Books Versus Apps - Is It Really a Competition?

I am a confirmed app enthusiast, but there’s so much controversy over whether an app can ever be as good as a book that sometimes I feel a little embarrassed admitting that in bookish company! I’m working to overcome that feeling though. I don’t think apps should or could take the place of paper books, but for me it’s not an either/or situation. I think we should be embracing both digital and ‘analogue’ reading; both can be an enriching and enjoyable experience. When my own children were small the happiest part of my day was always curling up with them to read a story and when I have grandchildren I will still enjoy this. The story won’t necessarily be in a paper book however, it maybe shared via a screen, and I’m very comfortable with that. Granted you can’t beat the feel and smell of a gorgeously published book (I am often to be found stroking the pages of my illustrated Harry Potter!) but apps have other exciting additions to offer.

Not all apps tell the same tale as their similarly named paper equivalents.

App-rehensive about apps? Try ones that complement rather than compete with the story

Not all apps tell the same tale as their similarly named paper equivalents. Some are designed to complement well known and loved books to enhance kids' enjoyment. The Very Hungry Caterpillar app is a a brilliant example of this - you would need to have read the book to get the most out of this informative fun app, it’s packed full of jigsaws and games to delight any young child. Twit or Miss from Puffin is a fun game that keeps the irreverent humour of Roald Dahl’s The Twits and comes complete with amusing sound effects. Philip Ardagh’s The Grunts now has an accompanying Beard of Bees game app, narrated by the bearded one himself. Hearing the author’s voice definitely adds to the experience.

Interactivity should support the story

Interactive elements in apps can add to the engagement factor but they do need to be well thought out and not distract from the story. The one app that stands above all others for this has to be The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. The story started as a short animated film, then evolved into an app and is now a paper storybook too. The images are quite beautiful and the story is touching and a bibliophile’s dream. Morris becomes the keeper of a house ‘where books apparently nested’ (a library perhaps?!) and lives his life caring for the books and sharing them with others. At the end Morris comes to the end of his own journal and realises it’s time for him to go (sob) but a young girl finds his journal after his ‘departure’ and so the cycle goes on. There is an additional app available, Imag.N.O.Tron, that works in conjunction with the paper picture book and makes the pages come alive on the iPad screen, it really does fill all who see it with wonder.

Apps for young children

For snuggling up and reading a bedtime story to younger children, two of my favourite apps are Nighty Night! and Three Little PigsNighty Night! is a dedicated bedtime story and it’s very gentle and comforting. It is night and all of the people are sleeping, but the animals in the farm need someone to turn off their lights so they can slumber too. Once you have turned off all of the lights there is only one person still awake… you! Then, you are encouraged off to bed. The illustrations are beautiful - I particularly like the duck in the bathtub! Three Little Pigs is from excellent publisher and app developer Nosy Crow. All of Nosy Crow’s apps are wonderfully designed and feature narration from a young child, not an adult. There is some interactivity built into the app but this occurs in the natural flow of the story: you are never taken away to a separate games area, something which irritates me about other apps. Three Little Pigs tells the well-known story in a new way, and the backdrops have a 3D quality that works to enhance the experience. Nosy Crow picture books often have interactive elements added to them as well that can be seen by scanning a code in the book.

Extra elements can help set the scene

Story apps for older children are of a variable quality in my experience but there are some real gems out there. War Horse for one is an app that will always have a place on my device. Included in the app are the full text of the novel, an audio book voiced by the author himself, a full performance of an abbreviated version of the book, an interactive timeline and an Insights page with videos of the author and of WW1 experts discussing the events of the war. So much content is packed in this app, it is a must have. Also, for fans of the fantastical world of Terry Pratchett, Ankh Morpork is a delight, being a virtual representation of Sir Terry’s Discworld with walking tours, a competitive element and facts galore.

Spark interest in old stories

It’s coming up to my favourite time of year so I will finish with some festive app recommendations. I’ve been asked previously what my favourite book of all time is and, although this is almost like asking a parent which of their children they love the most, A Christmas Carol would certainly be in my top 5. There are many app versions of this classic Dickens tale but the Secret Attic version is very well produced with cut out characters, facts about Dickens and the history of Christmas traditions as well as interactive elements on each page. If you want to keep the magic of Father Christmas alive for your children this year I thoroughly recommend you invest in SantaCam FX which allows you to create a video of Santa visiting your home - it looks incredibly realistic. I hope Santa brings you lots of books and app vouchers this year… seasons greetings!

 Loved this post? Read the rest of Bev's series about apps for literacy and reading for pleasure!

Want some more digital reading suggestions? Try our recommended apps for little ones

Bev Humphrey

If you're interested in literacy, Bev is a fantastic person to keep up with on Twitter or through her blog. She is a literacy, school libraries and technology consultant with 10 years' experience of working in school libraries, where she championed her passions for books and technology to inspire young readers. She is also the creator of The Write Path, an ongoing international collaborative writing project which was shortlisted for a TES New Literacy Initiative Award in 2009.