Monday, October 17, 2011

Evaluating Book Apps for Children: Pacing and Chunking (part 4 in a mini-series)

As I watch young children read, I am struck by the importance of pacing of book apps. One of the wonderful features of picture books is that we look at them one page at a time. This article will focus on the effect pacing and chunking has on book apps. For other articles in this series, please see Evaluating Book Apps for Children: Part One in a Miniseries.

The best picture book authors and illustrators pay special attention to the way we focus on a page, and how the drama can be heightened by the turning of a page. This is particularly true of picture book apps. Successful book apps do not simply take what is on one written page and put it all on one screen. Printed picture books were kept to 32 or 40 page limits for cost and practicality. But book apps have much more flexibility, and can chunk information with thought and care.

Book apps have taken different approaches to chunking and pacing their books. The Dr. Seuss apps from Oceanhouse Media show just a few lines from a page and zoom in on one part of the artwork. Those familiar with iMovie know this is called the Ken Burns Effect. But this is really often how we read stories - reading a few lines and looking at the pictures that go with those words. When you swipe to the next page of the app, you zoom to another part of the same page in the print book and read another chunk. By doing this, the reader actually controls the pacing of the story, going only as quickly through the story as they are ready to absorb.

One of our current favorites, given the Halloween preparations, is What Was I Scared Of? based on Dr. Seuss's book of the same name (also available at your library). As you can see from the screenshot below, chunking the text allows the words in the app to be much larger than if all of the words from the original page were included.

A Present for Milo, another excellent app for preschoolers, lets young users control the pacing as they discover hidden surprises in the illustrations. Milo the cat chases a little mouse throughout the house: across the living room, along the piano keys, up and down stairs, into the kitchen and through a playroom tunnel to a surprise at the end. On each page, there are just a few words in bold, large letters. While young preschoolers may not be reading these words, the fact that the words only appear as they are spoken helps young children associate the words they hear with the letters and printed words they see. The slow pacing and chunking helps young readers absorb all these different things going on. The pitch-perfect pacing is one of the reasons this app is so successful.

It's interesting to note that the pacing of A Present for Milo also includes the activation of the animated features. As Digital Storytime notes in its 5-star review, "This delightful interactivity is enhanced by animation that doesn't steal the show. This is particularly nice in a title for the very young and makes this book an excellent substitute for toddler board books. The interactive elements also only play one at a time, helping to make an otherwise stimulating title just right for little readers." By controlling the pacing of the animated features, developers prevent preschoolers from tapping everything in site and becoming over-stimulated. Each feature must finish its actions before the app will respond to the next touch. This helps train young app readers to tap and watch, delaying the tapping until they finish watching what happens.

How are your children responding to book apps? Which ones work well and why? It's fascinating to watch this new media develop, and consider the factors that make these stories work well for children.

For other articles in this series, please see Evaluating Book Apps for Children: Part One in a Miniseries.

We purchased the review copy of What Was I Scared Of? during the Halloween sale (currently only $0.99). The review copy of A Present for Milo was kindly sent by the developers, Ruckus Media.

©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. Excellent ideas in this post. Actually I'd like to cite you/link to your post (and possibly have you guest post this article) on my blog:

    The idea of interactions not being simultaneously available (what you describe as "pacing") didn't strike me as something positive Until now, because my own kid is older (and a bit hiper) and doesn't have the patience to wait for these to appear one by one if they are "too" slow. But I think this idea is very interesting in books for toddlers.

  2. My daughter and I love the app for Sandra Boynton's "The Going to Bed Book." I think this is another great example of how the pacing of the app is perfectly in tune with the tone of the book, making it fun and quirky but also soothing and quiet -- perfect for going to bed!