Category Archives: TumbleBooks

Most Successful Unsuccessful Program Ever

tablettaleslogoLast week was the most successful unsuccessful Tablet Tales program I’ve had yet. Only one family came to this pilot session at the Morgan Hill Library: a mom, a teenage girl, a 9ish year old boy and my most enthusiastic participant, a first grade girl. I had planned a family storytime, and what I did instead was sit on the floor next to my first grader and we looked at the huge books on the screen together and just read, talked and sang. We read Llama Llama. We sang and then read/sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider. We read a few Caldecotts from my recent Caldecott hunt. We guessed what the bunny would do next, we rhymed words, we made funny noises, I learned that she had lost a tooth recently, and she showed me how much she loved reading books.

After we’d run through all the books I’d planned, plus a whole handful more, I showed her the new Goodnight Moon app and then I told her and her family it was the end of storytime. As they were leaving the the teenage sister told me “I like how you sang the book instead of reading it.”

Once outside the storytime room, the mother started telling me about her youngest daughter, the first grader.

“She’s not a very good reader. She doesn’t like reading. We get books but she doesn’t like to read them. What can I give her to make her read?”

The girl was standing right there, between us.

I was speechless for a moment. This mother’s assessment of her daughter, though presumably well intentioned (after all, they WERE hanging out in the library as a family, asking a librarian for help), was so destructive. I took her over to the children’s area, showed her some high-interest books, gave her some book and app lists, and told her more about what services the library offers, but I’m not sure I gave her the answer she wanted to hear. I commented on how much her daughter did, in fact, enjoy reading and singing, and she had done a very good job of reading with me, and if she liked the format of the books we read together in storytime, the library offers some similar ones through Bookflix and Tumblebooks. I described how apps and eBooks can be a wonderfully motivating format for children (I avoid using phrases like “reluctant reader”), but the whole interaction made me so sad.

I wonder about their home life. It is dangerous to make assumptions about people, but after working with people for awhile, you begin to see patterns. I strongly suspect that those children live in a media-saturated environment (ie television) and that the mother may not have known that you can sit together and sing books (digital or paper) instead of reading them (hence the teenager being surprised that a librarian might do something like that in a library program), or talk about what you see in the pictures and make up your own stories. I also wonder if the mother’s feelings about her own language and literacy skills may have been a limiting factor in the family’s reading environment.

We children’s librarians often sit in our ivory towers recommending books and only books (and paper ones at that!) and it falls on deaf ears because a lot of children now grow up bombarded with multimedia experiences, and an old-fashioned book is just not able to hold their attention in the way it “should.” That little girl was incredibly jazzed about sitting with an adult, sharing some cool books (that just happened to be digital), singing, reading and talking. I wish I’d had an iPad full of high-quality apps to give them to take home, to motivate and invigorate their family, which is probably on the less fortunate side of the digital divide. If the mother doesn’t read to her kids because she’s not very “good” at reading herself, an app or an iBook with the narration setting turned on could provide them the cuddling/bonding opportunity that they may miss out on otherwise.

That child was learning with me. We shared the experience together, and the mother did seem to pay attention as I actively involved her daughter in a joint media engagement experience. This may not look like the literacy of 10, 50 or 100 years ago, but we need as children’s librarians to work with it and make it the best it can be. In some cases we have a lot of damage to undo, and using high quality media intelligently can be a very successful tool to reach children who have already been exposed to too much of the wrong kind of media.

New Project!

I have just started working on a brand new project: designing a digital storytime at a medium sized suburban library system. The plan is to augment a traditional storytime (probably aimed at preschool kids, or family storytime) and use an iPad, hooked up to a projector to display our content: eBooks and apps.

Part of my challenge is to choose WHICH apps and eBooks to use.  I have Felt Board which I think we’ll use extensively for songs, fingerplays and some simple stories, and I’m going to try my hand at some draw and tell stories with some kind of drawing app. I have Chalk Pad right now and I’m going to check out Adobe Ideas as well (that might be like killing a flea with a sledgehammer though).

I’m going to go through Axis 360 to check out what kind of picture books they have on offer, and to test them out to see how well they’d do projected onto a screen. Tumblebooks and Bookflix are troublesome both in display and in format; we’ll see how Axis 360 and Blio measure up. Read a little more about Baker and Taylor’s stab at ebooks here.

Part of what we’ll have to figure out is just how much digital content to include.  The program should still support the acquisition of the 6 Early Literacy Skills, and should include wiggling, stomping, singing, audience participation etc, but the vehicle that we use to share some of our goodies will be changing.

I’ve never performed a digital storytime to a room full of preschoolers, but I have done lots of old school storytimes, and I’m hoping we can use these digital tools to successfully and seamlessly share digital early literacy programming with our communities.

eBookNewser is now AppNewser

I have issues with the whole app vs ebook nomenclature, and it appears that the good folks at mediabistro have the same issues.  Or not anymore, given that they are changing eBookNewser to AppNewser. You can still click on their eBook News link to get information specifically on eBooks, but they are widening their focus to include all kinds of apps.

So what should we call these THINGS we read to our children on our iPads, Nooks, Tablets or Kindles? Obviously the terminology is going to continue evolving with the technology itself, but as it is now, I think of “eBooks” mainly as books in electronic form.  An eBook can be a file downloaded to a device or accessed online through a service like TumbleBooks or Bookflix. eBooks follow a linear narrative path, much like a tree-book, and you turn pages to progress along that path. Most of the time eBooks are based on books that have already been published in print (the good ones, anyway) but I think we’ll see more an more eBooks for kids that are only published electronically.  eBooks can be a type of app (not if you’re viewing them through a website, though), but for our purposes, apps are more like games or activities.

The PC Magazine Encyclopedia provides the following definitions:

Definition of: app 

(1) (APPlication) The term has been used as shorthand for “application” in the IT community for a long time. However, it became newly popular for mobile applications in smartphones and tablets, especially due to the advent of Apple’s iTunes App Store in 2008. It is just as correct to say “iPhone application” as it is “desktop computer app;” although app is shorter, and computer people love to abbreviate. See applicationAPP fileand App Store.

(2) (APPlication) In the engineering world, an app can refer to a circuit design, using the word “application” in the context of purpose. For example, “high-voltage apps” means high-voltage circuit designs. The term predates mobile software apps by decades.

Definition of: e-book 

(Electronic-BOOK) The electronic counterpart of a printed book, which can be viewed on a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or e-book reader. When traveling, a large number of e-books can be stored in portable units, dramatically eliminating weight and volume compared to paper. Electronic bookmarks make referencing easier, and e-book readers may allow the user to annotate pages.

Although fiction and non-fiction books come in e-book formats, technical material is especially suited for e-book delivery because it can be searched. In addition, programming code examples can be quickly copied, which is why CD-ROMs that contain the entire text of the work are often packaged inside technical paper books.

E-Book Formats
The major problem with e-books is the many formats competing for prime time, including Adobe PDF, Microsoft Reader, eReader, Mobipocket Reader, EPUB, Kindle and iPad.

All e-book formats have a search capability, but most do not support a direct dictionary lookup, which means if a person looks up the term “network,” all the definitions that contain the word “network” are retrieved rather than the single definition of that term. The results are akin to the mountain of results retrieved by a search engine.

Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad
In late 2007, Amazon.com revolutionized the e-book market with the introduction of its Kindle e-book reader and e-book inventory. The Kindle was the first e-book to offer free, wireless access to download e-books and search the Web (see Kindle).

In early 2010, Apple introduced the iPad tablet, featuring “iBooks” downloadable over a Wi-Fi or 3G connection (see iPad). See PDFiPadEPUB,Open eBook and Mobipocket.

eBook Review: Mud Puddle

Title: Mud Puddle
Author: Robert Munsch
Illustrator: Sami Suomalainen
Narrator: Robert Munsch
Publisher: Annick Press
Provider: TumbleBooks
Age: K-3

Robert Munsch is a multi-talented fellow.  He writes funny books that keep both little monsters and little mamas entertained, and then he narrates said books with aplomb.  This book is about a little girl who gets dressed in her nice clean clothes and plays innocently in her backyard.  A  mud puddle jumps on her head numerous times, and excessive bathing and dressing ensue until Jule Ann puts the smack down on the mud puddle with 2 bars of stinky yellow soap.  Munsch’s bathtime sound effects are hilarious.  I will use them the next time a mud puddle jumps on Little J and I need to scrub him down. 

I tried the word search game that’s included with this TumbleBook, and I was really disappointed.  You are given a sentence from the book and asked to fill in the word, and if the word you type is incorrect it says something like “You’re an idiot!  Do you want to try again?” and your answer, of course, is “No, I don’t want to try again, I want to cry.”  I think Tumblebooks is trying to get on board the interactivity wagon but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

eBook Review: All Aboard the Dinotrain!

Title: All Aboard the Dinotrain

Author: Deb Lund

Illustrator: Howard Fine

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Provider: TumbleBooks

Age: K-3
OMG!  DINOSAURS AND TRAINS!

We don’t really need a review for this one, obviously,  because of the following equation:

dinosaurs + trains = awesome

(We’ll do a review anyway cuz that’s how we roll)

Deb Lund and Howard Fine do a decent enough job of this only slightly awkwardly rhyming romp through a land where dinosaurs ride on top of trains and end up being tossed into a gorge without anyone being hurt.  Herbivores and carnivores co-exist peacefully, one of the brontosaurs has a beehive hairdo,  and “dino” exists as a prefix that can be added to any lexical category.  Kirkus called this book a “hilarious new brouhaha” while PW states that it’s “dino-mite.”  It translates well into an eBook, too, what with all the “roller coaster dinoride” action.  The animation is a bit choppy at times, but that may have been done purposely to kick things up a notch when the train barrels down a hill and magically flies across a collapsed trestle.  There’s a “we think we can!” nod to Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could but All Aboard the Dinotrain won’t be a classic.

An interesting note in Tumblebooks- if you pause the eBook, some of the animation remains- in this case, smoke from the smokestack kept billowing as Little J and I readjusted ourselves on the couch.  We used the Kindle Fire for this one, and it didn’t display well.  The Tumblebooks dashboard takes up too much space and I couldn’t get rid of the address bar or the tabs in the browser.

eBook Review: Lola in the Library

After our disappointing experience with another library-themed eBook, I thought we should find a GOOD one to share.  I found an old favourite: Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw’s Lola at the Library.  We used TumbleBooks on our Galaxy Tab again.

I used to use a paper copy of this book with K-3 class visits at the library, and I was interested to see how it would be presented in eBook form.  I was pleasantly surprised with the pacing the narrator used- it was slow and articulate, performed in a style that emulates a child’s speaking patterns.  Perfect for the text.

When presenting this book with school children I always skipped the page about Lola and her mom going for cappuccino after visiting the library. It seemed out of place then, but now that I have Little J I totally get it.  We go out for coffee before or after visiting the library, and I give him some foam off my mocha.  Art imitating life!

eBook Review: One Duck Stuck

Phyllis Root and Jane Chapman’s One Duck Stuck is another wonderful storytime book, and it transfers very well to the eBook medium.  Repetitive text wears on adult ears after awhile, but Little J chimed in every time a new animal said “We can! We can!”

You know what they say about young children: “repetition is good, repetition is good, repetition is good!”

Cute illustrations, good rhythm and a funny twist at the end make this a sophisticated read for little ones, and caregivers can be happy with the inclusion of numerals and onomatopoeia. The narrator is quite animated and makes good use of her sibilants.

I thought there was too much of a time gap in the narration between the main text and the secondary text; you feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop until “Help! Help!” begins.

*****Spoiler Alert*****
Best part of the book?  The “SPLUCK!”

eBook Review: ABC Letters in the Library

I hate that this book is one of the first that new eBook readers may encounter. I’m sure many well-intentioned caregivers will click on the cute image of children in the stacks and see the blurb that begins:

“This lovingly written, playfully illustrated book introduces children to both the alphabet and the library, through wonderfully descriptive, alliterative language.”

Oh! It’s written with love! It contains library stuff, alphabet stuff and alliterative language stuff!

It’s a pile of elephant doody. School Library Journal gave it a passable review, but I think the reviewer was just being nice because it’s a book about libraries. My tingling librarian senses are telling me that the quality of eBooks is going to continue to be an issue. Any old ninny/publisher can put their junk up and call it an eBook without the quality control that (sometimes) comes from being part of a huge evil corporation, which truly is the Beauty and the Beast of the thing. There aren’t a whole lot of purveyors of fine eBooks for kids yet, so libraries that are trying to keep astride with eBook technology are limited in what they can offer.

Some highlights from Bonnie Farmer and Chum McLeod’s ABC Letters in the Library:

“Aisles of authors are arranged alphabetically”

This is only MOSTLY true, except for things arranged by a little something called the Dewey Decimal System. And in series of books that have different authors. And board books, because, why bother? And other pull-out collections that are arranged by genre/format first before author. But those things don’t rhyme. Badly. Like this book does.

“Humming computers collect countless call numbers.”

Um…. what? There is an illustration of computers doing karaoke. I have no response to that. 

“The librarians soft shhhhhh soon hushes all talk”

Excuse me? Has the author even BEEN to the children’s section of a public library recently? And who is this super librarian who can ACTUALLY “hush all talk” with a “soft shhhhh?” Anyone who has ever worked with children, or talked to a child, or even talked to someone who has talked to a child knows that ain’t gonna fly.

“Information flows freely in and out of the Internet”

Yes! The information flows freely through the interwebs! In a book about libraries, don’t you think it would be better to highlight some other source for authenticated information? Kids KNOW about the internet. Let’s talk about Indexes! Interlibrary Loan! Intellectual Freedom!

(Initially I made a crack about how “freely” EBSCO and Gale flow through the internet, but decided against it. Then decided to include it parenthetically. All you collection developers crying over your budgets out there, can I get a AMEN?)

“Teachers tsk at loud teens who grin and then shrug”

Security! Escort that tsking teacher OUT of my library this instant. Loud teens? Come on over to the teen area! We love that you’re here at the library! Is this a good time for you guys to meet here? Shall we start a gaming club? Teen Advisory Board? Knitting group? Want a good book to read now that the Twicraze is coming to a badly needed end? Need to get some community service hours? What about some help studying for the PSAT? Turn that shrug upside down, future tax payer. Welcome to the library. YOUR library.

Inaugural Little eLit

Hooray! This is the inaugural post documenting our experiences with eBooks.  Little J and I sat on the couch, fired up the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and went to our library’s website.  

“eBooks!” said Little J.
“eBooks!” said I.  
“Password!” said Scholastic.

Scholastic’s BookFlix portal, when accessed from the link from our library’s website, has got to be the most boring way to begin an eBook adventure EVER. I assume this is a general log in page for a number of services that Scholastic offers.  




How dull! You’d think they’d at LEAST add a dancing banana to amuse us while we wait!”  said Little J. (He’s two. I might be paraphrasing what he said a little.)

We dutifully typed in our library card number and waited with bated breath, sans banana.  


“We read Boo Hoo Bird?” said Little J hopefully, holding up his paper copy of Jeremy Tankard’s awesome book.
“Wait a minute for it to load, baby.  We’re going to read an eBook!”  

Two years olds love waiting for websites to load almost as much as they love waiting for Laurie Berkner to buffer on YouTube. We gave up on Bookflix and moved on to Tumblebooks.



The Tumblebooks “library” is organized into six sections: storybooks, read alongs, tumble tv, puzzles & games, language learning and non-fiction books. We were on the prowl for a good yarn, so we clicked “storybooks” and chose a book from the first page: Bonnie Farmer and Chum McLeod’s ABC Letters in the Library.

Tumblepad, the software that Tumblebooks uses to display its content, didn’t require installation- it just popped up when we chose our eBook (we will try downloading an eBook for use without an internet connection in future posts). I liked the dashboard well enough, but the display area didn’t shrink to fit onto our screen. I had to scroll around every now and then to see the text. That seems like a pretty basic requirement: fitting onto the screen. I tried a number of other eBooks and had the same problem. I tried holding the tablet portrait and landscape. No dice.

We got through ABC Letters in the Library, mostly because it was our very FIRST Little eLit eBook and I was trying to be magnanimous about it all.  ABC Letters in the Library contains forced rhymes and outdated views on what a public library is all about. See an extended review this book here.

One redeeming feature was the “zed” at the end of the alphabet.  My Canadianism squeed at that, even if the rest of the book was a flop. Little J reminds me that the elephant at the end of the book was also a redeeming feature.

“He eating his lamp!”

Whatever cooks your noodle, kid.