer to reading of fiction, non-fiction, and news on portable devices both within the classroom and at home.

The reliance of technology to occupy children has been greatly discussed, especially when devices became increasingly portable and present in daily life. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released guidelines on screen time that they have since reevaluated with the reality of digital consumption in mind. The AAP is “an organization of 64,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. (AAP About) The research conducted by the AAP referred to by teachers and parents alike to understand the best way to teach and raise children. The original report in 2013 discouraged ‘“screen time” for children under age 2 and limit[s] “screen time” to two hours a day for children over age 2’. (Brown et al) These recommendations were put in place for children under 2 as a “child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens”. (AAP, Media and Children) In a literature review by Natalia Kucirkova, much of the early research into the negative effects that digital reading has on education was contradictory. Kucirkova goes on to explain that “carefully designed studies…can challenge some common assumptions on the role of technology in early years”. (Kucirkova) As the reality that “screen time” was almost unavoidable, with the convenience of smartphones and the constant presence of monitors in restaurants and stores, limiting “screen time” was no longer practical. The AAP released a second set of guidelines in 2015 that recommended ways for parents to interact with children and media in a safe and realistic way. More attention was paid to teaching appropriate limitations to children and teens in order for them to deal with the barrage of media. (Shapiro) This change is significant for publishers who can take advantage of a technology that is no longer seen as detrimental to children’s learning.

Digital reading provides easily accessible content and alternate learning methods for children who are either starting to read or are interested in reading outside of the classroom. For publishers this opens multiple opportunities to appeal to young readers and to help in learning. Children reading on devices are consuming a much wider range of material than those who read primarily in print. Research conducted in the United Kingdom by the literacy trust, delivered in a report called “The Impact of eBooks on the Reading Motivation and Reading Skills of Children and Young People”, indicates changes in reading habits brought out by the increasing availability of eReaders and tablets. The news for example, was more likely to be read by children on a tablet or smartphone than in print. (Picton 7) This shows that publishers have a wide variety of options in producing digital learning and reading opportunities beyond literature. In research conducted with parents and children into how young readers enjoyed interactive, digital reading, researchers found that “immersing young children in eReaders, eBooks, and apps, help develop their concepts and vocabulary” to prepare them for school. (Boudo 31) This research was conducted in an attempt to help both children and adults find greater pleasure in reading, and to engage with each other as a family. Many of the persuading factors for eReaders apply just as much to younger readers as older ones. The ease with which one can purchase the next in a series of books means that children reading Harry Potter can continue reading without having to leave the house to purchase the next novel (or wait months until the next one was published). Additionally, children today will no longer have to fear a 700 page Harry Potter book falling on their heads as they read in bed, but can now hold a much lighter device. These factors make reading a more enjoyable experience for children who are able to engage with books more easily than before.

Digital reading has been shown to help children who are disabled or are affected by external influences in ways that would affect their ability to learn and read. The socioeconomic dynamic of reading is an important one. Children from higher socioeconomic households are more likely to read in print, their parents potentially having more time to interact with their families and give children activities outside of a screen. However, for parents who do not have that luxury are more likely to give their children a device such as a tablet or eReader with which they can engage and learn. For children in low-income families, the ability to engage with a wider, more varied, range of books will benefit their education more broadly. Children who are eligible for free school meals (this is used as a rudimentary marker of low socioeconomic households), are almost 20% less likely to read in print that those who do not receive these meals. However, there was little difference between these groups when it came to reading on a screen. (Picton 5) Children within this economic group are more likely to read daily on a digital platform. The importance of this is huge for publishers. If companies who worked well with digital content, like Simon and Schuster, created apps for children or adjusted their books to appropriately be read on a device, they would tap into an audience who are reading daily but might not have access to print books. Children with disabilities also enjoy greater access to easily consumed content through digital reading. In a case study by Barbara McClanahan et al. researchers analyzed a child with ADHD who was learning to read, and found that an iPad aided in the reading process in ways that traditional methods could not. (McClanahan et al. 26) The easily manipulated screen and ability to record their speech to review later was especially effective in engaging the child. This study is not without its flaws, with a sample size of just one, however, it shows the potential for wider research and the positive concepts of digital reading McClanahan et al. explore are supported in other studies. In research conducted by Cori More for example, findings showed that digital reading could enhance the learning process for children with learning disabilities who struggled with traditional classroom methods. More found that interactive features could help children take more control of the pace and method of learning, as well as listening back to their own voice. (More 175) These tactics could be used in the classroom and then repeated at home for enhanced, consistent learning. (175) In addition, interactive reading and learning apps help with social interaction for children of all abilities as it facilitates communication around learning. (175) Digital reading has the ability to aid a variety of readers and publishers must understand the importance of malleable learning when addressing children through devices.

Research shows that publishers should invest in digital reading apps that engage children with interactive elements that enhance the reading experience without distracting from learning. Author of children’s book The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson expressed her reluctance to digitize her book for fear that it would distract from engagement in the text itself. But many believe that interactive learning can enhance a child’s engagement with their reading material, helping associate words with their corresponding actions or objects. (Joshi) Before beginning to address this careful balance, publishing houses must first understand the audience of readers they are trying to reach. Reading among children shows mixed reports of having either increased or decreased. In the US, reports say that reading outside of school has decreased, the Kids & Family Reading Report reports “the percentage of US 6-17 year-olds reading books for fun 5-7 days a week fell from 37% in 2010 to…31% in 2014”. (Dredge) While in the UK it has reportedly increased, according to the UK’s National Literacy trust’s Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2014, the “percentage of 8- to 18-year-olds reading daily outside class was 41.4% in 2014 – up from 29.1% in 2010”. (Dredge) There is some evidence that this increase in the UK comes as a result of more accessible reading on a portable, digital, device. 52.4% of children in the UK report preferring to read on a device, with 38.9% reading daily on screens only, 33.2% reading on both print and screen, and only 27.9% reading daily in print alone. (Picton 6) These figures indicate an accessible market for publishers who are right to take advantage of digital reading in children. There is evidence in research that shows students benefit from digital learning in a multitude of ways. Maria Cahill and Anne McGill-Franzen have written an article on aspects of publisher-developed apps that are most beneficial to younger readers based on research into digital learning. (Cahill and McGill-Franzen 31) Books that contain “high levels of interactivity and media enhancements such as animation, music, and sound…allow for a customized reading experience”, which, as was explored earlier, is beneficial to readers of all abilities. (32) Publishers such as Pearson have introduced apps that engage children with the publishing process in a much more interactive way. Their new app TikaTok allows children either inside or outside the classroom to write and illustrate their own stories, and then publish them in either print or digital format. (Umile) There are also independent apps such as Dandelion that teach children important lessons about “bullying and the power of imagination” (AppAdvice) as well as providing a reading experience. The figures have shown that children are instinctively more likely to read on a device than with print, it is therefore most logical to create books for children on these devices, that can teach them everything print can, but in a more convenient format.

Attitudes towards children and “screen time” are changing, with parents feeling more comfortable with using digital reading to aid in learning. Publishers like Pearson are taking advantage of this shift in learning by incorporating screen manipulation, recorded speech, and interactive aspects into the creation of apps. In appealing to children through devices that they use on a daily basis, publishers can aid in the learning and enjoyment of a new generation of readers.


Works Cited

“Best iPad Children’s Books.” AppAdvice. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Boudo, Lauren, Donna Cavallero, Darlene Hurtado, Krista Ricciardi Pisano, Pat Rutkowski, Susan Smayda, Jill O’Brien, Kimberley Lawther Jackson and Peter Chase. “Children’s Early Literacy Development and Adults’ Positive Disposition Toward Reading Through E-books and Apps”, New England Reading Association Journal 49.2 (2014): 23-32. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Brown, Ari, Donald L. Shifrin, and David L. Hill. “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” AAP News 36.10 Oct 2015. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Cahill, Maria and Anne McGill-Franzen. “Selecting “App”ealing and “App”ropriate Book Apps for Beginning Readers” The Reading Teacher 67.1 (2013): 30-39. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Dredge, Stuart. “Are Tablet Computers Harming our Children’s Ability to Read?” 24 Aug 2015. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Joshi, Liat Hughes. “Should I get my child an e-reader or books for Christmas?” 6 Dec 2013. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Kucirkova, Natalia, “iPads in early education: Separating assumptions and evidence” Frontiers in Psychology 8 Jul 2014. Web. 31 Jan 2016

McClanahan, Barbara, Ed Kennedy, Susan Tate and Kristen Williams. “A Breakthrough for Josh: How Use of an iPad Facilitated Reading Improvement,” TechTrends 56.3 (2012): 20-28. Web. 31 Jan 2016

“Media and Children.” American Academy of Pediatrics, Web. 31 Jan 2016

More, Cori. “Digital Stories Targeting Social Skills for Children With Disabilities: Multidimensional Learning.” Intervention in School and Clinic 43.3 (2008): 168-177. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Shapiro, Jordan. “The American Academy of Pediatrics Just Changed Their Guidelines on Kids and Screen Time” Forbes 30 Sep 2015. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Picton, Irene. “The Impact of eBooks on the Reading Motivation and Reading Skills of Children and Young People.” National Literacy Trust Sep 2014. Web. 31 Jan 2016

Umile, Dominic. “6 Great Reading Apps for Kids” Parent & Child. Web. 31 Jan 2016


3 Replies to “The Case for Interactive Children’s Books”

  1. Dear Zoë,

    I’m very glad to have read your essay, as it covers a topic I’m personally very interested in. Your argument in favour of interactive children’s books is well-researched and persuasive, and your essay is concisely and, for the most part, clearly written. I especially appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of your sources; by citing psychology, business, technology, publishing, and education research, you make your argument even stronger and more convincing than it would be otherwise. I also enjoyed the breadth of the content you cover. You explore how interactive technologies can benefit kids’ learning and engagement with text, both in school and at home. You note important applications of tablets and interactive books, such as using them to help children with learning disabilities learn or making reading more accessible for children of lower socioeconomic classes. This wide-ranging applications were interesting and thoughtful, and helped put your findings into perspective.

    Other aspects of your essay, however, I think you could have taken further. For example, you suggest that digital reading is more affordable than print, but don’t address the obvious counterargument: that the cost of buying a tablet or ereader might be prohibitively high for some families. Perhaps this is not the case at all, but to someone who isn’t as well-versed in the literature as you are, this might not be clear. In a similar vein, you write that “attitudes towards children and “screen time” are changing,” but don’t fully explain when this change started to occur. Was there some pivotal moment that turned the debate around? Or, was the change more gradual—simply a result of the increasing presence of technology in children’s lives?

    While you do an excellent job of outlining applications for children, I felt you could have elaborated more on applications for publishers. Certainly, the implications of the research are, as you say, “significant for publishers who can take advantage of a technology that is no longer seen as detrimental to children’s learning.” However, I wish you would have elaborated on how exactly publishers can/should apply these findings. You mention Pearson’s success, of course, but I’m curious to know which other publishers are doing it right. And is Simon & Schuster the only publisher you think could benefit from creating interactive books? Surely there must be more. I also wonder how publishers who are interested in “taking advantage” of these technologies can afford the high costs of producing them. Are there grants available for this kind of publishing? And are those grants sufficient? If not, what other options do publishers have?

    Finally, there were some typos and grammatical errors throughout your essay (which are understandable, given the pile of assignments we have to deal with). I’ve noted some of them using—not to be picky, but to give you the chance to correct them. As I mentioned earlier, I think that your essay is well-written and well-researched, and that your argument is sound. It would be a shame if your excellent overview of such an important topic were taken less seriously simply because of a few minor errors.

    Okay, that’s all from me. Thanks for an interesting read!

  2. This is a very well researched essay that offers a lot of evidence to support its main argument. After reading it, it is hard to argue that publishers should not be moving aggressively into this space—if not with changes in what they develop, with changes in how they present their children’s offerings to parents. Although it falls short on some of its formal writing elements (see annotations), it remains a persuasive essay.

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