I love storybook apps because they make stories come to life and encourage a life-long love for reading. In the pre- and early-reading stages, kids can’t sit down with a good book and read it on their own. The animation, sounds, and highlighted text of storybook apps take reading to the next level and provide an educational yet entertaining way for children to experience stories and books for themselves. While apps are not a replacement for storytime with mom and dad or letting them flip through pictures independently, it is a nice supplement that allows them to control the reading experience. As any parent knows, kids feel empowered and confident when they do things themselves. My son enjoys reading storybook apps with me, independently and to me.
I have generally discussed the appropriate use of apps with preschoolers in my previous post, but I must note that I introduced my son to reading with traditional books. My son loves storytime and sitting with picture books and graphic novels alone. I would recommend starting with reading before bed and going to storytime at your local library. I would also recommend waiting to introduce storybook apps after your child has developed a strong love for reading or you have discovered you’re child just won’t sit still long enough to finish a book. I think these apps can be used to draw and hold the attention of kids who don’t have the attention span for books. I think, however, they can be detrimental to kids who would have enjoyed reading regular books but start with a storybook app and get addicted to the interactive or animated nature of the book. Also, reading to your kid isn’t just about learning, it is also about bonding. So don’t skip that bedtime story. Storybook apps are still screentime, not storytime or independent “reading” time.
My list includes choose-your-own-adventure, books the incorporate educational games and books that are down-right fun. Before I dive into my 7 favorite storybook apps, let me tell you a little more about why I love the apps on my list.
Animation Sparks Memory
While you are probably hesitant about too many bells and whistles in apps for your wee ones, animated illustrations are one worry you can scratch off your list. Although animation on TV probably does nothing for your child’s literacy, they sure do know exactly what happens in their shows. The same is true in animated books. In fact, two scholarly articles reviewing a wide range of research studies about e-books, one published by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the other by Developmental Review, found that animated illustrations that are linked to the storyline and text of the book can help your child better comprehend the story. This is because simultaneously processing information verbally and visually, helps children learn and retain information better. Don’t get too relaxed though, unrelated animation that is purely for entertainment without having direct relevance to the progression of the story, is a distraction. So, I look for storybook apps with animation that are well-integrated and consistent with the core message of the story.
Background Sounds Provide Context
Two more surprising items you can scratch off your list are sound effects and background music. Studies have shown that background sound – the sound of knocking on a door, birds whistling, or an engine running – are also processed in the visual/pictorial channel, not as sound. Therefore, like animated illustrations, they enrich the story and make it more memorable. In addition, research suggests that nonverbal music also helps with reading comprehension because it helps the child understand the character’s feelings.
Highlighted Text Focuses on Literacy
It is no surprise that highlighted text is a great tool in storybook apps. Studies
demonstrate that such features improve print knowledge such as word recognition and letter-reading skills. My little emerging reader is always trying to follow-along with books and the highlighted text makes it easy for him to see the words as they are read on the page.
So, with these three key elements in mind. Let me present the 7 best storybook apps for kids:
This classic book is wonderful in physical form and so fun to read. But, the app takes the book to the next level. Your child gets to tap on the chains and bricks to knock down the walls and hurdles Grover built to stop him from turning the pages. It’s its kind of like story time with Grover in your own home, which is AWESOME. The app is fun and the words are highlighted and even pointed out in the beginning. I love how the words themselves are interesting with different fonts and colors. I especially enjoy how the words actually appearing as they are read, rather than merely being highlighted. The animation in this book focuses on what matters, the words and the storyline. My son has enjoyed this app for a while. Parents have trusted Sesame Street for a long time and it is no surprise that Common Sense gave it 5-Stars. This is one of the first apps I purchased for my son and it entertained him for a good 2 years. Now, he seems to be a little tired of it, which happens with books sometimes. However, there is a sequel to this book, which is a great way to extend the fun when interest wains.
My son loves this create-your-own-adventure book. I loved these as a kid, too. As we all know, preschoolers love to be in control and this book allows them to do just that. They get to choose the main character, the location of the story, and what they find. It also helps expand their vocabulary by defining words throughout the story. The story your child has created is stored on their virtual bookshelf where they can read it again and again. The great thing about this app is that there is variety. There are a lot of great stories out there but when you have to think about storage space, you can’t have 20 storybooks saved on the iPad. Further, even the best story can get old. So, I love this book for the variety, control of the story line and the vocabulary building tools. There are no in-app purchases, upgrades or advertisements.
This is another classic book that was beautifully adapted into an app. Each page has many items that will animate when tapped and there is a quiz incorporated into the app. It’s fun, educational and interactive. The Cat in the Hat was mention in the International Reading Academy’
s article, stating it is an example of how hotspots in e-books can be especially effective in helping children understand books. My son loved this book for a while but lost interest after a reading it a gazillion times. Its a great app but it doesn’t have longevity because it doesn’t have a lot of variety.
Little Cricket has done a great job of making interactive books. I have the Witch with No Name on the list but I think any of their books would be fun. They are all stories that require the reader to solve educational puzzles and games to help the main character move along in the story. It draws the reader into the story and makes reading even more fun. In addition, the activities in this book develop children’s visual and motor capabilities without sacrificing their understanding of the story. Research has shown that embedding games in storybooks makes them more interested but puts them in a frantic, “game mode” rather than a contemplative, “reading mode.” I’m breaking the rules on this one because I believe the games in this app is designed in such a way to encourage comprehension. These are not random games with the characters, these are tasks that are required to help the main character accomplish her goal of finding her name. The integration of the games into the story is similar to a e-book entitled The Birthday by Sylvia van Ommen. In that story, the children had to drag the letter to a friend or the letterbox of a friend the child to continue the the story. Researchers found that the activity did not place the children at risk for cognitive overload and did not diminish reading comprehension. I think the same is true here. This is a fund and interactive adventure. Little Cricket has several other stories with the same characters and format, which can help extend the fun once interest in this book wains.
This is a choose-your-own-adventure book, which my husband and I both loved as kids. The first time my son played with this app, he systematically went through ever option of the book and enjoyed them all. The story is positive and inspiring. The options keep my son engaged and the graphics and animation are entertaining yet soothing. There are no in-app purchase, upgrades or advertisements. Not only, does this book encourage reading, it makes children aware of choice. Should the main character build his own rocket or go become a space cadet? Both of those options are fun and awesome and allowing your child to experience both helps them understand there are many paths to success.
My son has loved the Magic School Bus for a long time. He loves science generally and dinosaurs, space and anatomy are his favorite science topics. Therefore, this book was a no-brainer. If you are familiar with Magic School Bus books, even the books are a bit much for me. They packed with information in stories, illustrations, and student notes . With so much to see, there is no wonder they kept my son’s attention. The app is no different. There are videos, interactive games, and student reports linked to the topic discussed on the page. Despite all the different ways to explore, it is not frantic or fast-paced. The book is soothing and more of a trip the science museum. There are so many ways to explore. Although the book is obviously designed for older kids, my son loves it. None of the interactivity is frivolous, it is all educational. There is also a Magic School Bus storybook about the ocean but my son is much more interested in this book.
I love how this book is simple yet engaging. The animation that is relevant to the storyline and so much fun. The fact that it incorporates a child’s drawing of a machine helps encourage creativity and engineering. The cats in the book are silly and keep my son entertained.
This is not an exhaustive list of every book out there; its just my favorites. There are a lot of other great books like The Jungle Book and A Parcel of Courage but I have to draw the line somewhere to make room for other areas of interest like writing, art, science, math, engineering and technology. However, I specifically excluded Moo Baa La La La because it was a real disappointment. My son loved the regular book and it seemed like it was going to be educational. Unfortunately, it turned into an annoying sound machine because all he wanted to do was make the animals make noises and move them around. He had zero interest in the story on the app. So, that was money down the drain for me but an important lesson to anyone reading this. You have to pay attention to how your child uses the app. I tested the app before I gave it to him but (silly me) I did not anticipate the crazy, frantic way in which my 4-year old would interact with the app. Kids will be kids and apps are unpredictable. So, make sure you read these books with your kids and enjoy the way they interact with them.