Interactivity in ebooks: evaluating apps for kids
Interactivity is a big focus of many ebook designs, and is also getting a lot of the attention in the research on kids and digital media, for good reason. It has tremendous potential for both positive and negative application. And it’s easy to be swayed; some of the designs are beautifully or cleverly done, and it’s easy to lose sight of how they affect a child’s experience of the book in question.
It’s very important to pay attention to interactive elements in apps and ebooks for kids – watch children using them and you will quickly see if those elements enhance or detract from the experience. Based on my own observation, interactivity in ebooks should usually be minimal, and must be very well integrated or it disrupts the flow of the narrative. There’s much more leeway with other types of apps where linear progression is less important and the interactions can be very engaging.
My son loves Popout! The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and most of the interactive elements in that book are pretty subtle and just illustrate actions in the book. But I dread the part with the blackberries, because it pulls him out of the narrative into a blackberry squishing game and disrupts the flow of the story. I’m willing to continue using an app or an ebook with just one strike against it, but it’s totally unnecessary and the book would be better without it. It’s a shame. By contrast, the Callaway version of The Monster at the End of This Book is delightful, and the interactive elements are limited to those that move the story forward. It’s one of my son’s favorites, and one of mine, too.
When evaluating ebooks, make sure that any interactive elements are really enhancing the narrative and not distracting the child from the story, or that they can be turned off in the settings. I recommend saving game-like activities for actual game apps instead of stories.