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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Is it a book or is it an app? 

With World Book Day approaching, it is anticipated that children's literature and its authors will get plenty of coverage - but what about the growing market of digital fiction, e-books and story apps? Recent developments in app design have begun to show the way forward in new interactive texts for young children and work by researchers at the Sheffield Institute of Education and the University of Sheffield has been investigating the potential for using apps in story-sharing activity with young children.  We've seen how size, portability and touchscreen operation make tablets like the iPad attractive to young children and their teachers. And young children enjoy the interactive nature of some of the better story apps, and although it's still early days, the potential for innovative development is clear. Here's three examples of story apps for the iPad that show how the technology can be harmonised with story meaning to offer a strong learning experience for young children. For toddlers, Nighty Night is a great little app in which young children explore a farmyard scene, turning the lights off and saying goodnight to each of the animals (see here for more). This app depends on interaction from the reader who taps the screen in each location to move the story on. For slightly older children, there's a number of different versions of the traditional tale 'The Three Little Pigs' on the market - but the version by Nosy Crow is by far the most engaging and attractive. It's great the way that blowing into the microphone can involve children in the repetitive sequence of 'blowing the house down'. Young children love it! A more sophisticated story, 'The Heart and the Bottle' has been around for a while. It is beautifully illustrated and uses many of the iPad's multi-tasking gestures through a number of puzzles that are woven into the story. My favourite is the way that it uses the built-in accelerometer so that youngsters can create a snowfall by repeatedly shaking the iPad! In short, there are plenty of story apps out there, but these three really show the potential - and that lies in how an app can engage young children, actively involving them in making meaning. They won't be replacing print stories and picture books, but they certainly sit well alongside them. Whether they class as digital fiction, multimedia, or apps seems rather irrelevant. They are good stories, a new kind of book, and their development should be celebrated and encouraged on World Book Day.

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