Category Archives: eBook

App controls: evaluating apps for kids

busThere’s a lot that goes into designing an app or ebook (hello, understatement) and I’m not going to cover every aspect of design, but this is an area where simple details can make or break an app.

Are the controls easy to identify, and where are they located? Are they placed in such a way that a child will be accidentally touching them all the time? Pagination controls for ebooks at the bottom of the screen will frequently be activated by accident. It may not be a disaster, but it takes the child out of the flow of the narrative and makes the reading experience less engaging.

Is it too easy to exit to the menu or other customization features? If these options are available on more than just the home screen, they should be as unobtrusive as possible. Requiring at least two touches to activate a menu is ideal as a guard against accidental exit from the narrative or the app experience. The First Words and First Letters apps handle this very nicely. firstwords The icon that takes you to the options page to change settings is very small and unobtrusive, in the upper corner. Touch it once and it moves to the center of the top of the screen. Touch it again and you exit to the menu. It’s difficult to activate without intention.

The best way to evaluate these issues is to field test with a child. Trust me, if there’s a button, they will push it. I didn’t realize how much of a problem controls on the bottom of the screen could be until I noticed that my son frequently holds the iPad on his lap right against his stomach and his tummy rolls will sometimes activate the controls! I doubt most app designers are thinking about that when they are working on their designs, but it’s the kind of real-world occurrence that you will see over and over when working with kids and technology.

Controls that are needed to successfully navigate the app should be clear, and ideally located at the top of the screen. They should be simple to use, and especially for young children there should not be too many options on the screen at once. A screen cluttered with controls is distracting and diminishes the effectiveness of the app or ebook.


Age appropriateness: evaluating apps for kids

Eric Carle's My Very First App - 3rd levelOne of the first things I think about when looking at a new app or ebook is the age appropriateness. As librarians, we’re used to doing this with books, but digital media add another issue into the mix. Now we’re not just talking about the appropriateness of the content, but the functionality. Does a typical 3-year-old have the dexterity to execute the necessary swipes, taps and other gestures needed to move through an ebook or complete tasks in an app? Are the gestures simple, or is the child expected to do two or more things at once? Are the navigation cues in an ebook clear enough for a young child?

With younger children or those who are just starting out with touch-screen technology, you want any touchable elements to be large and obvious enough that they don’t require too much precision or guesswork, but as children grow and develop they become adept at interacting with the screen and can handle more difficulty.

Eric Carle's My Very First App - Easy levelOlder children may lose interest in apps or ebooks that are too simple for them, but many apps and games have levels or features that allow the app to grow with the child. Eric Carle’s My Very First App is a good example of this. It’s a memory/matching game, but with three different levels. The easiest level shows only two images at a time. The child swipes across the screen to change an image and is able to match a picture with its color or an animal with its home. The next level is a traditional matching game, with “cards” that the child turns over by touching. The third level is the same game, but with more (and therefore smaller) cards. Each level requires not only a higher level of cognitive development, but also a higher level of dexterity and precision.

With function as with content, we want to choose appropriate resources so that children are engaged and even challenged, but not frustrated or discouraged.

New year, new project: evaluating apps for kids

apps for kidsThe holidays are officially over, and chances are good that a bunch of your library customers have shiny new tablets and electronic devices at home. If you haven’t already started, now is a great time to start curating a collection of apps for kids – apps you can recommend to help develop traditional and media literacy skills; apps that can be used for library programs or one-on-one with parents and children.

Cen has made a great case on this blog and elsewhere for libraries providing these services to parents and children.  The fact is, kids are using these devices whether we like it or not. It’s not about whether we should encourage their use, but about helping the parents and kids who are already using them to use them wisely, to select good resources and to integrate them as part of a balanced media diet. It’s a very natural extension of what we do with books and other “traditional” media. And in some ways it’s even more important: app stores don’t let you “try before you buy” so parents are flying blind, using a few screenshots and customer reviews of <ahem> varying quality in order to make purchasing decisions. It’s a perfect place for libraries to step in and fill a need.

I think it’s a great idea to have resource lists for parents. I suggest having both a printable list you can hand out and a page on your library website that they can bookmark on their tablet device with links to recommended apps by age/device, etc. List any apps that you’re using in storytimes or programs, but also have a list of additional great apps and ebooks that parents and kids can use together at home.

But how do you choose the best apps? What do you look for, and what should you avoid? Over the next few days I’ll be talking about some of the criteria you can use when evaluating and selecting apps and ebooks to use or recommend for children. We’ll look at intended use and age appropriateness; interactivity; design and layout issues; support of print and media literacy skills; usability and affordance; customizability; and some of the more subjective criteria to think about (i.e. the “annoyance factor”).

With each post, please feel free to add your feedback in the comments – are there apps or ebooks that you’ve used with success? Any turkeys you’ve discovered? There’s no way we can cover them all, so join the discussion and share what you know, and we’ll all rock digital services together!

Ooh La, La and Dinosaurs! Let’s get fancy with Fancy Nancy book apps!

Bonjour! Are you ready?  It’s time for a Fancy Nancy Party! Let’s make some glittery crowns, wear colorful boas and lots of fancy clothes! (encouraged but not required)

Where:  Library, School or Home

When:  Right Now

Bring in a pile of Fancy Nancy books.   Find a list of books at Explore Fancy Nancy World!

Find all the Fancy Nancy books, activities, party ideas and more!

Check out some of these Fancy Nancy books at your library!

Fancy Nancy

Fancy Nancy : poet extraordinaire!

Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist

Ooh la la! It’s beauty day

Are you thinking beautiful thoughts?  It’s all about the word “Fancy”!   Use lots of fancy words, play Fancy Nancy bingo, and make lots of fancy arts and crafts.

Interact, read, play and dance with Fancy Nancy apps!

My two favorite Fancy Nancy apps to use are Fancy Nancy Dress Up and Fancy Nancy Ballet School.  Both apps are perfect for displaying on a large screen or wall.

Fancy Nancy Dress Up:  Create where you want to go! The beach?   Dinosaurs?  Yes, Fancy Nancy loves being fancy everywhere.   It’s fun to add a good roar and stomp while being fancy.

To create and add dinosaurs to your background, use DK Dinosaur Stickers app.

Fancy Nancy Ballet School

It’s time to dance!  Learn new dance steps and dance with Fancy Nancy.  If you have a large group, have everyone dance together in the room and then rotate in a new person every dance or pick one person to dance along directly on the app.

Fancy Nancy Book Apps:

Fancy Nancy Ballet School

Fancy Nancy Dress Up

Fancy Nancy Explorer Extraordinaire

Fancy Nancy and the Late, Late, Late Night

Fancy Nancy and the Sensational Babysitter

More Dinosaur Apps:

Magic School Bus Dinosaur App

Dinosaurs American Museum of Natural History

It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex

PBS Dinosaur Train

Dinosaur Train Mesozoic Math

All Aboard the Dinosaur Train!

Dinosaur Train Camera Catch!

Dinosaur Eggspress

Dinosaur Books to use:

The Super Hungry Dinosaur  Martin Waddell/Leonie Lord

How do dinosaurs play with their friends?  Jane Yolen/Mark Teague

Amazing giant dinosaurs  Marie Greenwood/Peter Minister

Simms Taback’s dinosaurs: a giant fold-out book Simms Taback.

Dinosaurs : facts at your fingertips (DK)

Dizzy dinosaurs: silly dino poems  Lee Bennett Hokins/Barry Gott

First big book of dinosaurs  Catherine D. Hughes/Franco Tempesta

How To Raise A Dinosaur by Natasha Wing

For More Harper Collins Book Apps: Read On the Go!

Be a fan of Fancy Nancy on facebook for updates and activities.

For more Fancy Nancy ideas, photos or information about where to buy Fancy Nancy stuff to go along with your event, please send me a message.

Have a lovely time!

Paige Bentley-Flannery 
Children’s/Community Librarian
Follow me on Twitter for more book/book app recommendations
More book apps on Pinterest

iPad before bed?

That blue light coming from your iPad might be keeping you awake.  Just before bedtime, the light emitted from iPads and other screens can keep you  — and your kids awake. This article from The Telegraph explains the reasons why. So while we love the iPad for educational fun and stories, bedtime isn’t the right time. The article hints that at least 2 hours before bed, all screen use should stop. What does that mean? It means you can sing together, play some quiet games, and read books. Books printed on paper.  You know, the old-fashioned kind that emit no light other than what your imagination shines onto them. So grab a stack of your favourites, or get yourself to the library and check out a big pile of books to share at bedtime. To help you choose some good books, I’ve created a list of fun bedtime stories (though I think just about any book can serve for bedtime).  Don’t forget about those chapter books, too, for your listeners who are ready for a longer read-aloud experience. The whole family can get in on those chapter-book read alouds. Here’s my list – enjoy!

Angela Reynolds
Youth Services Manager
Annapolis Valley Regional Library

Children’s Librarians Needed to Beta Test Promising New Kids eBook Platform!

Yesterday I met with Fang Chang, COO and Co-Founder of Bookboard, to discuss his new kids eBook distribution platform. I contacted him to discuss possibilities for libraries, and also to talk about my various digital storytelling exploits. He told me that they’re trying to get as much input as possible from parents, kids and educators during their beta testing period, but we both agreed that the people who know children’s books the best are children’s librarians!

I told Fang I’d get a bunch of other awesome children’s librarians (cuz we’re all awesome, right?!) to take a look at what they’re developing and email him with input; both good and bad. This is a great opportunity for children’s librarians to share their expertise in evaluating children’s media and services, and to speak directly with people who are creating new distribution models for children’s books.  Go check out what they’re doing (it’s free while they’re still in beta), read some of their books, and send an email to to let them know what they’re doing right, and what they can work on.

Read more about Bookboard at paidContentDigital Book World and ismashphone.

I downloaded the Bookboard app and read through a whole pile of their picture book offerings (they have about 300 books total now).  I was pleased to find many familiar storytime favourites in their collection, and I am going to try out Bookboard in my programs.  Here are some of the books they already have in their collection:







Hello from Watertown Free Public Library!

Hello!  A while back Cen posted that my library was starting a digital story time program.  When she asked if I’d guest blog about it, I thought…. sure!  Why not?

The big question I am asked is: How did you bring digital storytime to Watertown Free Public Library?

The idea for our digital storytime is the result of reading over and over again how necessary this type of programming is.  It’s everywhere- I read about digital literacy in School Library Journal, the New York Times is reporting on the App Gap, or the Wall Street Journal is reporting about toddlers zoning out with iPads.  We have an AWE Early Literacy Station in our Children’s Room, and it’s immensely popular.  We offer 6 story time options, and all of them are popular and well attended.  I put what was staring at me together: why weren’t we offering digital story times?

So I wrote up a proposal for my Library Director and Assistant Director.  When they OK’d it, I wrote something up for our Board of Trustees.  When they OK’d it, I made sure that our Technical Services team was on board, gave them a 4 week timeline with specific instructions about what Apps and ebooks I wanted installed.  Our Children’s Department is extremely fortunate as we received a generous bequest about a year ago.  Funds from the bequest paid for the materials for this program.  I realize this is the part where most libraries get stuck, but for me it wasn’t an issue.  So things were moving along!  Materials arrived, iPads were loaded, publicity started.

But people weren’t signing up.

That seems to always be the sticky wicket for us!  We try to only require registration when absolutely necessary.  There are only 15 iPads, we can realistically accommodate 15 families.  To maximize our iPads, I purchased audio splitters and 30 sets of headphones.  I had visions of 50 people showing up for this program and feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to turn people down, so we decided to require registration for the program.  Instead, there was a slow trickle of sign ups, and eventually the day of the program came and we were only half full.

I worried over sign-up for nothing.  Even at half capacity, I had my hands full.  Parents wanted to know the best way to interact with the Apps: there were some proficient users, but others hadn’t touched an iPad before.  And registration for our next session is filling up, and I have TONS of new ideas for how to move the program forward. After we’ve met a few times, I’ll share my tips for what’s been working!

Emily Miranda
Supervisor of Children’s Services
Watertown Free Public Library

Tablet Tales Pilot #1: Resounding Success!

Last night was the first ever Tablet Tales digital storytelling pilot at the Campbell Library. It was a collaborative effort with the supervising children’s librarian (the fabulous Jennifer Weeks) and a cameo appearance by Lisa H. We had 16 kids (from toddlers to about first graders) and 10 adults.  The program took place at 7:15 and I played my fife and sang everyone a “come to storytime” song. We then tag-teamed with fingerplays, songs, paper books, ibooks, apps, prop stories and a paper folding story. We had the kids’ attention the WHOLE time.  It was especially beneficial having 2 (3!) storytellers when I was switching between apps, iBooks, Keynote etc, but would not be necessary once I’ve had more practice transitioning.The program went a little long (about 45 minutes) but I think we could have kept going, even for the little ones.  We had their full attention the whole time. We got lots of good input from the 7 surveys we got back:

What is the age of your child/children that attend storytime?

1-2 years: 1
2-3 years: 1
3-4 years: 4
5 + years: 3

What are the best days/times to attend programs at the library?

10 am/7 pm Mon, Wed
7:30 pm Tues, Wed Thurs
Evenings or weekends, anytime
Weekday evenings

What did you like best about this program?

  • [my child] said: “Everything!”
  • 2 children can attend (3 years difference in ages)
  • Kids like being in a group
  • Exposed to new books
  • Digital is an interesting twist on the stories we already know
  • The songs and the books
  • Music
  • Everyone listening
  • Captured attention
  • The variety of material to explore
  • My daughter enjoyed the reading of “Caps for Sale”
  • Music was also good
  • The songs
  • The eBooks

What did you like least about this program?

  • The game “oopsy” [that was Blue Hat Green Hat; it did not register as a book to her!]
  • All kids want to be involved at once [again, that was probably my use of Blue Hat Green Hat where not all kids got to touch the iPad]
  • Digital format
  • Nothing
  • I don’t have access to some of these apps
  • N/A

Would you like to see this program continue at your library?

  • Yes: 6
  • No: 1 “I like what is currently in place”

Did you find it useful to learn about book-based apps and eBooks for young children?

  • Yes: 4
  • No: 0
  • “Somewhat- it’s nice to see the pictures on the big screen but some animations detract from the text”

Additional comments

  • My girls LOVE storytime
  • Liked all elements: dance, digital, paper books, songs, participation, voice of storyteller
  • Thank you!

Given this input and my own feeling about how the program went, I will change the following things:

  1. Don’t get kids to tap iPad unless it’s a REALLY small group (say 5 kids or less).  When I did Blue Hat, Green Hat I went around and got kids to be the “oops.”  It was distracting even for me and did not develop any literacy skills; the kids just wanted to tap and not all of them were able to do so. I think the negative comments related to that activity.  I had designs on a large touch screen monitor to use during storytime when I was initially planning this project, but I think that’s a no-go too.
  2. Don’t use musical notation with lyrics.  That was hopeful on my part; I’m a musician and a trained Music Together teacher.  I love the song Dance to you Daddy, partly because it’s got a funky time signature change midway through it, but the song was too complicated for a group that is not familiar with my style.  Next time I will just use lyrics and choose simpler songs unless I start working with a single community on a regular basis.
  3. When scanning rhymes or images from books, don’t assume that any size will work just because it’s going to be blown up.  Still pay attention to the size of text, white space on the page and quality of illustrations.

Here was our plan, although it got mildly altered  to better direct the energy in the room.

Tablet Time #1 (10/09/2012) Shoes and Hats

Walk in Music: Come and Follow me (Fife)

Opening Song: It’s time for storytime (welcome slide)

Storytime Introduction:

Fingerplay: Wiggle my fingers

Story 1: The Magic Hat

Story 2: Jack and Jill (scanned)


  1. Grandma’s hat
  2. My hat has 3 corners
  3. Little Red Wagon (prop)

Story 2: Caps for Sale (iBook)


  1. Boom chicka boom
  2. I eat my peas with honey
  3. Dance to your Daddy (Lyrics and musical notation/scanned)

Story 3: Pete the Cat (iBook)

Hat story: (Paper folding Story)

Story 4: Blue Hat Green Hat (App)

Action Music: Hot Potato (Nexus S/Logitech Mini Boom Box)

Book: Aunt Lucy went to buy a hat

Goodbye Fingerplay: Clap up high

(goodbye slide/list of resources)

Digital to Analog Alphabet Book

Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet Book (made of paper!) started out as a blog-based art project.  I didn’t know that when I read it to my 3 year old for the first time tonight.  I just thought the retro-modern style was cool and reminded me of the art of Vault-Tec (only less apocalyptic).  It turns out that that Thurlby worked on this series, letter by letter, and garnered the attention of other illustration and art bloggers, until one day a literary agent saw his work online and contacted him. His work is now in the Tate Modern (one of my favourite places in the world).

We talk a lot about paper books being e-ified, either into ebooks or apps, but this one’s an example of a digital project going the way of the tree.  It is more of an art book, though, and I think is better appreciated by adults than children.  A for awesome, indeed!

Kali’s Song: Blio

I’m putting together a handout for my digital storytelling program which includes booklists for parents. I’m including apps and iBooks based on books that the library owns, and eBooks that are available through the library’s website.  As I was hunting through Blio I saw  that Kali’s Song was available as an eBook.  After I did a little happy dance about the fact that the file was actually available for me to check out, I downloaded the Blio app onto my Nexus S and signed into my account.

I really, really want to like Blio; to be impressed by how much better it is than OverDrive for children’s books. Today I just did not have that experience. It takes a very long time for the book to load at all, and the text and illustrations are formatted to be held portrait style. If you hold your device landscape it takes forever to load again, and the text gets mangled and separated from the illustrations.  I will try on the iPad as well, but I suspect it is a function of Blio, not the device.

This book itself is just lovely; I read it first as a tree book.  It’s about a caveboy whose parents are teaching him how to hunt mammoths with a bow and arrow.  Kali uses the bow to make beautiful music instead.