Book App Narration – Big Bad Wolf or Fairy Godmother?

readitmummiesanddaddies2013This month, the ReadItDaddy blog has launched a great campaign to encourage mums and dads across the UK to read aloud to their children – Read It Mummies and Daddies 2013.

I was really keen to support this initiative, but wondered how to tie it in with book apps.  We love books in print and read them aloud together most days, especially as my children are not yet able to read them for themselves. But – confession time! – when it comes to sharing book apps, after the first few readings I quite often stick to the “Read to Me” option and let the children get on with it. It’s pretty useful while I get on with dinner or sort out the mounds of unpaired socks in the laundry.

So this campaign made me stop and think: Should I be turning off the narration and reading the story to my children? My first thought was that this could be pretty challenging, as the text in apps can be quite non-linear, depending on how you interact with it. But in using the iPad as a babysitter with trusted apps, I’ve neglected the experience of sharing the story.  I started to wonder whether I was actually using book apps in a negative way, even if narration has become the norm over the past couple of years.

Keen to get another viewpoint, I emailed Mary Ann Scheuer, Cybils Awards book app co-ordinator, mum of three and school librarian. Her reply really encouraged me to look at narration in a more positive light:

“In our library, kids actually really like the narration feature because it models reading with expression [my emphasis]. One of the ways professional audiobooks and apps have helped me as a parent is … how to read aloud better by listening to stories with my children. I’ve learned how to be more expressive and enthusiastic in my reading, bringing out the emotions of the story.”

As soon as I read this, I felt much happier about my use of narration. Immediately apps with stand out voices came to mind, such as Samuel West narrating The Book of Moomintroll, Mymble and Little My, Eric Jacobson in The Monster at the End of This Book, or the child narrators in Nosy Crow’s apps including Cinderella.

What defines excellent book app narration? For me, it is firstly creating the right atmosphere to match the story. Samuel West evokes the eerie fairytale nature of the Moomins’ world, while Eric Jacobson builds up the excitement and over-the-top silliness in The Monster at the End of this Book. The child narrators in Nosy Crow’s apps have an extra special role, in acting as peer models for children who see that reading aloud isn’t just for grown-ups! Secondly, the best book apps encourage you to take your time and pour over the pages like a “real” book. Excellent narration can help to pace the story and direct the reader’s attention. If the narration isn’t strong, my children are more likely to ignore it and press randomly on the page to see what interactivity they can find.  

Listening to others read the story can give you more confidence in where to pause, which words to emphasise and how to use your voice as part of the overall picture. Since purchasing The Book of Moomintroll, Mymble and Little My we have also been given the print version as a gift. I am sure I have been influenced by the wonderful tones of Samuel West when I read it myself.

oh the thinks in useAfter having a bit of a wobble last week about how I use book apps, I have definitely come to appreciate the positives of narration. And after all, in whatever way you use book apps they can be a really constructive way of using new technology to promote reading. I will still set myself the personal challenge of turning off the narration from time to time and getting stuck in – if my children let me…

What do you think – do you always use the narration option, or read book apps aloud to your children?