What Makes a Good Children's Book App?

I have different views on what makes apps for younger children useful than I have on apps for older kids. There are some commonalities naturally: spelling or grammar mistakes make an app an absolute no-no for me and any hint of sexism (‘a great adventure story for boys’) turns me off straight away.

These apps give a novel twist to reading that is exciting and engaging

For younger readers I prefer interactivity that is kept within the flow of the story - you want to encourage children to listen to a whole story, not break off to play games. Some app developers, like Nosy Crow, are very skilled at building extra content into the actual story; this gives more opportunity for interaction between the adult and child and helps embellish story events. I still like to use picture book apps in a similar fashion to reading physical books with young children, snuggled up together or reading the book aloud to a group. If there’s too much game playing the story can get sidelined and children’s attention is fragmented. Bright, colourful illustrations are key too, and humour and repetitive text perennially popular. Being able to turn the sound on or off is very helpful: you can leave it on when you are tired and just want to listen to a story or turn it off when you want to read to your child. Text that highlights as it is read aloud is a definite bonus because it can help children to recognize words and develop their vocabulary.

With apps for older children my viewpoint changes because interactivity and games can play very well to their butterfly minds - dipping in and out of a story can be very enjoyable, and less challenging for reluctant readers than expecting concentrated reading of great chunks of text. Any book app aimed at reluctant reader young adults needs to offer a different experience to picking up a book in order to entice them away from their computer games and social media, as well as having an exciting story. Special effects can encourage older readers to explore classics that they would not normally tackle, and using a quick game as a reward for reading on works well for some kids. I particularly love apps that build on physical books, perhaps exploring a world further, so that they act as a supplement to reading the book.

Trawling my device, I found some apps that I think demonstrate what a good story app looks like for me:

The Monster at the End of This Book (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire)

This fun app for young children features beloved Sesame Street character Grover and is very much in keeping with the bright, cheerful mood of the TV show. The pages turn with a very satisfying sound as though it is a paper book you are reading. The words appear on the screen and are highlighted as Grover reads them aloud, and as you turn pages you have to untie ropes and break down walls that Grover puts up to try and prevent you from finishing the book. I was giggling aloud at every page! Whenever I have enjoyed this app with young relatives there is always a chorus of, ‘Again!! We want to read it again!!’ Who is the monster? I think I’ll leave you to find that out yourself!

Anything that entices young people to enjoy a story is definitely a good thing: all reading is good reading after all.

Classic World Tales Trilogy (iOS)

These three stories from Moving Tales Apps - The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, This Too Shall Pass and The Unwanted Guest - are beautifully produced and are nuanced enough to make them relevant and interesting for kids of all ages. There are no games included but the moving elements on each page of these traditional folk tales keep your attention and add to the stories. The Unwanted Guest is the best, in my opinion, because it is a great story about how a peasant man is forced out of his home by a ‘monster’ in his attic - we soon discover that this ‘monster’ is a physical manifestation of his poverty. The 3D effects in these apps are very well executed and they have an almost cinematic feel with different camera angles each time you open the app. As you turn the page letters free fall into place to form the text in a gentle, slow manner that is very relaxing to watch.

iClassics Collection (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire)

This suite of 11 apps from iClassics Productions aim to provide an immersive reading experience for the works of classic authors - Edgar Allen Poe, Dickens, HP Lovecraft, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Washington Irving and Oscar Wilde. The graphics included are very high quality and the sound effects and music really add to the overall experience. The iPoe apps are satisfyingly creepy and atmospheric. Effects that encourage you to read certain pages via moving a pool of light akin to a torch, and recreate dismembering a body (!) certainly keep you focused on the screen…

Mirrorworld (iOS)

Building on author Cornelia Funke’s Reckless and Fearless novels, Mirrorworld provides the reader with an eerie, immersive reading experience. There are 17 separate adventures included in the app and because they're short stories it’s a good app to dip in and out of. The illustrations are lush and the sounds add to the mood of the tales.

Book apps will never take the place of paper books for me (the smell of new pages is far too addictive!) but these apps are certainly enjoyable and give a novel twist to reading that is exciting and engaging. Anything that entices young people to enjoy a story is definitely a good thing: all reading is good reading after all.

Enjoyed this blog from Bev? Check out her Apps for Literacy series, which gives recommendations for all kinds of reading and writing apps as well as exploring accessibility features of tablets.

Top photo by William Iven on Unsplash

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.