Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

This week’s post is a guest presentation by Elizabeth Dobler from Emporia State University. Beth has been working in an area that looms large for all educators: evaluating digital books for use in the classroom. Beth has put together a rubric which I believe teachers everywhere will find useful for these essential evaluations. As a teacher educator, I am planning to use the rubric with my master’s level practicing teachers and I beiieve that teacher preparation programs need a useful tool like this for teacher candidates to learn about and use. It is with a great deal of pleasure that I offer Beth’s post on LiteracyBeat. DLG

Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

Elizabeth Dobler

Three things happened to me in the same month that led to my interest in the topic of digital books.  I received an iPad from my university, I began teaching a children’s literature course, and I watched first grade children create their own digital books.  So now, during the winter evenings, instead of watching television or crocheting, I am searching Amazon, the iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble for quality digital books for children that I can recommend to preservice and inservice teachers.

Through my perusal of many digital books, I have reached two conclusions.  First, digital books, or ebooks, have the potential to let readers interact with the book in amazing ways, which can be both motivating and distracting. Many digital books integrate multimedia elements, including text, images, music, sound effects, and narration. In Axel the Truck, published by Harpers Collins, this book for beginning readers provides simple text, colorful images, intro music, and truck sound effects. The reader may choose the narration feature or to read the book themselves.   A reader’s interactive finger tap or swipe can move objects or cause characters to speak. In the app book The Monster at the End of This Book, the beloved Muppet, Grover invites readers to tickle his tummy, upon which he giggles. Some digital books provide ways for readers to become part of the story, such as the app book Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale, which uses  the camera feature of the iPad to place the reader’s own face in a mirror above the mantle.

When teachers, library media specialists, and caregivers choose digital books to use with children, care should be given to selecting books with multimedia elements that deepen the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the story, rather than distract from the meaning of the text. A study by the Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, entitled “Print Books vs. E-Books” (Chiong, Ree, & Takeuchi, 2012), looked at the interactions between parents and their children when reading digital books and found that the enhanced digital book (one with multimedia elements) promotes discussion related to the digital design rather than the content of the book. Does this shift from a focus on the story mean we shouldn’t read ebooks with children? Absolutely not! Children need to experience lots of different genres and formats of books, both print and digital, to prepare them for the wide variety of reading experiences they will encounter in their future.

The second realization I had during my very unscientific-relaxing-on-the-couch study of digital books for children is the quality of these books varies greatly. With the advent of self-publishing and digital bookstores, the world of children’s literature is experiencing unprecedented change. Today anyone can publish a book and make it available in a digital bookstore. On the one hand, this change is highly motivating for our students, as they can see their ideas and writing come alive in a digital book, and this can be shared with others. On the other hand, because anyone can publish their digital book using relatively easy to use publishing software, the traditional system of checks and balances used to screen publications before putting them into the hands of children no longer applies. Books with inappropriate content or incorrect spelling, grammar, or punctuation are available for little or no cost. The book The Case of the Missing Banana, by Matthew Ryan, has bright illustrations and a simple, yet clever text. It’s also missing capital letters for proper nouns and at the beginning of sentences. The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas, appears to be a cruder version of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, 2007). Lest I paint an unfair picture, many high quality digital publishing companies do exist. Nosy Crow and Callaway Digital Arts are two of my favorites.

Those who teach, love, and care for children must be the gatekeepers, teaching children how to make wise decisions about book selections of all types, and making these selections for children when necessary.  In order to do this effectively, we must be able to identify quality digital books.  I have shared my interest in digital books with fellow educators, and with their help, we created a simple tool for considering the quality of a digital book.  The Digital Book Evaluation Rubric guides teachers to consider the reading options, user friendliness, appropriateness, and polished appearance of a digital book. Please take the tool, use it, and send us feedback.  In fact, the process of evaluating an digital book works really well if you find a comfy spot on the couch, curl up with a blanket, your digital device of choice and enjoy a book or two.

Elizabeth Dobler is a literacy professor at Emporia State University, in Emporia, Kansas. edobler@emporia.edu

References

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L., (2012). QuickReport: Print Books vs. E-Books. Joan Ganz Cooney Center.   http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/quickreport-print-books-vs-e-books/

Kinney, J. (2007). The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Amulet Books.

Quality Digital Books

Axel the Truck: Rocky Road (Harper Collins) by J. D. Riley, Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/axel-the-truck-rocky-road/id472125985?mt=11

Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow). https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cinderella-nosy-crow-animated/id457366947?mt=8

The Monster at the End of this Book (Callaway Digital Arts/Sesame Street Workshop) by Jon Stone; Illustated by Mickael Smollin. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/monster-at-end-this-book…starring/id409467802?mt=8

Questionable Quality Digital Books

The Case of the Missing Banana by Matthew Ryan. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-case-of-the-missing-banana/id442569924?mt=11

The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/quirky-nerdy-entirely-original/id452819761?mt=11

Digital Book Evaluation Rubric

Type of Digital Book (check all that apply):

_____  traditional (print book turned digital)                            _____  gamified (book has embedded game elements)

_____  original (book written for mobile device only)           _____  movie and cartoon inspired

_____  uncertain/unknown

Robust Quality Adequate Quality Limited or Weak Quality
Reading Options Readers can choose options for reading, listening, viewing, or interacting with the text. I can adapt the way I “read” this digital book depending on my reading needs and interests. Or if I cannot choose, I at have several options available (read, view, listen). A limited number of reading options are presented, but the reader has no choice (i.e., audio and text). I can read and listen to this digital book, but cannot choose between one or the other. Reader has no choice of options beyond reading the text and viewing the illustrations. I only have the option of reading this digital book.
User Friendliness Provides various prompts, such as arrows or sounds, for accessing special features (i.e., turning pages, moving objects). Guides the reader towards interaction with the text. I can easily understand how to access all of the bells and whistles available in this digital book. Provides a limited number of prompts for accessing special features.  I can find the special features of this digital book with some exploring. No prompts are provided for accessing special features. The reader must dig to discover the features. I have to search to find the special features of this digital book and even then I may not find them.
Appropriateness The text (vocabulary and ideas) and illustrations are appropriate for the age level of the intended audience.This is an appropriate digital book that I would recommend to the children in my class. One or two questionable elements are present in the words and/or illustrations.  I should provide an explanation prior to sharing this book with my class. The topic, language, and/or illustrations are not appropriate for the age level of the intended audience. I would not share this digital book with my students because it is inappropriate.
Polished Appearance The text has been carefully edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  No errors are present. The illustrations are placed near the appropriate text. I can recommend this digital book to my students with an assurance of high quality. One or two small editing errors are present in the entire digital book, and these do not detract from the text. Illustrations are placed close to the appropriate text. I am aware of the miniscule number of editing errors, but feel the value of the digital book provides a balance. Numerous spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors are present in the text. Illustrations are repeatedly not placed near the text. There are so many editing errors in this digital book, I would be not share this with my students.

Created by Elizabeth Dobler and Daniel Donahoo

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

One Response

  1. […] If teachers want to evaluate the digital books, they can visit the Literacy Beat Blog at: https://literacybeat.com/2013/01/30/let-the-reader-beware-evaluating-digital-books/ […]

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