10 tips for choosing eBooks
We would like to share a few simple tips with parents and teachers to help in choosing good digital children’s books.
In our last blog post, we talked about nourishing books. The article was a bit controversial and we have been receiving lots of questions from concerned readers. We have also been receiving lots of comments asking for suggestions on how to filter out these contents.
1. Remember your child’s interests
I think that the biggest mistake we can make is starting a search without taking our child’s interests into account. As adults, for instance, we never choose a book that we are not interested in reading. Children are the same. For this reason, we must take a child’s universe into account, as well as interests and needs. Let your child participate in choosing a book you are going to buy or download so you can choose a good book together. Yes, the book must be fun for the parent or teacher as well as for the child. Be careful! If the book isn’t fun for an adult, it is probable that it won’t be for a child either. Furthermore, if a child feels that the adult reader is enjoying a book, they will enjoy it also and learn to love to read.
2. Don’t impulsively download the first books that appear in your search
It is possible that when you start a search for a book, you use the terms “Children’s Books”. Thousands of titles will immediately come up, which are usually organized by number or downloads, with the most downloaded books at the top. You will notice that the majority of books that appear first are free, which obviously are the most downloaded. One will automatically think that these books are first because they are the best, and they’re free! But this isn’t the case. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t excellent free books, but I can assure you, that these aren’t the first search results.
3. Don’t guide yourself by the concept of “bestseller”
Across the globe, the book world has been invaded by the concept of Bestsellers. However, we must not forget that this concept represents a commercial valuing of a book in the market that has nothing to do with the its literary value. In other words, being the most sold book doesn’t guarantee literary value. This doesn’t mean that bestsellers are mediocre books, but I do think that there are more interesting criteria to go by when choosing a book.
4. Read reviews that have been written about a book
When searching for a children’s book, it is very important to read the reviews that have been written about that book. “Google” the book to see what comes up. Read any reviews specialized critics have made about the book. Also, many eBook stores, like iTunes, allow readers to leave comments about the book. These comments represent a great source of information about the book that is based on user experiences.
5. Read up on the authors
It’s important to spend a few moments reading about the authors. Where they are from, when they were born, which other books they have written, etc. This goes for illustrators too, who are also authors. A little trick that almost never fails: never waste your time downloading or buying a book written or illustrated by authors you don’t recognize. A few days ago, I downloaded a free version of “The Princess and the Pea”, the second result in the AppStore in children’s books in Canada. When I opened the App, I was surprised that the author, Christian Andersen, wasn’t mentioned anywhere, nor the illustrator. Sadly, the book was as I expected: a classic non-nourishing book. A terrible and untrue adaptation of the story, which seems to be one of the most downloaded books.
6. Review the literary quality of the story
E-books often offer a preview in which you can see a bit of its literary and graphic contents before downloading it. Spend some time looking at these and analyzing how good it is, both the text and the images. Try choosing books that have lots of analogies and metaphors, which will stimulate your child’s imagination and allow for lots of interesting conversations. Avoid books with obvious outcomes or uncaptivating characters.
7. Review the quality of the images
Just like stories, try to spend some time carefully looking at illustrations. These should awaken children’s imaginations. Illustrations and texts should be harmoniously integrated. A good illustration always complements and enriches the story. It should never make reading misleading. Think twice when you see images that illustrate the text in an oversimplified and obvious way, as this shows a lack of effort in bringing something new to the story through images. These must have their own narrative voice, without being separate from the story. Also take a few minutes to look at what techniques were used to create the illustrations.
8. Look at other resources offered by an eBook
Digital books have created a whole realm of new possibilities for publishers. Electronic tablets and computers have allowed for unimaginable and fantastic elements to be integrated into the world of books. Carefully look at the technical characteristics of any book you want to buy.
Many e-books are narrated. Make sure that the narration is of high quality. Although most books have excellent professional narrators, a few have poor quality narrators or even digital voices which make it seem like a robot was reading to your child. But remember that no matter how good the narration may be, it will never replace a book being read by a parent or teacher, or the narration that a child can make. Make sure that your e-books offers the option of turning off the narrator so you can narrate yourself.
The narration is often accompanied by a musical soundtrack. Make sure that the soundtrack is of good quality. Even better if the books has original music. Too often, publishers end up buying generic music from websites that sell soundtracks just to fulfill a musical element for their books. This happens so much that many times, we can have a few e-books in our libraries that have the same musical clips. There are also many books that have a short musical clip that is on a look that is repeated over and over in all the pages without enriching the story. If there is something to say about this, I’d say that the best e-books have their own original soundtracks.
Both reading tablets and computers have created the possibility for publishers to add animation in their books’ illustrations. Many times, the animation provides an excellent compliment to the story. However, many times, the animation can take away from reading as they may distract readers and they don’t add to the image. In some cases, animation is excessive and brings a book to look more like a movie than a book. Animation should be moderated and it should give the reader time to read a static image in order to fully appreciate and symbolic details that can be found in a high quality illustration.
In many cases, the animations lead to an interaction. However, these must be done with care. Lets not forget that we are giving a child a book, even if it is an electronic book. Meaningless interactions remove us from the act of reading, so it is important to see if they contribute to fun reading or if they prevent the reader from actually reading. Don’t forget that a book is a book and a video game is a video game. You child is very aware of this, and books may become boring for a child who is accustomed to playing highly sophisticated video games.
Books with multiple languages are truly exciting for both children and adults. The possibility of reading (even if you don’t speak the language) represents a very interesting exercise to be done in reading. Playing with other languages, listening to a narration in another language can be something very exciting. And for bilingual societies, like Canada for example, it is very beneficial to have these types of resources in digital libraries.
9. Does the book allow for learning through play?
Reading should be part of a ritual, but it should also be part of play. Stories have brought generations of children to invent games that were based on things they read. For example pirate games, cowboys, or prince and princess games often stem from stories. When you buy a book, ask yourself if it will lead to a playful game.
10. Does the book offer an invitation for reflexion?
A book that is meaningful and interesting, and that was made with respect and understanding of a child’s world must also bring us to reflex on an aspect of life. You should question a book that doesn’t make you reflect a bit after you finish reading it. This doesn’t mean that books should impose doctrine or moralize. In fact, these books should also be questioned. But books should tell stories about life and all the wonderful themes that life presents us. Good books should bring us to talk about important aspects of life with our children or students.