Guest blog by Tracy Cooper of Scottish Book Trust.
Books and apps can be, at their best, fantastic, life enhancing and good for you. Both can engage families and inspire creativity, imagination and fun family bonding time. But how do we know which is better? Can we even compare books and apps to each other?
But there’s a huge disparity on the quality of available apps, and it can be difficult to know which one to choose. You might be able to get a preview, but until you purchase or download the app in full, you might not know it’s full content and potential. Like books, there is an overwhelming choice. With a book, it feels a bit easier to flick through, check its content first, and see if the book will appeal to you and your child.
Whose voices are we listening to when we discuss what makes a good app or digital book? Do all young children have access? Can you explore digital books when you’re at the library?
Apps are sometimes free, but if you want to avoid adverts you’ll need to buy them to have control of the technology. If that’s the case, then knowledge of children’s technology experience and preferences is likely to come from families who can afford to enjoy apps.
Technology, like paper and ink, does what we (and that’s usually adults) want it to. Although in different ways, the experience of the story can be manipulated and controlled by both adults and children. But depending of the type of app you’re exploring, can it be more or less restrictive than a book? Likewise, are books more restrictive than apps?
Classic children’s picture books are those that expect the reader to invent and imagine, to recreate the story out loud or in their mind. Great books make connections with children’s emotions, tap into children’s experiences and create new ones.
And a classic app? How do we judge that? Does it leave you space to create or does it fill the gap?
A book with the words ‘la la la’ or ‘baa, baa, baa’ makes you, the reader, make choices about how to make those sounds. Do you sing? Do you imitate a sheep? You – adult or child – have to recreate sounds for yourself. How you interpret ‘la’ or ‘baa’ will depend on the pictures you see alongside them, but will rely on your own ideas about singing or sheep.
If an app turns those words into sounds for you, which you hear by pressing the picture of an animal or a face, you may be momentarily entertained, but the imaginative space to create something new has been filled for you by an app designer who is more excited by what’s technically possible than what creative design can unleash. You’re at the disposal of the app designer’s interpretation.
An app can bring a voice and a sound which you may struggle to vocalise. Children with limited mobility can also enjoy the freedom to explore the story at their own pace. Being able to control virtual turning of pages rather than having to have an adult do it for you brings freedom.
And for an adult with literacy difficulties an app that can read out and highlight words can make story sharing with a child more accessible and appealing. Parents don’t need to worry about their ability level, but instead can focus on relaxing and enjoying the story with their children.
The challenge for all book-inspired or story sharing apps is to recreate the space for the reader to bring their own creativity and interpretation to the experience. And designers need to ensure that those with communication difficulties don’t miss out.
Next time you or your child enjoy a few bells and whistles when you share an app think about your own contribution to that experience. Did you need to bring your imagination to help create that digital story world?
An app could never replace a book, but a book shouldn’t replace an app either. Children need to get to grips with digital technology and interactive storytelling apps are a great place to start. It’s about what the user brings to each experience, and sharing these experiences together can be very rewarding.
If you’ve the technology, then you might want to browse a few apps and test out your critical skills. Scottish Book Trust have a few recommendations for you:
As does children’s author Chris Haughton http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/jan/04/top-10-book-and-bookish-apps-for-children-chris-haughton
And cbeebies, where apps are free! has some good advice: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/grownups/toddlers-and-tablets
Join us on Thursday, 25th February 2016 from 7:30pm-11pm for our 'Spring Into Action' event when Scottish Book Trust will be our guest speakers.
Tickets available here: www.eventbrite.co.uk
Venue: First floor, The Beehive Inn, 20 Grassmarket, Edinburgh, EH1 2JU