Making a Connection With Interactive Children's Books
With the introduction of ebooks and mobile apps to the publishing mix, the concept of "interactivity" becomes even more broadly defined. "The definition is so open at the moment -- everything from audio to coloring-in, virtual lift-the-flaps, to complex gaming mechanics," says Eric Huang, development director for London-based Made in Me, both a distributor and publisher.
"At Made in Me, we run two app bookstores: Me Books and Me Comics," says Huang. "Both apps are free to download, and you get one picture book, or one comic free, respectively. Then, you can go into the in-app shops to buy additional books. We stock content from nearly every major publisher and publish our own content as well."
In the case of Me Books and Me Comics, interactive features come in the form of recordable "hot spots," whereby readers can contribute their own narration, sound effects, and dialog. "The pay-off is that it mimics an age-old behavior of parents and kids reading together -- especially for picture books -- and making up their own stories to go along with the illustrations."
Interactive books -- no matter the platform, and by their very nature -- are adept at multi-reader experiences, engaging both children and adults. "Me Books is all about families reading together and telling their own stories," adds Huang. "A developer in London has also created an app called CARIBU, which is like Skype with a digital book shop. Families can read together, even when apart."
Yet Huang cautions publishers about focusing on those "bells and whistles" more than on the content itself. "I don't think it's necessary that interactive features be built into reading formats -- be they physical or digital. Many publishers fall into the trap of adding so many interactive gaming or animation features into reading experiences that the end result falls short of being a reading experience. Reading and gaming and watching animated content require different states of minds and moods. There must be a good reason to add interactivity to a reading experience."
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