Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Apps and Print Books: Arguments in favor of both

A guest post written by www.curatingbookappmom.com 

I find this ongoing discussion of kids' print vs. book apps is getting old (and tiring). I'm all in favor of print books for children -we have tons of them at home- and I also love the possibilities of this new option: book apps.

One of the main reasons I can give to support the argument in favor of book apps is that in the short term (and the long run), kids can be exposed to more storybooks, as parents can buy 3 to 5 times more book apps for the price of a single print book. If a family bought 10-12 children's books a year for their child -let's say a book per month- you could get 30 or 40 book apps for that money, in less than a month -without having to wait days for a package to arrive through the mail if you've ordered it online, or having to spend on gas to visit the nearest bookstore. They're also handy on a day you can't get to your local library. Needless to say, I'm not sure about the sustainability of current low book app prices for publishers and developers: they might go up in the future, especially the ones that require more complex programming.

Ok, this "low-cost" argument does not favor print publishers, I know. And personally, I am not going to deprive my son of paper books. Both will keep on co-existing at home (even if I'm allergic to dust mites and my mom just threw out my childhood books, that I'd been storing for 30 years, because of the smell). I can't deny I prefer the lightness of paper books for bedtime (simply because I find the iPad a bit uncomfortable to hold on my belly when I'm completely horizontal).

What types of books am I more willing to invest money in buying on paper right now? Pop-ups are one type. Even if interactive books, like the ones described in my blog's first thematic series on "Pop-ups become Pop-out Apps" (with titles like Roxie's Doors, Nash Smasher,  or Game Collage's Three Little Pigs and the Secrets of a Pop-up Book), can provide a new angle to digital books, the tactile and kinesthetic experience of actually unfolding, lifting, and moving the parts on a tangible book is irreplaceable, and kids actually need to practice their motor skills, and experience different materials, textures, shapes, etc. We are physical beings and we are surrounded by a concrete world, our neurological development wouldn't be complete if everything were virtual. But then again, who actually thinks tangible objects are going to disappear because of "e"? That's an apocalyptic vision of the future.

A few months ago I read that novelty books were going to disappear because the new safety regulations make producing them so expensive (they require new testing procedures) that publishers would have to sell them at a prohibitive cost. I really hope this doesn't happen. These are one of my favourite types of books, and I actually admire the creativity paper engineers have. (Is this a dying profession?)

I'd say another type of paper book I'll keep buying is picture books with such great art, that I want my kid to enjoy all the details of it in a big format in print. I downloaded the Animalia book app, by Graeme Base, for example, and I'm sorry, but I find the iPad screen is too small for this type of "find-the-detail", lavishly illustrated book. I know the iPad's high resolution screen allows us to zoom into details in fantasy illustrations like Ciruelo Cabral's Dragons, or Douglas Carrell's dragons in the "Ology"  series. But when compared, I prefer the paper version.

My style of child-rearing is based on providing a variety of experiences -as many as possible, within safety limitations- and the latter is the sort of experience I want him to keep having. (Ok, so I'm an art-junkie and most parents won't be so fixated on illustrations as I am).

But that doesn't take away all the impressive things a book app can do. And that's a different kind of experience I'll be talking about in my blog, conveying what you can expect,  and who is creating the best experiences all around: with engaging stories that don't flop, with illustrations that have a minimum level of quality, with interactions and effects that sit outside what you have previously experienced in children's enhanced or novelty books. If you care about the quality of what you are offering to your child, my blog will tell you which are the best finds in book app titles.

www.curatingbookappmom.com is a new blog by a fomer arts journalist, museum curator, and mother of a 6-year-old avid reader. Please follow her blog if you are interested in quality book apps for your kids, and offer your comments to any of her reviews or reflections on book apps.