Saturday, September 24, 2011

Evaluating Book Apps for Children: Narration (part 3 in a mini-series)

As a child, I adored listening to my mother reading aloud stories. I can remember sitting on my brother's bed, listening to her read Where the Red Fern Grows as we all got teary at the end of the story. And we loved listening to Books On Tape as a family on long drives. I know from working with many students that audiobooks helps provide an essential way into longer stories that they would not be able to read on their own. So I'm fascinated with how professional narration is combining with visual stories in Book Apps for children. How do we evaluate what makes a successful narration for book apps?


Some of the questions I ask myself when I first look at an app are:
  • Does the narration help users interact with the content? 
  • Is the narration appropriate for the content? 
  • Can you turn the narration off if you just want to read it? 
  • Is the narration available in more than one language?
How Rocket Learned to Read has a wonderful narration that goes along with the story. The narrator's voice is perfectly suited to the story, and she reads at a gentle pace, allowing a young listener to absorb the story. This narration is essential, giving pre-readers access to this picture book. You can also tap individual words if you are trying to read them, and the narrator will read aloud just those words.

The Magic School Bus: Oceans app also has narration that plays automatically when you swipe a page. But there are also speech bubbles from the different characters that you tap on to hear them. This helps keep readers engaged, still focused on the content and on task. One task that new readers must learn how to do is read dialog with expression, hearing the different voices in their heads. This app will help new readers develop these skills.

An example of an app where the narration does not fit the content, in my view, is the National Geographic Ultimate Dinopedia app. The narrator's voice is overly dramatic for this nonfiction text, almost sensationalizing the material. Imagine a World Wide Wrestling announcer's voice narrating Life On Earth, instead of David Attenborough.

I have been especially pleased to see that several book apps have made their narration and text available in more than one language. Winged Chariot's apps do a wonderful job of this. You can see below all of the languages that The Red Apple comes in: English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Polish, Italian, Chinese and more. All of these are available with the purchase of the one book, making it possible for listeners and readers to switch between languages if they are learning a  new language. Other Winged Chariot apps we have enjoyed include Scruffy Kitty, The Birthday and Emma Loves Pink. The all include options for different languages.

My one hope is that apps for older readers develop narrative tracks to supplement them, thus providing access to younger readers or readers who need extra support. For example, I'm fascinated by the way Journey Into the Deep explores the ocean depths. But I know that the dense text will be difficult to read for many children who are interested in the subject. A compelling narrative track would be incredibly helpful.

  • What features of an app's narration do you think are important? 
  • Are there apps that are particularly successful with this aspect?

For other articles in this series, please see Evaluating Book Apps for Children: A Mini-Series.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

1 comment:

  1. I just downloaded The Monster at the End of This Book. I love the book and now I love the app! As much as I enjoy reading the story, having Grover tell the story is fabulous!

    As I was reading The Monster at the End of This Book, I noticed that I was able to pay attention to the(familiar)text on the screen and the images but I wondered if young children would even pay attention to the text...the narration/performance is so good a reader could overlook the text and still enjoy and understand the story. This is a book you can watch, as well as read. As ebooks evolve I'll be interested to see how kids relate to text paired with images and audio that could stand on their own without the text.