11 great apps for reluctant readers

There are so many exciting demands on children’s leisure time, from XBox to YouTube, Playstation to streaming programmes and films, that reading a book can sometimes seem to be the most boring option for our switched-on youngsters. Just because a child can read certainly doesn’t always mean they want to do so! This is a great shame and means they are missing out on an activity that could enable them to aspire to a well-paid career, help them with stress and anxiety and be a constant source of enjoyment for the rest of their lives.

All reading is good reading and if great apps help books to be a more exciting prospect then let’s exploit this as much as we can!

Reading on tablets or devices has at times been viewed negatively, both in the press and by individuals, and the jury’s still out on whether screen reading has the same memory and recall benefits as reading from paper, but personally I don’t mind which medium kids use to access great stories. All reading is good reading (I know there are many that might disagree with this - just my opinion!) and if great apps help books to be a more exciting prospect then let’s exploit this as much as we can! It’s often assumed that it’s mainly boys whom are reluctant readers, but I’m increasingly being told that this is not the case and far too many young women never read. There are brilliant, well-made apps out there that can help:


Me Books (iOS and Android)

This one’s for younger readers or older kids who enjoy picture books and comics. The app itself is free but then you purchase books and comics to sit within it. You can either have the books read to you or record your own narration, creating ‘hotspots’ over certain areas of the pages with added sound effects, descriptions, etc. if you wish. The narrations are very good; one book even has Delboy himself, David Jason, as the narrator.


Captain Underpants (iOS and Android)

Dav Pilkey’s irrepressibly humorous book series has long been beloved by children looking for a funny read with plenty of toilet humour to keep them happy. Scholastic’s app version has been very well designed and retains the cheeky, laid-back feel of the books. There are several games included in the app that feature the characters in the book. All are fun, but I suspect the sound generator where you create your own ‘music’ using – ahem – ‘wind’ sounds and toilet flushes will be the most popular! The app book itself is colourful and you can choose either to have it read aloud to you or to read it with the narration switched off. You move on to the next page by swiping across the screen and the next page appears seamlessly on the screen, not with a typical page turn but smoothly transitioning though the story.


Marvel Reads (iOS only)

Not one app but several, themed on the characters from the always popular superhero comics and films. The apps feature stories not in comic form and are narrated by none other than Marvel founder and legend Stan 'The Man' Lee (we’re so not worthy!). Games are included but they appear during the course of the story so that children’s interest in reading on is not diverted. Interactive and engaging, any lover of Spiderman, the Avengers and Iron Man will quickly become engrossed in these apps, probably without realising that they are - gasp - reading.


Fighting Fantasy (iOS and Android)

The app versions of Ian Livingstone’s choose-your-own-adventure book series are just as much fun to find your way through as the books are. Clicking to throw a dice decides your path and there are rewards and accessories to collect on the way. Available as both iOS and Android apps, you can purchase them as an app bundle on the Apple app store at a reduced price. Sound effects add to the fun and more apps are being added all the time for those with an increased reading appetite.

The app is almost magical in its interactivity, the illustrations are gorgeous and a musical soundtrack reinforces the mood of the text.


The Incredible Tales of Weirdwood Manor (iOS only)

Weirdwood Manor is described by its makers as a ‘living novel’ with picture book, game and animated film elements. There are 6 books available via the app that continue this fantasy story for 8 - 12 year olds. The app is almost magical in its interactivity; the illustrations are gorgeous and a musical soundtrack reinforces the mood of the text.


Brush of Truth (iOS and Android)

This interactive choose-your-own-adventure story is fantastic for 8-12 year-olds. In the story, you and your sister have just discovered an abandoned paintbrush on a beach, and soon realise that it has the power to bring life to whatever the user paints with it. The discovery takes the two of you on many different adventures, and with 20 possible endings, there’s plenty here to keep young minds hooked.


The Guardian of Imagination (iOS only)

In a world that has lost all of its colour the dreams of the inhabitants are locked into chests and hidden away from them as imagination is banned. You are invited to explore the hidden store and read all of the stories kept there, looking out for keys as you read - you will need one to unlock the next story. You can read the stories in a choice of 5 languages; there are hidden objects to be found, interactive illustrations to colour and many more surprises.


Meet Heckerty (iOS and Android)

First of seven apps about a lovable green-faced witch and her cat, Zanzibar. They are easy on the eye and the text appears on a cream background, which is a particularly comfortable reading experience for Dyslexic readers. Parent/Teacher tips and colouring pages are included within the app and the stories can be purchased in paper book form too. 


Reckless (iOS only)

This is based on author Cornelia Funke’s fantasy novels set in Mirrorworld. In order to access the stories you have to go through the mirror; the app uses the device’s camera to create a reflection of yourself before you swipe to enter. The app was developed in close collaboration with the author, who also narrates the stories. There are 16 different stories and experiences included and this would be a good app to encourage young people to go on to read the books.


Hilda Bewildered (iOS only)

Princess Hilda is about to make her first public speech and she is scared. A young pickpocket, also called Hilda, gatecrashes and steals a valuable ring from the event. Readers are encouraged to judge for themselves which parts of the story are fantastical and which are true. Staying on a page for longer and tapping persistently is rewarded by extra content, which includes make up and fashion tips. Touching on ‘More’ on the main menu page leads you online to comprehensive author/illustrator notes that further explain/add to the story.


Book Creator (iOS and Android)

Sometimes one of the easiest ways to encourage children to read can be to get them to write their own book, researching facts first if need be. Book Creator gives you an easy-to-navigate suite of tools to create an interactive book or comic strip that can include freehand drawings, sound files, videos, pictures and text. The finished article can be as simple or complicated as your child chooses to make it.

All of the above apps really draw you in and help to immerse you in their stories. Reading them is a delight and both engaging and fascinating for tweens, teens and beyond. I’ve spent many a happy hour finding my way through these apps and hopefully they have the power to hold the interest of young people reluctant to lose themselves in text alone.

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.